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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God’s foolishness

What a foolish God we Christians believe in (1 Corinthians 1:18-25, our main text for Sunday, Mar. 1)!   A God, who, on the one hand, gives us almost impossible rules to live by, and yet, on the other hand, mediates for us, through Jesus, so that we are totally acceptable in the family of God, seemingly no matter how grievous our violations of those same rules.

How foolish, and extremely counter-cultural, we Christians must appear to others, following a man named Jesus who renounced position, wealth, and violence, even succumbing to death, when he could have established quite a successful Jewish kingdom,

And what does it mean for us in daily life to prayerfully listen for God’s guidance and wisdom? Is this not also foolishness, in our self-sufficient, work-oriented age, when we have become so educated and affluent, confident of success and controlling our lives?

Maybe the only thing that will maintain our allegiance to this “foolish” God is  by “being present” with God in silence, loving contemplation, and prayerful listening.  Responding from our hearts, not our heads, to God’s nurturing love, can bring healing and transformation. Allowing ourselves to be re-parented, through grace and truth, can help us find our “true selves,” enabling us to form authentic relationships and empowering us to live out God’s “upside down, inside out” dream for the world.

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With a voice of singing

The Bible contains over 400 references to “singing,”  with over 60 of them coming in the Psalms.  Why sing?

Perhaps the simplest reason is because it connects us to God in a profound way, often more deeply than through spoken words.  Whether through traditional hymns, chants, gospel songs, folk songs, anthems, international music, even jazz and rock, Mennonites in particular among Christian denominations have valued singing as a means to experience God and to express faith in God.  Singing together also binds people together into community.

Just think of the importance of  “Praise God from whom all blessings flow” (“606,” now 118 in the current Mennonite Hymnal) in our Mennonite tradition.  “606” has been called the “Mennonite sacrament.”

In our worship Sunday, Feb. 22, we will do lots of singing.  We will be led by our weekend guest, Marilyn Houser Hamm of Manitoba, who has resourced the Mennonite church in music and worship for decades.

So come and “sing to the Lord a new song, sing and bless his name, sing of his salvation from day to day” (Psalm 91.1).

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A royal waste of time

Is worship “useful?”  Does it “do anything” for us?  Is it a good use of our time?

We might ask practical-minded questions like these.  But such questions were far from the mind of the disciples when they encounter a transfigured Jesus on a mountain (Mark 9), our main text for worship on Sunday, Feb. 15.  Their questions were:  How long can we stay?  Do we have to go so soon?  Can we pitch tents and hold on to this experience and just set up camp here, maybe forever?  It seemed not to matter to them that they were “wasting time.”

What about us?  Is worship a practical exercise in getting something we need (e.g. peace of mind, an insight into life, a tip on how to be faithful)?  Those things ought to be found in worship.

Still, is it alright, maybe even necessary, just to “be” in the presence of Jesus, as with the disciples in the transfiguration story?  Even if it seems like a waste of time?

 

 

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Keep silent and listen

There’s a chorus sometimes sung in churches that’s entitled “Unity.”   It starts like this:

                Jesus, help us live in peace

                From our blindness set us free,

                Fill us with your healing love,

                Help us live in unity.

That’s easier sung than done!  Conflict is an inevitable part of life, not least in churches.  Perhaps especially in churches, because God, God’s will, and God’s Word so often seem to be at stake.  And also because we’d like our churches to be warm, friendly places where we all get along…or should get along, because we are supposed to love each other.

What churches find themselves in conflict over ranges widely, from the color of the carpet to how we worship, what the budget should look like, and how to include people who are different and who don’t appear to abide by our moral standards.

The latter was the conflict that the early church faced in Acts 15, the main scripture for our worship on Sunday, Jan. 25.  Their conflict was this:  whether, and on what conditions, should the church include “Gentiles,” that is, persons who had not grown up as Jews?    (Today we might say persons who do not come from Christian backgrounds and who have lived a wild lifestyle.)   And this conflict was a lot more serious than the color of the pew cushions.  The authority of scripture, sacred religious tradition, and the holiness of the church seemed to be at stake.

Instead of trying to avoid their conflict, as churches often try to do, the church in Acts meets it head on.  They convene a big meeting in Jerusalem to sort through the issues.  The process that conference used included several parts.  But the key to their successful resolution is alluded to in the second verse of “Unity”:

                Many times we disagree

                O’re what’s right or wrong to do,

                It’s so hard to really see,

                From the other’s point of view.

In fact, the Jerusalem conference succeeded in making peace with a volatile issue because the various parties were able to listen and hear each other.  As the writer of Acts puts it, “The whole assembly kept silent, and listened.”   In their impassioned discussions and disagreements, they succeeded in hearing and seeing “from each other’s point of view.”

Listening well can be a profound act of caring.  It is also a spiritual discipline.  As we try to listen to each other—not just the words, but the feelings and hurts and hopes and fears behind the words—we show love.  Listening well will not guarantee that we will always agree.  But it will make an outcome all parties can live with more likely.  It will help us discern God’s Spirit.  And it will help the church to stay together when it faces its inevitable conflicts.

