The good news is that God came to us in Jesus Christ to reconcile us to himself and to invite us into his kingdom. The news of what God has done—and is doing—for us in Christ is so great that no single way, of explaining it is adequate.
1. Does your congregation view the Lord’s Supper as an open table for all, or as a more restricted covenantal meal? Has this view changed over time? Do you feel comfortable participating in communion at a church of another denomination?
1. In what setting have you heard someone “sound the Scripture,” telling a Bible story without reading it? How is re-telling a story different from reading it or repeating it from memory? What makes an effective biblical children’s story?
Managing editor Ross W. Muir was introduced to biblical storytelling when John Epp, a member of the Network of Biblical Storytellers Canada and Toronto United Mennonite Church, visited First Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., last spring. Following that encounter, the two chatted in person and online over the summer and into the fall.
1. Do your Christian values make you feel like a resident alien in Canada? How strong are your ties of loyalty to Canada? How strong is your allegiance to your local community or municipality? How do these ties of loyalty compare with your allegiance to your church community? 2. Do you find it helpful to think of your allegiance to Christ as heavenly citizenship?
In Philippians 2:25-30, the Apostle Paul advises the violently besieged Christian community in Philippi to grant special “honours” to a “fellow-soldier” who has “risked his life” in service of Christ.
In Charles Dickens' well-known story, A Christmas Carol, anyone who dares enter the inner sanctum of Ebenezer Scrooge's office with so much as a suggestion of Christmas is greeted with the now famous words: "Bah! Humbug!
1. Do you know anyone with a “Bah! Humbug! ” attitude towards Christmas? What makes you want to say “Bah! Humbug! ”? Where do you draw the line on sentimentalism? What does it mean to have a heart for Christmas?
1. Dave Rogalsky says that “blood songs” are about atonement. What “blood songs” can you think of? What do these songs say about the death or blood of Christ? What questions do you have about these ideas of atonement?
- Atonement, Justice and Peace: The Message of the Cross and the Mission of the Church by Darrin Snyder Belousek. Eerdmans, 2012.
- Instead of Atonement: The Bible’s Salvation Story and our Hope for Wholeness by Ted Grimsrud. Cascade Books, 2013.
A statue of the Good Shepherd at the St. Callisto Catacombs, Rome. In the early centuries, Jesus was much more likely to be portrayed as the Good Shepherd than as a crucified Messiah.
The Gero Crucifix in the Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral, Germany). In the Middle Ages, Jesus’ suffering on the cross came to the fore, shadowing other images of Jesus as Saviour.
Jesus is pictured on the side of this early Christian sarcophagus in the Vatican Museum turning his back on Moses and the old law, and giving the new law of love to Peter.
In the 1990s, when the Mennonite church in Ontario was deciding whether to add Hymnal: A Worship Book to its pews, a dear (now departed) saint approached me, saying, “I hear that they’ve taken out all the blood songs.” The person wondered if this important part of church heritage and theology was going to be left behind.
1. During the Second World War, what happened when young men in your family or community were called up for military service? What are the stories of your congregation dealing with conscientious objectors? Has the Mennonite church been disrespectful to those who participated in military service?
Of memories I have of family members, the one about my Uncle Sam’s arrest on April 19, 1944, and his imprisonment, which became legendary in our community, left an indelible mark. Uncle Sam was born in the U.S. and was 18 months old when the family moved to Duchess [Alta.]. He had been baptized into the Mennonite Church and attended regularly.
An Altona, Man., war memorial bears the names of local Mennonites who served and died during the Second World War.
V. Wiebe of B.C.’s Fraser Valley served with the Canadian forces in the Second World War, earning five medals. According to ‘The Mennonite Menace: Real or Imagined, an online report from a University of the Fraser Valley student, 66 of 99 Mennonites in Yarrow, B.C., served in the Canadian military, either in combatant roles or as part of the medical corps.
V. Wiebe of B.C.’s Fraser Valley served with the Canadian forces in the Second World War, earning five medals.
Of late, many peace-minded Canadians have been decrying the country’s increasing militarization, calling to mind this country’s proud peacekeeping tradition as if it was a defining feature of confederation. Unfortunately, it’s a false memory, as Canada’s peacekeeping forces weren’t formed until 1956. Its military involvements, however, go back nearly to our country’s beginning.
