My name is Ed Olfert. I live in Laird, Sask., and currently serve as part-time minister of Grace Mennonite Church in Prince Albert. Some time ago I critiqued Canadian Mennonite. The executive editor called my bluff and offered me a column.
I inherit a double helping of storytelling tradition. My parents immigrated to Canada as young children from Ukraine in the 1920s. On my maternal Warkentin side, we are tall, have large feet, are well educated, and are equally comfortable slipping behind a pulpit or a boardroom table. Storytelling here is about keeping our history alive, rereading and retelling the Russian exodus, being moved by the story of the large gate at Riga, the impromptu bursting into song, “Now Thank We All Our God.”
On my paternal Olfert side, our feet tend toward wide, our bodies the same, and education is calculated by the shortest route to employment. We have a fascination with internal-combustion engines and the possibilities they offer. Storytelling cares little about facts or history or information. Rather, stories present themselves as an explosive and passionate release of emotion. If you want to hear how the Olferts are doing, listen to their stories. They will roar or giggle, tease or weep.
As my own style developed, it certainly incorporated gifts from both gene pools. I thank the Warkentins for a love of words used well, and the Olferts for passion expressed strongly. I have limited use for facts or information.
My life has been family, farming and pastoring, mixed with great gobs of trucking, welding, operating heavy equipment and pulling wrenches. It has been a delightful cacophony of roles, all of them good.
I serve as a formally untrained minister. During a few seminary classes, God offered the message, “If you need to know this, your congregation and your community will teach you.” At least I think I heard that. God has delivered. At some point, I became convicted of the centrality of the Genesis 1 words that suggest “we are all created in the image of God.” I propose, in this column, to offer snippets of my life where I have glimpsed that holy heritage.
Take today, Sept. 23. I sat in my church office, printing out my sermon, rereading the central scripture from Mark 9: “Anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name will not lose his reward.” The church door opened and a fellow strode in, carrying a large box. Into my office he marched and set his heavy load down on my coffee table. It was filled with almost 200 cans of flaked ham and chicken. The man, “John,” is an inmate from the minimum security penal institution in Prince Albert. John receives a pass to attend our services. He announced, “This is a gift from the Inmate Committee.”
John is aware that our small church includes a street ministry that offers food and counsel to impoverished people who stop by. He informed me that his term as chair of the committee was soon over, and he was determined that the remaining funds in the coffers should go to a good cause.
Then John engaged in making our morning worship good, salting ice on the step, handing out bulletins, circulating the offering plate, informing the congregation that he was inviting a friend who hadn’t felt comfortable in another congregation.
“Anyone who offers a cup of water in my name will certainly not lose their reward.” Indeed.
Ed Olfert is a “should-be-retired” Opa who finds much which to be hopeful about.