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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A Meditation on Ash Wednesday

Today, Lord, we repent. Today, we mark our faces with ashes and we beat our hearts in mourning for what we have done.

As we look forward to the celebration of the sacrifice and the resurrection of your Son, we prepare our hearts by realizing the gravity of what we have done with our choices and with our world.

We take up the refrain of our brothers and sisters of old to dress ourselves “in sackcloth, and sit among the ashes” of our sins. (Jer. 6: 26, NLT).

Because this is the plain truth, Lord. We, who call ourselves Christians, often act as if you do not exist. We honour you with our lips, but our hearts are far from you.

We proclaim faith, but we walk in atheism.

We say God is alive, but if you look at our actions, God is dead. For if we really believed God were alive and present, would we really act as we do?

Today, Father, we repent of the many ways we have conducted ourselves in the absence of our belief.

You call for peace, but we have chosen war with the bombs and the bullets that have claimed sons and daughters, and mothers and fathers in the Middle East. We use ethnic and religious lines to proclaim our brothers and sisters as enemies, less than human, and worthy of being killed.

You call for the poor to be fed, but we have chosen to feed ourselves. We hoard our riches, and leave our brother and sister on the street to starve and shiver in the cold.

You call for people of all races and ethnicities to be your children, but we, the church, have allowed powerful systems of racism to take root in our hearts.

You call for restoration, reconciliation, and justice for all of your children, but we continue to exclude, judge, and oppress our First Nations brothers and sisters. We even turn a blind eye as they are horribly killed.

You call for the dignity of women, but we, the men of the church, continue to degrade and devalue your image in women through our jokes, through our misogyny, and through our ignorance.

These are but a few of the ways that we mourn today, Lord.

Because although, as Christians, we tell the world that you exist, you do not exist in our actions.

And we pray, “break through our unbelief, Lord!” We yearn for the light of your resurrection to break through death and raise our belief back to life.

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The Dardar Family is in the news again!

The Dardar family was invited by the Mayor of St Catharines to attend the State of the City luncheon.  Bashar and Afifa posed for a photo and made the front page of the paper.  They feel very safe here and they were happy to meet the Mayor!  (Photo from the St Catharines Standard, Jan 30, 2016).

The Dardar family were invited to the State of the City address as guests of the Mayor of St Catharines.

The Dardar family was invited to the State of the City address as guests of the Mayor of St Catharines.

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Dangerous Religious Thought Pt. 2

So, you might recall that last week, I responded to Gretta Vosper’s statement of “our use of theological language that posits a moral authority is a very dangerous tool in the 21st century,” by suggesting that “You don’t have to just be religious about God to be dangerous. You can be religious about anything and be dangerous.”

You might also recall that I alluded to Part Two of my response to Rev. Vosper by quoting Jesus when he says “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you…if you love only those who love you, what good is that?” (Matt. 5: 44-46, NLT).

When we consider the teachings of Jesus, are they dangerous? Is the moral authority of Jesus dangerous? Jesus certainly says, “anyone who obeys my teaching will never die” (John 8: 51, NLT) and “anyone who listens to my teaching and obeys me is wise” (Matt. 7:24, NLT). So he certainly seems to posit himself as a moral authority in the lives of people who listen to him.

But what do you think of his teaching?

In the quote from Jesus that I included in last week’s post, Jesus doesn’t seem to demand the destruction and murder of those people who oppose him. Instead, he tells his followers to love them, and pray for them. Is that a dangerous religious thought?

Jesus says in Luke 6: 20-21 that God blesses those people who are poor, hungry, and in mourning. Not people who are rich, greedy, and boastful. Is that a dangerous religious thought?

In the fourth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus breaks down both gender and cultural barriers by not only talking to a Samaritan woman (something a good Jewish boy was not supposed to do), but also giving her dignity by saying she has access to God. Is that a dangerous religious thought?

Don’t get me wrong. I think there have been many dangerous Christians throughout history who have been capable of great and terrible things; but therein lies the exact problem. It is “Christians” who have been dangerous, not “Christ.”

We must never confuse Jesus with the circle of people who are around Jesus and following him. We follow Jesus, not the circle of people around him. We follow Christ, not Christians.

And I would argue that Jesus is not a dangerous moral authority but rather an incredible model of love and peacemaking.

Don’t believe me? Don’t go solely on my opinion. Check out the gospels for yourself. See what you think of Jesus. Decide for yourself. Is the moral authority of Jesus dangerous, or is it actually quite intriguing?

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Dangerous Religious Thought?

If you’ve been following the story, Gretta Vosper is a minister in the United Church who recently made headlines as a church minister who is openly…wait for it…atheist. That’s right. She works as a minister, and she openly and intentionally teaches that God does not exist; neither does Jesus.

Now, this raises all sorts of interesting questions. What does it mean to be the church? What is the connection between God and the concept of church? How do doubt, skepticism, and just outright disbelief fit into a community that uses the word “church” to describe itself? How do we handle things when someone disagrees with us on our understanding of God? How do we facilitate dialogue between different opinions?