1. What would happen if someone in your congregation joined the military? Would your church have a prayer of blessing to send him on his way? What does peace mean to you? Can someone who loves peace serve in the military?
The General Council Peace Commission of Mennonite World Conference (MWC) requested a response from Mennonite Church Canada to the question, “How is your church doing in its desire to be a Peace Church?” The two key phrases of this request to our church is, “desire to be” and “Peace Church.” “Desire to be” strongly suggests a process, a pursuit and a passion.
Arlyn Friesen Epp, director of Mennonite Church Canada’s Resource Centre in Winnipeg, recalls peace lamps being introduced at the 2002 MC Canada assembly in Saskatoon. Congregations were invited to purchase the lamps and pray for peace. Some churches continue to light the peace lamps today.
Osler Mennonite Church photo Osler (Sask.) Mennonite Church took its peace message to the community’s 2012 Canada Day parade. Described as the ‘For Peace Marching Band,’ the group played peace songs on its kazoos, earning a blue ribbon from parade organizers for ‘creativity.’
Mennonite Church Saskatchewan’s Peace and Justice Group developed a bus campaign in conjunction with MC Canada’s ‘Peace in the public square’ initiative in 2010. For two months that year, messages such as the one pictured above were seen on Saskatoon streets.
‘I think it is important for Mennonite congregations to emphasize that we are a Peace Church because we have committed our lives to Jesus . . ., not because peace is an Anabaptist distinctive that we must preserve at all cost.’ (Esther Epp-Tiessen)
‘The heresy we face today is salvation without discipleship, and if you take salvation seriously you have to take the words of Jesus seriously.’ (Bernie Loeppky)
“In the last 15 or 20 years, I have heard only one sermon on peace,” says Bernie Loeppky, a member of Grace Mennonite Church in Winkler, Man., and a member of the Evangelical Anabaptist Fellowship (EAF).
1. Have you ever had an experience where you felt unjustly treated and there didn’t seem to be a way to make it right? How did you respond to those feelings of injustice? What happens in the long-term to individuals who struggle with ongoing injustice? How important is it to have past hurts recognized and validated?
This ‘freedom’ graffiti carries significance and irony for South Africans. It is emblazoned on a bridge connecting Soweto to the informal settlement of Kliptown, an area of extreme poverty.
Elmer Courchene is an Anishinabe elder who carries himself with dignity but offers carefully chosen words that reflect the uncertainty within: ‘I’m 77 years old and, without a word of a lie, I’m still trying to find love.’
Mpho Putu, left, grew up in the midst of apartheid and took part in the 1976 Soweto Uprising as a 13-year-old student. A member of the steering committee of the Anabaptist Network in South Africa (ANiSA) since its inception, Putu sees hope and guidance in Anabaptism for the country as it recovers from apartheid’s ravages. He is pictured with Cobus van Wyngaard, an ANiSA steering committee member.
Even after the fall of apartheid, extreme poverty continues. The informal settlement of Kliptown, South Africa, is predominantly comprised of people living in shacks.
Elmer Courchene introduced himself as an Anishinabe elder whose home is Turtle Island. He carried himself with dignity, but his carefully chosen words reflected the uncertainty within: “I’m 77 years old and, without a word of a lie, I’m still trying to find love.”
1. What have been your experiences with the Roman Catholic Church? Do Mennonites today still have the same suspicions about Catholic theology that Will Braun says he grew up with? What do you appreciate about Catholic worship? What are your questions about it?
The San Francesco Basilica in Assisi, Italy, attracts both the faithful and interested tourists to its doors.
The Sedia Gestatoria (litter) of Pope Pius VII (1800-23), part of an exhibition of various thrones in the Galerie des Glaces of Château de Versailles.
Despite gaping holes in the biblical basis for its elaborate hierarchy, and despite relatively widespread pedophilia among its priests, the Roman Catholic Church holds on to roughly twice as many official adherents—1.2 billion—as all Protestant denominations put together.
1. What is a story from your life or from the history of your congregation that has had an impact on you? What stories from the past are important to pass on to future generations? What is the best way to share these stories so that they are not forgotten?