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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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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Compass of the heart

We recently got a GPS for our car.  A GPS (Global Position System) is a kind of  compass.  It’s a high-tech device that plots the position of your car from a number of satellites in stationary orbit above the earth.  By taking several readings, the device can tell the driver where exactly he or she is.  And it literally “tells” you where you are—it has a voice that speaks.

A GPS can also tell the driver how to get to any destination. On a small screen attached to your dashboard, it will show the route to take, and can also point out other details, such as nearby hospitals, restaurants and parks.

But a GPS is not infallible.  Sometimes it can give wrong directions.  This happened during a recent trip.  We were on a back road deep in the countryside of an unfamiliar area.  I knew the general direction of the town we were trying to get to, that it was to our left.  But the GPS kept telling us, “Turn right at the next intersection.”

We could say that our conscience is a kind of GPS, designed to give us moral directions.  Sometimes our conscience functions well.  But sometimes, due to improper maintenance or the pull of a disordered social environement, our conscience malfunctions and gives us the wrong direction.  And that is the human problem—our internal  conscience compass has gotten corrupted.

The good news is that God offers us a new compass to live by.  In our Old Testament scripture for Sunday, March 22, the prophet Jeremiah talks about a better kind of internal GPS that God wants to give us:  “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”  (31:33).   That internal “law” is the software that will keep us going in the direction that is best for us and those with whom we live.

One place we acquire and maintain that new, internal compass of the heart is in the church.   In regular worship with our fellow members of the people of God, through listening, reflecting, singing, praying, studying, asking, and receiving the active grace of God, we keep renewing our hearts and minds in Christ.  And when that happens, Jeremiah’s promise is fulfilled:  God graciously, intimately writes on our hearts the direction God wishes us to go.   Our internal GPS keeps us on the right road–and tells us to “turn left” (and not right) when we should turn left.

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Instead of luck

Many people, it seems, believe in luck.  “Good luck,” we wish each other.  “What rotten luck,” we moan,when some unfavorable circumstance strikes.

The gambling industry testifies to our culture’s chasing after luck.  Lotteries have been phenomenally successful.   Despite the rather ridiculous odds against anyone winning a lottery, millions play them, all hoping that Lady Luck will make them rich for the small price of a ticket.

The Bible, though, doesn’t know much about luck.  What we find there  is God, moving, caring, hearing, acting behind the scenes of our lives.  Instead of luck, there is “providence”– the quiet conviction that, by God, our world is moving somewhere, toward some good end.

We see this in Genesis 17, our main text for Sunday, March 8.  God comes to Abram and Sarai, reassuring them that though they are old and barren, they will yet be the father and mother of many nations.  Their “bad luck” will be overridden by the new life that God will give them, as part if God’s providential design for blessing the world.

As Christians we ought not to say “good luck.” Rather, affirming providence, it’s better  to say, “God be with 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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