Reimer dies two days after concert

Church loses theologian who loved it

September 9, 2010 | Web First
by Dave Rogalsky | Eastern Canada correspondent
James Reimer, left, visibly weak, is accompanied by Henry Schmidt, Ron Harder and Bob Janzen, as they perform the final concert of Five on The Floor.

A. James (Jim) Reimer died on August 28 just two days after the final concert of his beloved blue grass gospel quartet, Five on the Floor. The concert epitomized Reimer’s love for God, music and the church – it was a fundraiser for the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre which Reimer was instrumental in founding in 1991. He served as director of this institution which helps prepare teachers and theologians to train pastors and teachers in churches and educational institutions.  As Tom Yoder Neufeld said in the funeral sermon, “Jim loved the academy . . .  he loved the church even more.” One of  Reimer’s major theological projects was to connect Mennonite theology to the larger Christian world’s theology with a re-appreciation of the great creeds which Anabaptist theology have often connected with the fall of the church under Constantine. Neufeld added that Reimer’s deep faith in God’s grace and love made it possible for him to dialogue with others. That dialogue took him to East Germany in the 1970’s and 80’s, and made him a central participant in the Shi’a Muslim – Mennonite Christian dialogue of the past ten years.Born in Altona Manitoba, he grew up in the Bergthaler Mennonite Church, now part of MC Canada.  He married Margaret Loewen in 1968 and they have three children, Christina, Thomas and Micah. His education took him to Canadian Mennonite Bible College and the University of Manitoba.  He spent a year at Union Theological Seminary in New York and completed his graduate degrees at Toronto School of Theology, University of Toronto. He began teaching at Conrad Grebel College in 1978 and retired in 2008.  The University gave him the honour of Distinguished Professor Emeritus.His deep love relationship with Margaret was mentioned often, described as one of balance between the more mercurial Jim and the matter-of-fact Margaret. She was credited with encouraging him to find help for his periods of depression and struggle.At the funeral each of his children spoke with passion and love, describing their father as one who had loved and cared for them through their whole lives, taking time for them in the midst of a full academic life.  Humorous stories were balanced with stories of his academic pursuits spilling over into his conversations and arguments with them. His last words had been to ask Christina if she was still working on her thesis. “He was a dedicated father and a teacher to the very end.” Thomas spoke of a trip down the Romantische Strasse in Germany, taken with his dad after a Paul Tillich conference in Frankfurt. One night, in the darkness of a bed and breakfast attic, Reimer told his ten year old son about Emmanuel Kant’s contribution to philosophy and theology. Micah described camping with friends, chaperoned by his dad. His dad’s great joy had been to listen to his three young charges playing games, talking and laughing late into the night. He remembered his father as “one of the few people I know who gave me truly satisfactory responses when it came the questions I had about faith.”The second last song at the August 28 concert was “Who will sing for me when I’m gone” which Reimer did not join.  At the funeral both blue grass gospel and music such as the Closing Chorale of Bach’s St. John’s Passion were sung for him. Reimer was a complex man who loved both his fellow human beings and God deeply.

James Reimer, left, visibly weak, is accompanied by Henry Schmidt, Ron Harder and Bob Janzen, as they perform the final concert of Five on The Floor.

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