Planting a church in a pandemic

Josh and Cindy Wallace’s tiny house church, normally consisting of four households, meets via Zoom each Sunday afternoon. Pictured on screen, clockwise from top left, are: Josh and Cindy Wallace, Taylor Summach and Mark Bigland-Pritchard. (Photo by Taylor Summach)

The ideal time for planting a church is likely not the middle of a pandemic, but Josh and Cindy Wallace have discovered that it can be done.

“We sort of left everything behind on the premise of a house church,” says Cindy.

Who needs denominations?

Gerald Gerbrandt, president emeritus and professor emeritus of Bible at Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, was this year’s speaker at MC Alberta’s Faith studies event in April. (Photo by Esther Gerbrandt)

Many churches today are distancing themselves from denominational labels like “Mennonite,” to appear more inclusive. Renaming churches “The River,” “The Mosaic,” or “Hope City” is one way of communicating this. Others embrace the name “Mennonite” because they want to celebrate their distinctiveness. Both see their decision as part of their witness.

Mennonites in Myanmar facing desperate situation

Jehu Lian, a Mennonite pastor, and his wife, Ma Bawi, show solidarity with the people suffering repression in Myanmar. The three-finger salute—adapted from the Hunger Games film—has become a common symbol of freedom, defiance and solidarity in Myanmar and among pro-democracy movements elsewhere in Southeast Asia. (Photo courtesy of Jehu Lian and Ma Bawi)

Amid mass protests, lethal military response and UN warnings of Myanmar becoming a “new Syria,” one Mennonite source in the country said, “We are in darkness, full of fear and with no hope for the future.”

Canadian Mennonite has agreed not to use the source’s name due to the threat to those who speak critically of the military.

Why not a letter?

Jaxon Gin, a children’s ministry member of Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, is pictured with a stained-glass cross he made. (Photo by Grace Ho)

“Let us consider how we may spur one another toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the day approaching” (Hebrews 10:24-25).

What does biblical togetherness look like during a pandemic?

MC Eastern Canada looks to where God is calling the church

Craig Frere takes in MC Eastern Canada’s spring gathering from his backyard. This was the second year the annual event was held online due to pandemic restrictions. (Photo courtesy of Craig Frere)

Leah Reesor-Keller, MC Eastern Canada’s executive minister, shares the kimchi-making process from her kitchen. The hands-on project got a little messy. (Photo by Leah-Ressor-Keller)

Muriel Bechtel takes in MC Eastern Canada’s spring gathering from her dining-room table. (Photo courtesy of Muriel Bechtel)

Norm Dyck, MC Eastern Canada’s mission minister, top left, welcomes new congregations and their pastors: Rheau Jean-Claude and Marjory Brutus of Ma Destinée, in Montréal, bottom right; and Fitsum Debesay and Habte Araya from Hiyaw Amalak ( Living God) Evangelical Church in Ottawa, bottom left and top right, respectively. (Screenshot courtesy of MC Eastern Canada)

Norm Dyck, MC Eastern Canada’s mission minister, top left, welcomes new congregations and their pastors: Rheau Jean-Claude and Marjory Brutus of Ma Destinée, in Montréal, bottom right; and Fitsum Debesay and Habte Araya from Hiyaw Amalak ( Living God) Evangelical Church in Ottawa, bottom left and top right, respectively. (Screenshot courtesy of MC Eastern Canada)

Pablo Kim Sun preps ingredients for kimchi as he explores how the traditional Korean dish is a good metaphor for the church. The cooking demonstration was part of MC Eastern Canada’s annual Spring Gathering, held virtually April 23 and 24. Participants were invited to follow Kim Sun’s cooking demonstration in their own kitchens. (Screenshot courtesy of MC Eastern Canada)

Paul Brubacher measures ingredients for making kimchi as part of MC Eastern Canada’s annual Spring Gathering, held virtually on April 23 and 24. (Photo by Marilyn Brubacher)

How is the church like kimchi? At Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s spring gathering, held virtually on April 23 and 24, many of the more than 250 in attendance tried making the traditional Korean dish while following Pablo Kim Sun’s demonstration from his kitchen in Toronto.

