Prairie church looks to further relations with aboriginal neighbours

New cultural groups welcomed, too

March 14, 2012 | God at work in the Church | Number 6
By Karin Fehderau | Saskatchewan Correspondent
The CMU Male Octet performs at the MC Saskatchewan delegate sessions.

For the 200 or so delegates who crowded into the Shekinah Retreat Centre for the Mennonite Church Saskatchewan annual delegate sessions at the end of February, it was a time of looking beyond borders.

Although the theme for the weekend was centred on connections with God and aboriginal issues, delegates also voted to move forward by supporting a new and struggling Vietnamese Mennonite congregation and by beginning a journey with a Burmese tribal group in Regina.

One of the goals of MC Saskatchewan leadership during the consultations that were held in various churches over the past year was to get feedback on how to move the area church forward. One idea proposed was to reach out to immigrants in surrounding neighbourhoods.

Rose Graber, pastor of Grace Mennonite Church, Regina, came with two representatives from the Chin faith group meeting at her church. The Burmese group has been in Regina since 2007.

“Delegates passed a motion to accept them into an informal associate relationship,” said Renata Klassen, former MC Saskatchewan moderator.

Graber referred to it as “a contract of intent . . . so they get to know us and we get to know them.”

A connection with a Calgary pastor led to a second ethnic group being embraced by MC Saskatchewan and a partnership to share the support.

Chow Deng, a Vietnamese Mennonite pastor from Calgary, had been working to establish a congregation in Saskatoon. There is presently a small group meeting at Pleasant Hill Mennonite Church and MC Saskatchewan has agreed to be one of four groups to commit up to $10,000 a year to support a full-time church planter. The other groups involved are Pleasant Hill, Calgary Vietnamese Mennonite Church and the small Vietnamese group beginning in Saskatoon.

That the motion was passed was significant in light of the fact that MC Saskatchewan’s financial picture is not rosy.

“Giving is down. That’s not good,” said Klassen, adding that support was cut to three area church programs. “That was painful for the board,” she said.  

After hearing the results of the budget, which showed that churches aren’t meeting obligations to the conference, Ben Pauls, pastor of Carrot River Mennonite Church, was left to wonder why. “What is that saying about the congregations?” he asked. “Is it recession-related . . . or is it priorities?”

Gerhard Luitjens, pastor of Hope Mennonite Fellowship, North Battleford, commented, “Overall, the [congregation] needs to keep a balance between where you’re serving yourself and what is outreach.”

Aboriginal-Mennonite relations

Support for better Mennonite relationships with aboriginals continues. To that end, one session featured an account by a residential school survivor, Howard Cameron. Wendy Peterson from Manitoba was the featured speaker. Having grown up on land owned by her Métis great-grandfather, Peterson has long been involved with aboriginal people, especially in the area of missions.

Klassen said that Peterson brought a bigger picture to the Saskatchewan story. “She is very involved in aboriginal missions worldwide, not just Canadian missions [and] she brought that perspective,” said Klassen.

Graber also gained much from the keynote address. “I wished I had copies of all her PowerPoints,” she said.

The CMU Male Octet performs at the MC Saskatchewan delegate sessions.

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