César García, general secretary of Mennonite World Conference (MWC), preached the Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday sermon at Scott Street Mennonite Brethren Church in St. Catharines to a diverse group of Anabaptist worshippers. Entitling his sermon, “Jesus Christ: Our Hope,” he said, “On this Sunday [Jan. 26], even in the midst of deep troubles, we come together from around the world to follow Jesus, who gives us hope. . . . The church is hopeless, but [Jesus] is the only hope we have.”
García, who grew up attending a Roman Catholic private school in Bogotá, Colombia, decided at the age of 11 to worship in a Mennonite Brethren church. As he travels the world to visit the different MWC churches, he said he is discouraged in three areas:
- The bad leadership practices he sees outside of Canada, where leaders compete for power.
- Church divisions. Anabaptist churches have a history of being fragmented, he said. Mentioning an article he had read recently, he said the author was leaving the church, sacrificing unity to cling to purity of doctrine.
- The lack of transcendence—that there is nothing beyond the church door.
But he finds hope in Ephesians 1:18-19, where Paul is praying for hope for the believers. There are three characteristics of hope in this passage, he said:
- It is an invitation that people can either receive or reject.
- It is a gift revealed to believers through the Holy Spirit.
- Hope can only be enjoyed in community, not individually.
García continued with the theme of bringing all things together under one head, which is Christ. The hope is that believers will all experience unity in the body of Christ. According to the Gospel of John, García said, the world will believe when they see Christians are one. He concluded with the idea that this unity can only be achieved by overcoming nationalistic ideas, differences of race, language boundaries, and theological and ethical boundaries. The church doesn’t achieve this unity with the right doctrines or ethics, he said, but only in Christ.
People from various local MB, MC Eastern Canada and Be in Christ churches participated in the evening program, including pastors and congregants from Vineland United Mennonite, Grace Mennonite, Bethany Mennonite and Lao Christian Fellowship. The poem “Fireweed,” written by Pastor Wendy Janzen of St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, was read by Sarah Patterson of Scott Street.
Following the message, a service of communion was led by three pastors, including Bounnho Phommaseng of Lao Christian Fellowship.
John Rempel of Grace Mennonite commented that “such an evening drew us beyond the stereotypes we have of each other. It reminded us that each conference has unique gifts that God has given each for the good of the whole church.” Fellowship Sunday, he said, reminded him that Christians need one another in order to be faithful to the whole gospel.
Local participants in the Anabaptist World Fellowship Sunday service in St. Catharines, Ont., included, from left to right: Louise Wideman, Ben Falk, Bounnho Phommaseng, Herb Sawatzky, Jim Friesen, Rob Patterson, Michael VandenEnden, John Rempel, Ed Willms, Mike Sherbino and Kenol Bernard. (Photo by Rob Patterson)