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!

Special Note – We are Hiring! We are searching for a lead Pastor with a strong grounding in Anabaptist values and social justice issues. Please send your CV to Henry Paetkau at hpaetkau@mcec.ca for consideration.

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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Ordinary Pentecost

Communication can be difficult.

Perhaps you’ve played the telephone game, where persons in a circle whisper a sentence to the person beside them.  The sentence is passed around the circle, and by the time it reaches the last person the sentence has become quite different from how it started out.  The saying, “I know you think you understand what you thought I said, but I’m not sure you are aware that what you heard is not what I meant” resonates in our experience.  And in spite of the explosion of social media—email, Facebook, Twitter—the difficulties in communication only seem to be compounded.

But on the day of Pentecost, as reported in Acts 2, a miracle happens.  Not only do people acquire the gift of speaking clearly.  They also receive the gift of hearing.  Everyone on whom the Spirit at the first Pentecost descends hears clearly, in their own language, the word of God spoken by others.

Pentecost will be the focus of our worship on Pentecost Sunday, May 24.  We note that at the original Pentecost, it was not just the preachers or religious functionaries but ordinary people who were empowered by the Spirit of God to speak the word of God—in other words, to prophesy.  Everyone—old and young, male and female, people of all classes, including slaves—received the ability to speak of what God is doing in their midst.

Ordinary people, using ordinary words, to speak the extraordinary words of God.  That was God’s gift on the first Pentecost.  It is what Pentecost continues to be about today.

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He has gone up!

In the wider church, Sunday, May 17 is Ascension Sunday.  It remembers Jesus’s ascension to heaven after 40 days on earth following his resurrection (Acts 1:6-26).   This story, and the first thing the disciples do in its wake, will be the focus of our worship this Sunday.

We give a lot of attention to Jesus’s death on the cross and his resurrection on the third day.  But the ascension is the neglected child in this trinity of momentous events.  Does it mean anything for us in 2015?

Churches in Europe give more attention to the ascension than we do.  In some cathedrals there is a hole in the ceiling, right above the altar, and on Ascension Sunday a porcelain Christ figure that has been placed on the table is pulled up through the hole, leaving everyone in the church, like those first disciples, “gazing up toward heaven.”  Then, after a moment, a dove is lowered through the same opening.  In some churches there also follows a shower of almonds, nuts, raisins and other treats from above…rather like the coming of the Spirit on Pentecost.

But the ascension is about much more than Jesus floating up into the sky.  It really is a political statement about the crucified and resurrected Jesus ascending to power as the world’s true Lord.  As in the Old Testament, where God “goes up” to reign in power over the nations (Psalm 47), so also has Jesus “gone up,” to reign at the right hand of God over the world.

Watching the news can make one conclude that the world’s lords are the ones who control the most money, armies and political power.  And the daily reminders that the world is in the grip of powers that are often evil can be depressing.

That’s why we need to complete Jesus’s death and resurrection with his ascension.  The ascension affirms that it is the risen Jesus who ultimately reigns over the peoples and nations of the earth, that one day his invisible rule will be disclosed for all to see, and that his will—God’s will—shall be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Thank God that Jesus has “gone up!”  That is very, very good news.

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The importance of ‘nurture’

With spring having arrived, I’m trying to grow grass in bare spots in our lawn that were dug up by raccoons.  It’s a challenge.

The bag of grass seed gives me four instructions.  1.  Prepare your soil.  Break up clods of dirt and level it out.  2.  Fertilize the soil.  3.  Plant the seeds.  Spread them evenly.  3.  Cover seeds lightly with  ¼ inch of dirt.  4.  Water often.  Keep seed bed moist until germination.    I would add a fifth, which is:  5.  Wait, be patient.  It can take 2 weeks for seeds to sprout.  And if I want to really be conscientious I will follow further instructions.  6.  Protect the new grass from being trampled.  7.  Keep it watered.  8. Mow the lawn.  9.  Fertilize.   We could say that this whole process, apart from the actual seeding, is one of “nurturing” the new grass.

Gardeners and farmers know the importance of nurturing their crops.  So do parents, when it comes to child-rearing.  So do churches, when it comes to forming disciples of Jesus.

“Nurturing” will be the theme of our worship on Sunday, May 10.  Nurturing was valued in both ancient Israel and the New Testament.  The Apostle Paul, for instance, stresses the importance of growing up “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

What does it mean for us to nurture persons in faith, and to be nurtured by our church?  What are the forces in our culture that work against Christian nurture?   How have we been nurtured by others, by the church, and by God?  What are the steps and methods we can take to nurture the seeds of faith not only among our children and youth but among adults as well?

Like trying to get grass to grow, nurturing persons in faith does not just happen.  It requires careful attention.   After all, our culture is always nurturing us in its ways, whether we know it or not.  And those ways may be quite at odds with our faith.

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What’s that smell?

A few weeks ago, when it was still cold in Ontario, we visited a place in the USA where we could tell that the seasons had changed.  In case we hadn’t noticed the green grass and spring flowers, it was the smells—like the aroma of freshly-cut grass—that announced that spring had come.

The Apostle Paul knew about smells—especially pleasant ones.  Smells not deriving from fragrant grass clippings or flowers, but from the trail of one’s life and witness.  To the church in Corinth he writes,   “But thanks be to God, who in Christ…through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God…” (2 Cor. 2:14-15).

In our worship on Sunday, May 3, our guests, Nathan and Taryn Dirks, will speak to us about smells.  From their experience as Mennonite Church Canada workers in Botswana, they will help us think about how we can our opportunities to offer ourselves lovingly and creatively to God, so that we can become that pleasing aroma that Paul talks about.

