Pastor’s Blog

Located in the town of Vineland, Ontario, we are a small, friendly,  inter-generational church in the Anabaptist tradition that worships God and together seeks to follow Jesus’ example.   We have a long history—we were the first Mennonite church in Canada.  On this site you can learn about the people and the work of our church, find directions to our facility, and learn about our history.  You are welcome to join us!

Worship Service at 11:00 Sunday mornings (10:30 a.m. 1st Sunday in July through Labour Day)  Sunday School for all ages begins at 10:00, except in summer.  Hope to see you there!

Pot-luck lunch usually on the first Sunday of the month (except in July/Aug)

3557 Rittenhouse Rd, Vineland (see directions page for details)

We look forward to meeting you!

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And now for something a little different

Back when I arrived at The First Mennonite Church in October of 2015, I was approached by a fellow named Steve Samuels, with Faith News Niagara, to conduct an interview on my own journey of becoming a pastor in the area.  Steve was interviewing various pastors in the Niagara Region and collecting their stories as a way to paint a picture of what churches look like in our neck of the woods.

In fact, if you haven’t met Steve, he’s an amazing guy with a great heart for serving people and he’s absolutely over the top in terms of wanting to be a part of what God is doing in our communities.

So Steve runs this website called Faith News Niagara, which many people in Mennonite circles may be unfamiliar with, but now you get your first introduction with a look at the interview that Steve conducted with me late last year.

I don’t know how I feel about the picture of me, but check out the content for yourself!


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Grace, Too

Unless you were living under a molehill in Canada this week, you likely heard that the Tragically Hip were performing what could be possibly their last show together in their hometown of Kingston this past Saturday night. Apparently, over 11 million Canadians tuned in online or through television to catch the show; which are some staggering numbers.

My wife and I have both said for a long time that church hasn’t necessarily disappeared in Canada. It’s simply taken on different forms; and if you’ve ever been at a concert where upwards of several 1000 people are all singing passionately in unison along with a band, you’ve likely seen that concerts can be a tremendously spiritual experience for people.

I think this was no less the case when the Hip got up to do the second encore of what would definitely become a climactic show for the band. But this time, the spiritual experience became perhaps a bit more than people expected.

Traditionally, Gord Downie always concludes the song “Grace, Too” with some sort of spoken word performance or by simply yelling out a few sporadic words such as “Here!” and “Now!” Gord has always been the court jester as a performer. He uses antics to expose the emperor’s new clothes, so to speak. He’s always used improv performance as a way to subversively suggest something about pertinent issues of the day; and he’s certainly done this with “Grace, Too” in the past. However, on this particular evening, the jester showed us something that we all connected with just as human beings.

If you’ve been following the Hip of late, you would also have heard that only a couple of years after his wife battled with breast cancer and survived, Gord was actually diagnosed with terminal brain cancer; hence the significance of this final show for a band that’s won over a lot of hearts in Canada.

You can likely imagine then where Gord was coming from when towards the end of “Grace, Too” on this night in Kingston, he unleashed a prayer of Psalmic proportions on the assembled crowd. As he began to yell out those classic words of “Here!” and “Now,” suddenly those words turned to “No!” and a soul-baring, gut-wrenching cry.

They say that prayer is ultimately the terrible cry of pain that comes from deep within our gut. It’s the place where we completely and unabashedly throw away all of our masks and scream out our true and real pain to God, and the Psalms are replete with examples of this.

In Psalm 13, David says, “O Lord, how long will you forget me?…How long will you look the other way? How long must I struggle with the anguish of my soul, with sorrow in my heart every day?…Restore the light to my eyes, or I will die.” In Psalm 22, he says, “My heart is like wax, melting within me. My strength has dried up like sunbaking clay…You have laid me in the dust and left me for dead.” These are angry, desperate, and enraged prayers from deep in the gut of our despair.

We relate with them because they are real. They express the authentic human condition; and this is what we saw from Gord during the last chords of “Grace, Too.” This was a man baring for everyone simultaneously his grief, his pain, his feelings of loss, and the realization that something special was coming to an end. He screamed out that “No” that desperately hopes to avert death and change sickness by sheer willpower alone.

And we connected with it. This was church! He shared reality with us. He helped us to connect with something bigger than ourselves.

He lead us into a moment that was holy; and it was holy because it was real.

Thankyou, Gord Downie, for that; and thankyou for all of the times that as a performer, you have helped all of us to understand and connect over what it feels like to be human.

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Song to My Other Self

In Chapter 2 of Chuck DeGroat’s book Wholeheartedness, he says that with “a poet’s voice, Elsie Landstrom hints at the wholeness and holiness that arises when we welcome every divided, messy, imperfect, ugly, and critical part of ourselves into the embrace of grace.”  Here is the very poem for you to check out:

Over the years I have caught glimpses of you

in the mirror, wicked:

in a sudden stridency in my own voice, have

heard you mock me;

in the tightening of my muscles felt the pull

of your anger and the whine

of your greed twist my countenance; felt your

indifference blank my face when pity was called for.