Zoar Mennonite closes after 111 years

Liz Baerwald estimates that Zoar Mennonite women and men donated more than 5,900 comforters to Mennonite Central Committee since 1962. In the foreground, Liz and husband Greg knot a quilt together, while, in the background, Erna Funk, left, and Pastor Andrea Enns-Gooding work on another. (Photo by Anna Penz)

Following a service of release and blessing, Zoar Mennonite congregants visit together in the church foyer. (Photo by Anna Penz)

Pastor Andrea Enns-Gooding baptizes Annika Neufeldt on April 4, a week before Zoar Mennonite Church’s final worship service. (Photo by Anna Penz)

Zoar Mennonite congregants, pictured from left, Corinne Scheetz, Ruth Ratzlaff, Tina Wiebe, Greg Baerwald, Louella Friesen and Don Friesen, share memories in the church’s fellowship hall during a service of release and blessing held on March 25. (Photo by Anna Penz)

Zoar Mennonite Church gathers for a group photograph following its closing worship service on April 11. (Photo by Erica Baerwald)

“It was not a sudden oh-my-goodness-what-are-we-going-to-do conver­sation,” says Liz Baerwald of her church’s decision to close. As she sees it, the conversation began more than a decade ago.

Hanley Mennonite closes after nearly 100 years

The building that has served Hanley (Sask.) Mennonite Church since 1956. (Photo courtesy of MC Saskatchewan website)

At a church picnic in 1987, Ron Froese, left, steadies the boat as Nancy Martens, Joanne Patkau, Heather Peters, Lisa Martens and Nathan Froese paddle. (Hanley Mennonite Church photo)

Henry Peters, left, Hanley Mennonite Church’s pastor, stands with Margaret Ewen Peters and Gary Peters at their installation as lay ministers in 1989. (Hanley Mennonite Church photo)

The Hanley Mennonite Church congregation in 1992. (Hanley Mennonite Church photo)

The Hanley Mennonite Church choir in the 1990s. (Hanley Mennonite Church photo)

Steve Kroeger reads a story at Hanley Mennonite Church in 2019; listening, from left to right, are children Leena Robins, Callista Robins, Sophia Robins and Ayden Robins. In the background is Joy Kroeger. (Photo by Gary Peters)

“I understand this as part of the life cycle of the church,” says Gary Peters. “We’ve been in the process of aging, now we’re in the process of dying.”

Greetings and gifts on Good Friday

Byron Wiebe welcomes people to the Crossroads Community Church drive-through event on Easter weekend. (Photo by Cory Buettner)

Daniel Visser, a member of Crossroads Community Church, accepts donations to the food bank as part of the congregation’s Easter weekend drive-through. (Photo by Cory Buettner)

Members of Chilliwack’s Crossroads Community Church found a creative way on Easter weekend to both introduce its new pastor in person and to celebrate Easter with the community.

Palestine-Israel Network shares Undercurrents podcast

Peace activists, Sahar Vardi, right, a Jewish Israeli, and Tarek Al-Zoughbi, a Christian Palestinian, are pictured during their cross-Canada speaking tour in 2018 sponsored by MCC. They are also featured in ‘David and Goliath,’ an episode in MCC Ontario’s podcast, Undercurrents, which explores the history and current situation in Palestine and Israel. (File photo by Byron Rempel-Burkholder)

At its 2016 assembly, Mennonite Church Canada passed a resolution affirming nonviolent efforts of Palestinians and Israelis to overcome injustice in their region, and committing Canadian Mennonites to “deepen their understanding of Palestine-Israel relationships.”

The Gourmet Girls

The main course of a meal made by ‘The Gourmet Girls.’ (Photo by Daunine Rachert)

Some of ‘The Gourmet Girls’ meet in the Jeanette Thiessen’s backyard to celebrate Daunine Rachert’s birthday on Oct. 10, 2020. Pictured from left to right: guest Marjorie Kornelsen, Charlene Delcourt, Elaine Hovey and Daunine Rachert. (Photo by Jeanette Thiessen)

‘The Gourmet Girls’ enjoy prosciutto-wrapped asparagus. Pictured clockwise from top left: Daunine Rachert, guest Joanne De Jong, Marlene Nelson, Elaine Hovey, Charlene Delcourt, Jeanette Thiessen. (Photo by Joanne De Jong)

A screenshot of ‘The Gourmet Girls,’ from left to right, top row: Daunine Rachert and Marlene Nelson; middle row: Jeanette Thiessen and Elaine Hovey; and bottom row: Charlene Delcourt. (Photo courtesy of Jeanette Thiessen)

Pear Tarte Tatin prepared by Elaine Hovey for ‘The Gourmet Girls.’ (Photo by Daunine Rachert)

Imagine if you could eat at a five-star restaurant every Saturday night, even during COVID-19. That’s what has been happening in one neighbourhood in Calgary since May 2020.

Making a difference

Grow Hope Niagara

Forty-one acres in Campden, Ont., are being cultivated, planted and harvested for the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, with sponsorships of $400 an acre helping to plant a crop for the Grow Hope Niagara project. When the harvest is sold, farmers will donate the money to the Foodgrains Bank through Mennonite Central Committee.