The aroma of Christian presence can be powerful.  In the 2008 earthquake in China that killed nearly 70,000 people, a church group was among the first to bring aid to a small remote mountain village that had been devastated.  That act of compassion made a strong impression on those villagers, most of whom had little or no acquaintance with the church, so much so that the tiny church in that village grew greatly in the weeks and months following.

Christians who do not live as if Jesus were Lord and Savior also give off an odor, one that is not pleasant and which people can notice and turn up their nose to.

How much more pleasant is the aroma that comes from a life that embodies that same care and love—both tender and tough—that Jesus showed to those whose lives he touched.  It’s an aroma that prompts people to ask, “What’s that smell?  I like it.”

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Easter is concentric

You no doubt have noticed what happens when you drop a stone into a body of still water.  Yes, the stone sinks to the bottom.  But there’s more that happens.  When the stone strikes the water, it sends out ripples in every direction.  These concentric circles travel great distances, crashing into whatever they come into contact with.

The same thing happens with people.  Each of us sends out concentric circles, impacting other people near and far.

And that is what the gospels report happens with Jesus after his resurrection.  Jesus’ rising out of death on the third day was like a mighty rock dropped onto the surface of a lake, sending out wave after wave of circles.  The risen Jesus appears now here, now there—to fearful disciples in a locked room, to two desolated friends walking on a road, and, in our main text for our worship for Sunday, April 26 (John 21:1-19), to his disciples who have gone back to their ordinary job of fishing.

Usually the people whom the risen Jesus impacts do not at first recognize him.  It takes a while for their eyes to open.  But then they recognize the stranger as the Jesus they knew before.  And the risen Jesus talks with them, shares food with them, and teaches them.

Easter is concentric.   The waves from Jesus’ rising  keep on spreading out, impacting us in the course of our everyday routines and lives.   The question is whether our eyes will be open to see him when the still-radiating impact of Easter strikes us.

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Peculiar Easter

Good stories usually have endings where problems are solved, tensions are resolved, and loose ends are tied up.  Think “And they lived happily ever after!” of the fairy tales.  Or the end to a murder mystery, when he learn that the butler did it.  Or the conclusion to a suspense thriller, where the good guy wins.

But not so in the story of Jesus’ resurrection in the Gospel of Mark (16:1-8), which will be the focus of our worship on Easter Sunday, April 5.  In this Easter story, the ending is peculiar.  There is no appearance of the risen Lord, no disciples putting their fingers in the risen Jesus’s wounds, no joyful seaside meals, no embrace in a garden, no cry of “He is risen!” from the disciples.  Instead, Mark’s gospel ends on a very unsatisfying note, with three very frightened women fleeing from the cemetery in silence.

An ending like that to a novel would feel strange and unfinished.  Why has Mark given us such a dangling and peculiar conclusion to the story of Jesus’s victory over death?

We might have a clue in the words the young man at the empty tomb gives the women:  “Go to Galilee, there you will see him.”  Galilee, the place where the women come from.  Galilee, the province where most of Jesus’s ministry took place.  Galilee, the district where Jews and Gentiles rubbed shoulders.  And for these women’s Easter story to have a proper ending, they need to go to back Galilee.

Whether the women return to find Jesus in Galilee we are not told.  That is left to the reader’s imagination.  Again, we only have this peculiar ending, which literally translated reads, “To no one anything they said; afraid they were for.”

Maybe Mark has given us this peculiar ending because he wants us, the reader, to recapture the peculiar nature of Easter.  Could it be that our Easter lilies, trumpet ensembles, Hallelujah! choruses, while inspiring, conceal as much as they reveal about the risen Christ?  Could it be that our own discovery of the resurrected Jesus will be less in high and holy moments of worship than back in ordinary, everyday Galilee, the humdrum place where we live?    And, could it be that if we don’t go seeking Jesus in Galilee, our Easter, like that which ends Mark’s gospel, will also be unsatisfying, and unfinished?

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The violin string

There are many dimensions to the Palm Sunday story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem at the beginning of the final week of his  earthly life.  Many details of the story we usually gloss over—such as Jesus tasking his disciples to find him a donkey.  The gospel writer Mark gives a surprising amount of space to this seemingly minor matter (11:1-11), and we’ll be asking why he does so on Sunday, March 29.

More traditionally, Palm Sunday has been seen as the day when Jesus begins his walk to the cross, where he died for the world’s sin. That emphasis will become explicit on “Good Friday.”   A British pastor, Samuel Wells, has likened Jesus on the cross to “a violin string,” stretched between two poles, as was a courageous ship passenger in the following true story.

On the night of March 6, 1987, a ferry carrying 500 people across the English Channel to England sank in the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, 90 seconds after leaving harbor. A crewman had fallen asleep and had failed to close the bow doors. Another crewman had seen the doors were open but chose not to close them because it wasn’t his job. So water gushed into the open doors and the ship capsized, with the loss of nearly 200 lives.

An assistant bank manager, Andrew Parker, was a passenger on the ferry that night, and did an extraordinary thing. He saw two metal barriers, and, below, in the gap between them, he saw onrushing water. Behind him were dozens of people. So Parker held on to one barrier with his fists and the other with his ankles, and made his own body into a human bridge by stretching between the two barriers. Some 20 terrified people, including his own wife and daughter, climbed over him to safety

Samuel Wells writes, “ How he found the courage and strength, how he still was rescued after laying down his life for so many, no one could say. But there was no doubt that in that disaster the world could see both ends of the violin string – the depths of human failure and the heights of human aspiration. ‘Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13).  Wells concludes:  “Jesus is the violin string stretched out between heaven and earth. And the music played on that string is what we call the gospel.”

That’s the music we will listen to during the Holy Week that lies ahead.

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