Good news sometimes comes in small packages

Rural congregations find ways to be the church in their communities

July 20, 2016 | Web First
Emily Summach | Saskatchewan correspondent
Saskatoon, Sask.

Someone once asked Sharon Schultz if she became pastor of Eyebrow (Sask.) Mennonite Church in order to help the church to die well. Schultz did some soul-searching and came to the conclusion that “I don’t think that’s why God brought us here.”

Schultz and Lois Siemens, who is pastor of Superb Mennonite Church near Kerrobert, Sask., led a seminar entitled “Proclaiming the good news in town and country: Stories from the rural church.”

As Schultz pointed out, “There are differences between rural and city churches. These are some of the ways we share good news in our context.”

Superb Mennonite is a small congregation. Siemens said that when people ask her how big the church is, she tells them, “495, because that’s how big we are in heart.” About 15 worshippers attend on Sunday mornings. Although the congregation celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2015, it started meeting in one another’s homes in the late 1920s. The church building is situated in the countryside.

Like Superb, Eyebrow Mennonite is small, with between 20 and 30 worshippers on Sunday morning. Located in the community of Eyebrow, the church is about 50 years old. Schultz described it as a “friendly, family-oriented church,” but, like many rural congregations, its young adults leave for urban centres to study or find work and often don’t return. Likewise, seniors frequently retire to the cities, rather than remain in a community with few amenities.

Siemens said she and her congregation know they have a reputation in the community. The church choir was recently asked to perform at the opening of an art gallery. Siemens told the organizers, “We are a church choir. We will sing about God.” This didn’t seem to be a problem, and so the choir sang “Come, Bring Your Burdens to God” at the gallery opening.

She also said she was asked to offer table grace before a community meal. “How do I pray grace when they don’t pray grace?” she wondered. She decided to list the many ways people use their hands in the community, and prayed a blessing on those hands.

Because Eyebrow Mennonite is small, any kind of programming takes every member’s effort. But through vacation Bible school, Sunday school and youth activities, the church has welcomed children from the community. “It has been a blessing to have children coming from the community and to see lives being changed,” Schultz said.

Members of her congregation are aware that people in the community are watching them. “They don’t just see our Sunday morning behaviour. We run into each other regularly throughout the week,” she said. And so it’s important to be consistent witnesses and be upright in business dealings with neighbours outside the church.

Both Schultz and Siemens describe their congregational ministry in terms of joy and blessing. Superb and Eyebrow Mennonite churches, and others like them, are uniquely situated to share the light of Christ in their rural communities. Schultz said she reminds her congregants that they are “one expression of the body of Christ, but they are also part of something much bigger.”

More about seminars at Assembly 2016:

Making a case for community
‘Young adults don’t need the church’
The future lies in the past
A vision for the MHC Archives and Gallery
The place of a ‘confession’ in church life
Laments and hopes for MC Canada
Exploring tough subjects and intense spaces
‘Partnering with God’s healing and hope’
Seeing dystopian heroines as prophets

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