You are there, lurking under every kind act I do,

ready to defeat me.

Lately, rather than drop the lid of my shock

over your intrusion,

I have looked for you with new eyes

opened to your tricks, but more,

opened to your rootedness in life.

Come, I open my arms to you also, once-dread stranger.

Come, as a friend I would welcome you to stretch your apartments

within me from the cramped to comforting side.

Thus I would disarm you. For I have recently learned,

learned looking straight into your eyes:

The holiness of God is everywhere.

– Elsie Landstrom, “Song to My Other Self”

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Brene Brown and Vulnerability

This past Sunday, we kicked off a brand new series based on Chuck DeGroat’s book Wholeheartedness: busyness, exhaustion, and healing the divided self.  We specifically mentioned Brene Brown and some of her thoughts on the problem of perfectionism.

If you haven’t yet heard Brene speak, you have to check her out.  In fact, here’s one of her seminal talks that she delivered a Ted Talks conference back in 2010.  It’s been around awhile but it still covers many of the central ideas that Brene will often refer to in her talks on perfectionism.  Check out what Brene has to say here about connection, relationship, shame, and perfectionism.

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Yusra Mardini and the Refugee Olympic Team

Did you know that this year in Rio de Janeiro, the very first Refugee Olympics team is competing?

On June 3rd of this year, the International Olympic Committee announced a team of ten athletes who were selected from displaced refugees to compete in events such as judo, swimming, and general athletics.  Each of them are listed by their country of origin and their host country, where they now reside as a refugee.

For example, Yusra Mardini is a Syrian refugee who fled to Germany, and is now competing in Womens 100m Freestyle at the 2016 Olympics.  Apparently when Yusra and several other people arranged to be smuggled from Turkey into Greece, their boat broke down almost 3 hours away from Lesbos; a nightmare situation for many refugees where capsizing and drowning has taken place.  Yusra, her sister, and a couple of other people, got out of their boat and pushed the vessel the remaining distance to Lesbos.

Check out her inspiring story!

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Drew G.I. Hart and Changing the Way the Church Views Racism

It’s been a difficult week for many of us.  Here in Canada, we’ve witnessed through social media so many attempts to make sense, cope with, and understand the ongoing epidemic of shootings taking place in the United States.  This last week, it was the deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile at the hands of police officers. And then not even a few days later, the deaths of 5 police officers at the hands of Micah Johnson.

I think many of us empathize with the fear and the pain of the people involved in these incidents.   I think many of us here in Canada deliberate over this situation because we wonder if the same thing can take place here.  And it does.  It even happens with our Indigenous population.

If you’re looking for a way to mindfully engage with this issue and at the same time something great to read this summer, I highly recommend reading Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew G.I. Hart.  In this book, Drew not only lays out his own personal experience of growing up black in the US and having to live with the reality that he could be shot by police without provocation or justification; but he also does an excellent job of communicating how even our language around this conversation can inadvertently support and intensify racism.

I found Drew’s writing to be insightful, so well-researched, and I would certainly describe this book as crucial and essential to any conversation around race and violence in our world today.  Check it out for yourself!

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6:30pm Musical Service this Sunday

If you’re planning on coming out to The First Mennonite Church this Sunday, please know that we will be meeting at 6:30pm!  And not our usual time of 10:30am.

This Sunday, we will explore Sensing God through our Hearing.

There are multiple ways that sound can influence us spiritually.  Some of us can feel like we’re having an encounter with the divine when we hear a particularly beautiful song or the sound of a particular instrument.  There is something powerful and incredible when you hear a multitude of people just belting out their voices in unison for a particular song.

Some of us feel we are encountering the divine when we hear the sounds of the world around us such as water lapping on a seaside; water running through a river; or the song of birds.  For some of us, it’s the sound of humanity hustling and bustling through a city.  For still others, it’s the absence of sound altogether that can make them feel as if they are experiencing God.

I’d like to share two things with you that have made me feel like I am experiencing something powerful and worshipful.  The first might seem kindof silly at first; but stay with me on this.

When my wife Michele and I spent time in South Korea, the first thing we learned was just how much people like to sing!  Not only were karaoke bars one of the most popular destinations across all of Korea, but you could even step into coin-operated karaoke booths by the side of the road and sing by yourself or with your friends.

Listen to what it sounds like when over 80,000 South Koreans sing along with one of their favourite artists Psy.  It’s an incredibly powerful and overwhelming noise to hear so much humanity singing together!

Now that I got the silly out of the way.  This next song is a simple expression of one of my favourite verses in the Bible: 1 John 4:18 which says that there “is no fear in love.”  Here, Steffany Grettzinger delivers a soulful and beautiful take on a simple yet profound cry that she makes to God.  Check it out!

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