David Martin is passionate about curling. He is competitive and once won Steinmann Mennonite Church’s version of The Amazing Race. He is a bit nerdy and techy, and he loves a great superhero movie now and then.
As a pastor, he is a gifted worship leader and he is great at telling stories to children. He once preached a sermon series dressed as the Apostle Paul. He even expanded his ministry at Stirling Avenue Mennonite Church in Kitchener, Ont., to include fixing the boiler, removing squirrels from the ceiling, and fishing a bat out of a toilet, according to his daughter Christina Thomson.
These were some of the stories shared at the virtual retirement celebration for Martin, held on Zoom on June 14. He leaves his role as executive minister of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada at the end of July, after 15 years of leadership with the regional church, and 25 years of pastoral ministry at three congregations.
Martin was recognized and honoured as a role model and mentor, a person of integrity, a stable, trustworthy, patient, generous, open and professional leader, with an eye to details, who carried both the burdens and the joys of the church with grace.
Nearly a hundred people gathered online for the celebration, several sharing memories and tributes. The virtual format allowed a number of people to attend from a distance, including from South Korea.
Thirty people formed a virtual choir and sang, “We are People of God’s Peace” in five languages, and 25 more voices were gathered on a 40-minute compilation of spoken video tributes.
Brian Quan, a pastor and assistant moderator at MC Eastern Canada who also served on the regional church’s executive council with Martin, described him as “a humble servant of Christ” who “served with a pastor’s heart—a heart of patience, understanding and deep love for the church.”
Several aspects of Martin’s ministry were highlighted numerous times:
• He had a missional perspective, welcoming new congregations, languages, perspectives and voices, supporting and encouraging local church plants and international mission.
Thomson remembered her dad often saying, “There is no such thing as a typical Mennonite.”
Others noted that MC Eastern Canada congregations now worship in 17 languages, and they praised his openness to support that growth.
Jehu Ching Lian, pastor and leader of Myanmar Mission International, offered sincere thanks and appreciation” for Martin’s willingness to take two trips to Myanmar to teach, preach and offer his support and encouragement.
• He was skilled at discernment and diplomacy, especially around difficult issues. He was a patient, careful listener who validated others and helped to find common ground and build community. He could accept criticism and change his mind.
Arli Klassen, MC Eastern Canada’s current moderator, said Martin helped discern “how to walk with the church” in issues such as Indigenous relations, the environment, racism, intercultural community and sexual misconduct in the church. She said there was “no coasting to an easy end” for him because of the pandemic.
Shirley Redekop, who served on the executive council with Martin, noted that, even in the midst of “tough issues [and] hard decisions,” he “kept looking ahead.”
He worked at making congregations safe places. With courage and determination, he listened to victims, tried to educate the church, and helped to shape policies to prevent sexual misconduct in the church.
Carol Penner, assistant professor of theological studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, Ont., noted that this effort impacted not only MC Eastern Canada, but the Mennonite church across the country.
Johnny Wideman of Theatre of the Beat credited Martin for commissioning the theatre company to write and produce the play #ChurchToo that addressed sexual misconduct in the church.
Many people offered best wishes for rest, recreation and relaxation for him and his wife Doris after years of sacrifice, service and commitment.
Martin opened a gift on camera that had been delivered to his home earlier. It was a book of pictures and stories from his time at the regional church.
Martin said the celebration was “touching and meaningful.” He offered thanks to his family, colleagues and volunteers he worked with over the years. He described pulling together a network of prayer support around his work at MC Eastern Canada as “the best decision I ever made.” Even after difficult meetings, “I could say, the spirit of God was there.”
He closed with words of challenge and encouragement to the Mennonite church. “We have gifts,” he said. “We have something to share” that can be a “witness to [our] larger society that would so easily fracture.” He named prayer, worship, nurture, peace and justice as some of the gifts that will help the Mennonite church “model for society” how to “grow even more fully into being an intercultural community.”
Doug Klassen, MC Canada’s executive minister, led a litany of blessing and release, and closed in a prayer.
Leah Reesor-Keller will begin as MC Eastern Canada’s executive minister on Sept. 1. Apparently she, too, drives a 10-year-old, red Prius, just like Martin and Arli Klassen! “I guess we picked the right successor,” Arli joked.
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Eastern Canada? Send it to Janet Bauman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
‘There is something beautiful’ about those people