I don’t want to spend a lot of time initially on the question of whether or not Gretta can be a minister and be an atheist (that’s a whole different series of questions); but I did find one particular comment that she made interesting. During a recent CBC interview (link is below), Gretta Vosper says, “Our use of theological language that posits a moral authority is a very dangerous tool in the 21st century.” Gretta seems to suggest here that belief in a deity that leads to moral authority is dangerous. And I’d actually like to respond to this statement in two ways. Today, I’ll share part one of my thoughts.

I’ll start by saying this: “You don’t have to just be religious about God to be dangerous. You can be religious about anything and be dangerous.”

What do I mean by “religious?” Let me suggest that in this context, I’m using “religious” to refer to “anyone who believes so certainly in an idea or a principle that no difference of opinion is accepted.”

It is not wrong to simply have an idea or a principle, or even a moral authority. This is actually just how thought, interaction, and relationships all take place. For example, your moral authority could be “God wants me to be kind to people,” or you might say, “it is generally good for the survival of human beings to be kind to one another.” Both are moral decisions, and both possess a moral authority that drives someone to make a decision. In one case, it’s the theological idea of a God that says be kind to others; in the other case, the moral authority is a philosophy that might make reasonable sense to the person who chooses it.

All of our interactions with the world are fueled by ideas and principles (ie. it is good to have friends, I like this person, I wish to be kind to this person, it is good to be kind to people, etc.). A problem arises when we become religious about our ideas and/or principles. By this I mean, it is dangerous when we believe so certainly in our idea and our principle that any degree of coercion and/or force is justified in order to cause people to conform to your idea or principle.

For example, “non-believers are going to hell, we must make them confess belief in God through any means necessary,” or “religious belief is the opiate of the masses, we must eliminate religion through any means necessary.” Many people have made both kinds of statements.

I agree with Gretta that being religious about something can be very dangerous. We’ve certainly seen that play out in most major religions in the world; even my own faith of Christianity.

However, I would say that religions do not have the corner market on religious behavior. As human beings, we can be religious about a great many things: political systems, economic systems, scientific theories, socio-economic class divides, sports team fandom, racism, and more.

I’ll give you a bit of a teaser for next week’s part two of my response to Gretta Vosper’s statement: when asked about people who disagree with him, or are “enemies” with him, Jesus says, “love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you…if you love only those who love you, what good is that?” (Matt. 5: 44-46, NLT).

More next week!

Here is also the link to the CBC interview with Gretta Vosper:

http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-january-11-2016-1.3398187/atheist-minister-fights-to-keep-her-place-in-the-united-church-1.3398237

 

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Meet the Dardar Family!

We sponsored a family from Syria and they are here!  You can learn more about them in the slideshow available in two different formats at the following links:

Powerpoint: Dardar-Family

PDF: Dardar-Family

Many people from inside and outside of the church have helped to support this effort.  Special thanks to all who contributed!

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We are in the News Again

Niagara This Week published an article describing the arrival of the refugees we have sponsored from Syria.  You can view the article at the following link:

Refugee_News_-_Niagara_This_Week

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A Holy Experience (Our Syrian Family Arrives)

A holy experience.

I think that’s the best way to describe this morning as we greeted the arrival of the Syrian family we have sponsored to come to Canada.

Today, a bunch of us travelled to Toronto, met with our newcomer family, and transported them to their new home in St. Catharines. It’s only been a few hours since we’ve met, but our interaction with them has already been profound.

A father and a mother, their three children, and their grandmother. They arrived yesterday, but we meet them in the hotel lobby where they have spent the night after their long journey. Joanne greets the children with gift bags containing balloons, stuffed animal pillows, and more. The two boys grin from ear-to-ear at their gifts, while the youngest girl, only two years of age, immediately latches onto the balloon and won’t give it up for anything. Lorie greets them with a sign saying, “Welcome to Canada” in Arabic.

The father immediately expresses his thankfulness as best as he can through the translator who’s accompanied us. It’s immediately evident that they are tired and overwhelmed with all of the incredible changes they are experiencing. But even so, the father immediately expresses that we can never know how much this means to his family, and that it was only a short time ago during their journey to flee Syria that they were running past bodies and victims of the violence as they tried to get their children to safety.

The mother and grandmother sink to a nearby couch and begin to cry at what has just happened. Their last home was a storage shed, without electricity and hot water. They all express how they have waited to be safe, and Joanne reassures them saying, “ No more guns. No guns. You’re safe now.”

Jesus says that wherever we gather, he is there with us. He also says that we are the light of the world, and that we are the hands and the feet of his love to the world.

When we love one another, it becomes an act of worship, and Jesus says that this is how we worship best.

When we love one another as we are in need, just as we hope someone would love us, it’s the most holy experience we can have, and that’s what we shared with our Syrian newcomer family this morning.

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