I often have the same thought when visiting a first-generation Canadian congregation: I wish my home congregation of Rockway Mennonite could see this!
Invariably, when I visit a congregation that worships in a language other than English, I anticipate a service that is typically longer—because they often are longer—and I anticipate that it will feel longer because I do not understand most of the music, prayers and sermon. Yet so often the time flies by.
On a Sunday morning last fall, Meheret Evangelical Church opened its new building on Krug Street in Kitchener, Ont. The space was packed. Worship started a little later than what was posted, but that was to be expected, given that the majority of their leaders live life on a more Global South notion of time than what I expect as a westerner. Indeed, the entire service went along with little or no deference to the clock. Songs and sermon—yes, plenty of both—all started slowly and built to a crescendo. The pace and energy were infectious.
As the crescendo built, people began to vocalize their affirmation of what was being sung or said, people clapped and danced in the aisles, others raised their hands and nodded their heads. As someone born and raised outside of these traditions, I was uncertain what I should do. Since these are not actions that naturally flow from me, I merely enjoyed their enthusiasm.
But enjoyment was overtaken by another emotion, a sincere wish that I could do what they were doing. They seemed to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and their bodies, minds and hearts expressed that love and energy freely. Sure, I could easily have raised my hands and shouted for joy, but that would have felt unnatural. (For the record, I did clap, which is a pretty big deal for me!)
We have much to learn from congregations and people new to the Mennonite fold. They offer us gifts of the Holy Spirit, a heart for disciple-making, and a willingness to give a large share of their personal resources so that the congregation can birth yet another church. It is inspiring and humbling to witness their faith.
As Canadians, we all have access to the richness of other cultures. This richness is sometimes thought of as a new and interesting dish, music, crafts or dances. However, among the growing number of new Anabaptist churches in North America, there is something else: healthy and vibrant parts of the Body of Christ without which we are incomplete.
In First Corinthians 12 we hear about the many parts that make up the Body of Christ: “God has placed each part in the body just as he wanted it to be. If all the parts were the same, how could there be a body? As it is, there are many parts. But there is only one body.”
I thank God for the churches that offer us all glimpses of the full Body of Christ. As they settle in Canada and become more “western,” may they not lose the richness that they have right now, and may God find a way to help me to be more like them.
Brent Charette is the Mennonite Church Eastern Canada operations and church engagement minister.
See also “In spirit and in truth.”