Edmonton First Mennonite Church has a long-standing tradition of holding its fall retreat every Labour Day long weekend at Camp Valaqua. For the first time in two years, members were once again able to come together and enjoy the beautiful surroundings and spend time in each other’s company. While the church had held alternative activities in place of the retreat, this year’s participants said it was wonderful to gather in person again. Thirty-two attended the event as well as an additional 25 on Zoom Sunday morning, Sept. 4.
“[Valaqua] is a place where so many people have memories,” said Ev Buhr, the church’s office administrator, “and it was very nice when we met and decided to meet in person once again”
The topic of this year’s retreat was “Finding God in uncertain times.” In holding with the theme, the guest speaker declined, and it was proving difficult to find a cook for the weekend.
“Many of us can think of a time where we didn’t have a job, we were in the midst of moving to a new city or finding a new church,” Buhr said, “and all of those are times of uncertainty, and what are the things that ground us and help us find God, or how does God find us during those times?”
So a planning committee and volunteers within the congregation bound together and made the event happen. With resources from CommonWord, group building activities and talented members in the church, the event went off without a hitch. Except for a last-minute fire ban, which led a church member to offer up a propane fire pit, the weekend was enjoyed by all.
“Everything came together, I have always been an optimist,” said Buhr. “It will work the way it was meant to work.”
What sorts of uncertain times have you lived through? How did you find God during these times? Or did God find you? What advice would you give to someone who is experiencing uncertain times right now? If you are experiencing uncertain times, what do you need from God or from others? If you have come through uncertainty, what did you need from God or from others?
These questions were asked of participants prompting discussion around balance, creativity, compromise, working through disagreement, understanding and prayer.
“Prayer isn’t changing God, it’s changing us,” said Donita Wiebe-Neufeld. “God provides reassurance that things will work out and we have to say that we are not in control.”
There were suggestions for supports that might help, things like prayer, understanding, listening community connections and support systems. Participants realized that sometimes they don’t see the hand of God until they come out the other side in a new place.
Are there new beatitudes that can be written? Thom M Shuman wrote Beatitudes for These Days, suggesting that people can claim the beatitudes for their own times. As a group activity, congregants wrote their own beatitudes, applying experiences during times of uncertainty:
- “Blessed are those who listen, for they shall inherit understanding.”
- “Blessed are those who bring care packages, for they too shall receive care.”
- “Blessed are those who speak up in love, especially when it’s difficult, for they shall spark understanding.”
- “Blessed are those who join on Zoom, for they shall hear God through others.”
- “Blessed are the optimists, for they help us to see a better future.”
- “Blessed are the pessimists, for they will help prevent disaster.”
- “Blessed are the hopeful, for they will expose light in the darkness.”
“There is a place for us to find some ways that we have been affected in the things we talked about, that we could write some new beatitudes,” said Buhr. “Speaking up about times of struggle, how to embrace the uncertainty we are faced with while also being vulnerable.”
As the participants enjoyed swimming and canoeing in the river, wall climbing, archery, campfire songs and being in nature, they reflected on the uncertain times in the past as well as in the future.
“We have experienced loss of people in our lives, restrictions, struggles in relationships” said Buhr. “We wondered how we had found God in these times, or perhaps how God found us.”
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Alberta? Sent it to Jessica Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.