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The back road

Traveling from city to city by expressway is fast , direct, and reasonably safe.  But if you want to see new and interesting sites, and maybe have some fun along the way, it’s better to take the back road.

On the back road, you can see trees, flowers, fields and vistas that on the expressway are a blur.  You can spot things like statues, windmills and birdhouses in people’s yards and gardens that from the main road would be invisible.   You’ll pass through small towns and hamlets where you can discover unusual shops and chat with interesting local people that you will never find on the main road.  Travelling the expressway is efficient, convenient–and bland.  Heading out the back road may take you longer, and may even entail some risk, but is bound to yield more surprises.

And that’s what happens to Philip in Acts 8, the text we will consider in our worship on Sunday, January 18.  On his lonely back road trip through Samaria, Philip is definitely surprised.  He encounters one of the most interesting characters in the New Testament—a powerful, exotic Ethiopian eunuch.  It’s a timely meeting, since this man is urgently needing someone like Philip.  The two have a conversation, suddenly there’s a baptism, and the world is changed.

We need to note that Philip takes the unfamiliar route through Samaria not because he wants to see the scenery, but because the Holy Spirit leads him there.   Which might lead us to ask:  what kind of “back roads” in our daily life might the Spirit wish to lead us onto?  What new experiences and interesting people might we encounter should we depart from our well-worn life paths?   And, what “back road” might the Spirit have in mind for our church?   What life-giving surprises might be awaiting us should we have the courage to follow the Spirit’s nudge and forsake the easy, habitual, predictable main highway for—as the poet Robert Frost put it– “the road less traveled?”  For Philip, as for Frost, following the back road “made all the difference.”

(For an interesting complement to the story of Philip in Acts, see Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Less Traveled,” easily available online.)

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Refugee child

Not quite everything in the traditional Christmas story in the gospels is pleasant and enjoyable, though we know well the parts that are.  There’s Luke’s familiar and beloved version, with the singing angels and watchful shepherds, Joseph and Mary in search of shelter, and the birth of Jesus in the manger.  Matthew (which lacks these scenes) adds the Magi who come to worship the infant Jesus, and Joseph’s dream in which he is told to marry an already-pregnant Mary.   Each Christmas we are moved by the beauty and mystery of this story, when, on one climactic “silent night,” all was calm, and all was bright.

But  Matthew does not allow us to remain enchanted around a manger anesthetized from the harsh realities of the world.   He adds a jarring sequel, which we will consider in our worship on Sunday, Jan. 11—the holy family’s flight to Egypt to escape the massacre of infant children in Bethlehem by a frightened and paranoid King Herod (2:13-23).  No sooner have we watched the Magi bow down before the king of the universe than Matthew rudely pulls us back into the real world, where powerful rulers murder innocent babies and in which the very son of God becomes a refugee.

It is understandable why we usually omit this last chapter of the Christmas story.  It is a gruesome finale that shatters the sweetness and serenity of the manger scene.    It spoils an otherwise beautiful  account of Jesus’s birth.  No wonder there are no Roman soldiers in our nativity sets.

But we need to deal with Matthew’s brutal ending to our beloved story, because it raises serious and disturbing questions:  Why do the powers that be react so violently to the news of Jesus’s coming  into the world?  Why does God allow innocent babies to die?  Does God play favorites, as God seems to do by saving only Jesus’s family?    And, what does it mean that Jesus begins his life as a refugee?

Maybe that is the gospel—the good news—of this otherwise unpleasant ending.  Because he starts his life as a refugee child, Jesus knows what it is like to live in a world of violence and fear and death and refugees.  He fully shares the painful and precarious life that many in this world live today.  And through Jesus, God also enters fully into our pain and suffering.  Jesus, the refugee child, shows how completely he is “Emmanuel, God with us,” especially in those times when the night is not silent, and when all is not calm, and all is not bright.

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Gold, frankincense, and foreigners

In contrast to Luke–our more familiar Christmas gospel–Matthew’s story of Jesus’ birth (2:1-12) is both chilling and mysterious.  We find no shepherds and angels, no Mary and Joseph seeking shelter, not even a babe in a manger.  Instead, we have a story of vicious court intrigue, abuse of power by a nervous despot, genocide, and families forced into exile.   And we also find the Magi, or “wise men.”

Who were these Magi, and what does their pilgrimage to Bethlehem mean?  These questions we will consider in our worship on Sunday, Jan. 4.   An important point to note is that the Magi were spiritual outsiders, ethnic foreigners, Gentiles, and pagan believers.  Today we might call them “non-Christians.”  Yet it is they, and not the “true-believers,” who are the first to find and worship the new-born Christ.

How might this happen today—seekers of truth, outside the boundaries of the Christian faith, following their own “star,” discovering Jesus?  How might such spiritual foreigners lead insider-believers to the light of God?

 

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