One of my farmers annually invites me for a combine ride to educate this city slicker on “Ag 101.” It’s a thrill to watch the header of the harvesting machine munch through swaths, hawks diving behind us for mice. He’s a captive audience for my complaints and occasionally hits a badger hole on purpose. Good thing I have a seat belt! Generally it’s a cushy ride. Some of my predecessors had to help muck out dairy barns on their pastoral visits to farms!
I observe changing rural demographics: smaller families, the sale of family farms and our shrinking rural churches. Osler (Sask.) Mennonite Church will survive awhile because we have committed young families but I do worry about future sustainability. I think we are our own best-kept secret: We are fun, smart and committed. We are an island here in the valley between the North and South Saskatchewan rivers, surrounded by theological divides in the branches of the Mennonite family. But non-Mennonites still think they have to be born into the family to belong.
We’re trying different community engagement efforts: Putting up a marquee with cute sayings; and hosting Theatre of the Beat, and the Custodians: A Story of Ancient Echoes film about Indigenous sacred sites and non-Indigenous landowners in Herschel, Sask. I think we are visible in the community, but the challenge is for neighbours to feel like they belong. People generally have to know us before they trust us enough to come through the doors. And, to be honest, at this stage of the pandemic we’re still trying to rebuild our own church relationships.
Like other churches, the pandemic created new opportunities for online worship that have engaged our larger community, but haven’t resulted in folks coming through the doors. The pandemic also created more collaborative work with sister congregations through shared Zoom adult education, outdoor services and even pastor sharing. It feels like a season of new leadings of the Spirit, if I can be calm and open to them.
Working in a semi-rural church has attuned me to the seasons. I’ve never watched the rain gauge or talked weather so much in my life. I love how worship leaders pray for safe seeding and harvest, and our altar at Thanksgiving is full of locally grown wheat and pumpkins. I love commuting out of the city where the sky opens up for sunrises. This earthy faith has helped me trust that God will be with us to lead and guide us as God has done for the past 94 years.
Patty Friesen pastors Osler (Sask.) Mennonite Church, where she enjoys preaching and combining.