MC Alberta ends fiscal year with $95K surplus

Werner De Jong was the plenary speaker at this year’s MC Alberta annual delegate sessions, held on Zoom this year. His messages focused on the theme ‘Love one another,’ as part of the regional church’s launch of its Year 2 vision: ‘Encountering, Embracing, Embodying Christ in Community.’ (Screenshot by Joanne De Jong)

Brenda Tiessen-Wiens, Mennonite Church Alberta’s moderator, said “Wow!” Peter Za Zor Sang, the secretary of the Calgary Chin Christian Church, kept repeatedly asking, “How blessed were we?” And Werner De Jong, pastor of Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton, declared, “Grace danced!” when describing what God has done this past year in the regional church.

‘Think of others first’

Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C., advertises that worship services are to remain online for the time being, as churches in the province remain closed. (Photo by Amy Rinner Waddell)

With some Fraser Valley congregations insisting on their right to meet for public worship during the current pandemic, Mennonite Church B.C. leadership is encouraging its churches to follow current COVID-19 guidelines for gathering.

Allowing God’s light to shine ‘out of us’

During a memorial service held as part of MC Saskatchewan’s annual delegate sessions, Kirsten Hamm-Epp lights a candle for three congregations that, in 2020, made the difficult decision to close. Superb Mennonite closed in May 2020. Hanley Mennonite and Zoar Mennonite in Waldheim will close in 2021. (Screenshot by Donna Schulz)

“We hear God’s voice from a place of knowing who we are,” said Kirsten Hamm-Epp. In her meditation that opened Mennonite Church Saskatchewan’s annual delegate sessions, the regional church minister talked about how Mary heard God’s voice and responded.

MC Manitoba looks to the future amid a pandemic

Rick Neufeld, MC Manitoba’s director of leadership ministry, gave his report from the ice. A lively hockey team debate ensued in the Zoom chat room! (Screenshot by Darryl Neustaedter Barg)

MC Manitoba’s annual gathering began with the installation of Michael Pahl, right, as the regional church’s new executive minister. Also pictured, left to right: Doug Klassen, executive minister of MC Canada; Gerald Gerbrandt, moderator of MC Manitoba; and Lisa Bueckert, church council chair of Morden Mennonite Church. (Screenshot by Darryl Neustaedter Barg)

Mennonite Church Manitoba’s 74th annual gathering was confined to screens this year due to the ongoing pandemic, but reports of the regional church’s work came from all over the province, like a small-town ice rink and the Camp Assiniboia lodge.

A life-altering gospel and simple faith

A church-planting map of the Nazret Regional Church in Ethiopia. (Photo by Norm Dyck)

Jeanette Hanson, director of International Witness, left, and Norm Dyck, MC Eastern Canada mission minister.

The church building for the Wooliso congregation. (Photo by Norm Dyck)

Fanosie Legesse, MC Eastern Canada’s intercultural mission minister, points to information about the Nazret Regional Church in Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy of Fanosie Legesse)

Over Zoom, Norm Dyck shares a photo of a church-planting map from the Nazareth-Adama region of Ethiopia. At the top is the mother church established in 1948 with the help of Mennonite mission workers.

Chin congregation celebrates 10th anniversary, opening of new building

Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, executive minister of MC Alberta, preaches via Zoom at the 10th anniversary and grand opening of Calgary Chin Christian Church on March 14. (Calgary Chin Christian Church photo)

“God is so good to us,” said Pastor Leng Nawn Thang excitedly as he spoke about all the ways God has taken care of Calgary Chin Christian Church, a member of Mennonite Church Alberta, over the last 10 years. “When we came to Canada, we asked, ‘How can we sing a new song in a strange land?’ Now we are celebrating our 10-year anniversary and the grand opening of our new church building!”

Race explored in 2021 Bechtel Lecture

Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whitely perform ‘This Little Light of Mine’ as part of the Bechtel Lecture on blackness and whiteness in Anabaptist print and mission. (Screenshot by Janet Bauman)

Timothy D. Epp, left, describes Black and Mennonite relationships in the Shiloh community of Saskatchewan in the 1930s as part of his presentation at Conrad Grebel’s 2021 Bechtel Lecture on blackness and whiteness in Anabaptist print and mission. (Screenshot by Janet Bauman)

This year’s virtual Bechtel Lecture, “Blackness, whiteness and the Anabaptist ‘imagined community’ in print and mission,” featured two speakers:

Diana Braithwaite, an accomplished blues, gospel and jazz performer, and founder and director of the Rella Braithwaite Black History Foundation, where she researches, preserves and shares the story of Blacks in Canada.


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