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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Finding Unity amongst Diversity or Can I take Paul seriously?

This past weekend, I attended the White Privilege Symposium presented by the Racial Climate Taskforce at Brock University. Myself, and fellow First Mennonite attendee, Janet Moore, participated in several workshops and listened to keynote addresses that dealt with topics around race including indigenous populations, African-American populations, and more.

One particular workshop that we attended revolved around How to Address White Privilege to Skeptics. Sounds interesting, right? Our first exercise in this workshop was to delineate and list all of the multiple combinations that we can use to express and describe identity (ie. race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, etc.).

After that was completed, we were invited to observe how rights, resources, representation, and respect are then attained in Canadian society. Which races, cultures, religions, sexual orientations, etc. have never had to fight for access to these four things?

Once we completed the exercise, the whiteboard at the front looked something like this:


Incredible, right? Three things struck me as we went through this exercise:

  • People really need to get past the point of saying “there is no such thing as white privilege.” You literally put together a room of diverse people, and white privilege quickly becomes apparent.
  • Diversity and difference creates an amazing kaleidoscope in humanity, but how do we possibly find unity as a species? How do we possibly come together when there are just so many infinite ways to divide us? Even those of us with sexual orientations other than heterosexuality are divided from one another by the increasing plethora of ways to describe sexual orientation.
  • How can I possibly take seriously Paul’s words in Gal. 3: 28 that there “is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians – you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3: 28, NLT). We actually look like anything but “one!”

Perhaps the key is in Gal. 4: 8-12? Here, Paul says that before “you Gentiles knew God, you were slaves to so-called gods that do not even exist. So now that you know God (or should I say, now that God knows you), why do you want to go back again and become slaves once more to the weak and useless spiritual principles of this world? You are trying to earn favor with God by observing certain days or months or seasons or years. I fear for you. Perhaps all my hard work with you was for nothing. Dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to live as I do in freedom from these things, for I have become like you Gentiles—free from those laws” (Gal. 4: 8-12, NLT).

Here, of course, Paul is specifically discussing how he doesn’t want the Christians of Galatia to believe that they have to observe racial/cultural rules like the practice of circumcision in order to get right with God. Paul spends a huge chunk of this letter protesting that Christians are called to be free from these “so-called gods” or these “weak and useless spiritual principles.” He suggests that when we try to get people to conform to culture as opposed to Christ, this is actually anti-Gospel.

It’s almost as if Paul says that we must embrace the freedom that faith can now take place in multiple racial/cultural diversities and yet somehow unite us; as long as we choose to reject other “gods.”

Is it possible that we have so many different ways to divide ourselves as a species and we have so many different ways to describe ourselves that they sometimes no longer reflect healthy diversity, but they are actually gods unto themselves that we worship?

For example, during our conference, Associate Professor of Sociology at Brock, Tamari Kitossa described how black people often have to perform as white in order to function and receive recognition in a predominantly white society. If I demand that someone from a different part of the world perform “whiteness” in their faith as I perform “whiteness”, am I guilty of creating a “white god” that I now make people worship as opposed to the God of the Bible that Paul refers to? I think that’s absolutely possible and that it is a sad hallmark of Christian history!

Perhaps another key then resides in Gal. 5: 6 where Paul says “there is no benefit in being circumcised or being uncircumcised. What is important is faith expressing itself in love” (Gal. 5:6, NLT). Perhaps another way to read this is that there is no benefit in “whiteness;” what is important is faith expressing itself in love.

But how does love express itself in faith? In Phil. 2:7, Paul describes “kenosis” or “self-emptying” as one of the key attitudes that Christians are called to emulate. Christ makes himself “nothing.” He even takes the position of a slave.

Is the path to unity as a species a willingness to empty ourselves of privilege, recognize how we construct racial narratives, abandon the “gods” that divide us, and find our unity in the love that a Palestinian Jewish rabbi displayed 2000 years ago? Maybe so, but that’s for you to decide.


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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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