‘Lining things up’

In the Image

July 15, 2020 | Opinion | Volume 24 Issue 15
Ed Olfert | Columnist
Superb Mennonite Church. (Photo by Lois Siemens)

A recent article in Canadian Mennonite included a story of the closing of Superb Mennonite Church. Superb was my home. I was dedicated, married, baptized and raised a family there. 

It is the late 1980s, and the Holly and Ed Olfert family are in their bench, fully engaged in Sunday morning worship.

They sit five strong, filling a pew. At the aisle end is Jeb, the youngest, tall, long-legged. He is leaning forward with his elbows on his knees, looking totally bored, looking like his mind is miles away. However, history has shown that Jeb is fully aware of the community that surrounds him, aware of things said, sensitive to feelings, at peace with it all.

Beside Jeb sits his mother, Holly. Holly is a little stressed today. Some weeks ago Jeb went shopping with his dad and came home proudly sporting a pair of canvas sneakers from Zellers for only $4, perfect canoe shoes for that upcoming school excursion. But this morning Jeb appeared from his bedroom dressed in those sneakers. Holly offered a comment regarding their beauty, and Jeb spontaneously decided that they would become his full-time Sunday shoes and also perfect footwear for that wedding he is to usher. Today, Holly frets as she looks down at the ugly sneakers from Zellers.

Next to Holly sits Jen. Jen is wearing a little sun dress. It doesn’t matter if it’s 40 below or 40 above, Jen is wearing a dress that is only “this” long. Now, Jen is cold. She is slipping her hands between her dad’s, moaning, “I’m so cold.”

Wearing this dress has little to do with it, 40 below or 40 above has little to do with it. There is simply no blood in Jen’s body; if she was wearing a snowmobile suit, Jen would be slipping icy fingers into Dad’s hands and moaning, “I’m so cold.”

Then there is Ed, struggling with weighty spiritual matters. “How will the farm chemical bill get paid?” “Why do those pistons in the free air Skidoo keep melting?” Ed, with the attention span of a gnat, keeps closing one eye while the other lines up the second pew with the first, the top of the pulpit with the window shade, the hymn book with the Duo-Tang behind it. Ed is getting the elbow and being accused of “lining things up.”

By the wall sits Kira, the eldest of the three. The dark cloud on her forehead announces that she doesn’t want to be here; she is too tired, too bored. That would be quite believable if one hadn’t observed her earlier confrontation with a younger cousin regarding his most recent hockey hero, her laughter as she turns to hear big Mike’s latest outrageous quote, her passion as she leans her confident alto into a favourite hymn.

The pastoral prayer begins. The Olferts sit quietly, heads bowed. Jeb has the advantage; his slouch passes reasonably well as a prayer posture.

The prayer goes on. And on. Somewhere, a child is born and learns to walk. Somewhere, a war starts, UN negotiators arrive and truce is bargained. The economies of small countries grow, then ebb away, while the prayer continues.

Jeb has not moved, but will later make a mild observation about watching the entire lifecycle of an insect on the floor between his Zellers sneakers.

Holly still frets, but now how to clear her house of smoke from a burnt roast.

Ed remains enveloped in his spiritual moment until lips brush against one ear and he hears, “Dad, that’s not a prayer, that’s another sermon!”

Then, from the other side, more gently, into his deaf ear, but he knows, “Dad, you’re lining things up again!” l

Ed Olfert (p2pheo@sasktel.net) is grateful for the Superb community that loved his family.

Read more In the Image columns:
Memories of Pa
Holy curious living
How broad is salvation?
‘O, you gorgeous man!’
'Unusual kindness' 

Superb Mennonite Church. (Photo by Lois Siemens)

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In his July 15, 2020 article (Lining things up) in the Canadian Mennonite, Ed Olfert responds to the article about the closing of the Superb Mennonite Church (‘Superb helped me continue to have faith’ June 17, 2020) by relating an account of his family during a typical Sunday morning service in the late 1980’s. Though Ed points fun at himself and his family, there is this underlying theme of a pastor droning on and on, in the morning’s pastoral prayer.
As the Superb Pastor of record in the late 1980’s (1986 – 1994 to be exact) I feel I need to respond. As a young “Old Mennonite” from Ontario, fresh out of college, I imagine there were plenty of boring sermons and long prayers as I learned on the fly how to minister to this congregation. However, I was serving as a part time pastor, so there were other people sharing the pulpit at the time who could have been the one praying one of those sermon-like prayers.
I actually heard Ed relate this story once long ago, could it have been 25 years ago at Superb’s 50th anniversary? When I suggested to Ed that I represent the comments of his story, I believe his response was something to the effect that he had taken some poetic licence in telling the story and that I shouldn’t have taken it personally.
Still, as I prepared to pray the pastoral prayer at the closing service of the Superb Church on May 31, Ed’s story was in the back of my mind. I wanted to say the right words, without making it too long. I certainly didn’t want Jen whispering to anyone in her home that this was more of a sermon than a prayer.
I have had ample opportunity in recent years to reflect and to let the Superb congregation know how important they were to myself and my family. They taught me a lot in the 8 ½ years I served there. Though I found myself, for some unknown reason, questioning my call to ministry and chose to resign, in many ways it was those 8 ½ years and the succeeding 2 years that we spent in the congregation that helped to prepare me for my next pastorate in Hague and beyond.
And so it was that when it was announced to former members that the now closed church building was to be sold and that people could help themselves to pews or any other items in the church before they were offered to the general public, I decided that I would like to have the pulpit. I later found cause to re-think that decision wondering whether a descendant of the person who built it might want it, or perhaps a descendant of Mr. Warkentin, Ed’s grandfather, who spent more time behind it than any of the other 5 Superb pastors, might also want it. Or should it not go to a museum, the historical society, or the archives? But by the time we made the trek to Superb from Neuanlage last Friday, no one else had come forward to claim it and another former Superb pastor encouraged me to take it.
The only thing missing on the way home as we travelled with two pews and a pulpit on the back of our truck was a sign declaring, “Preacher for hire” or “Have pulpit will travel”.
I am thankful for the many stories, true, fictional or somewhere in between that can be told of the Superb community. I am thankful that the experience of living and working in the Superb congregation, having children born in the community and even having my parents move from Leamington to Superb has given our family a sense of rootedness there and we all very much feel, like so many others that we are from Superb.
And so it was that the closing of the church building has brought tears along with the fond memories. It was indeed, a Superb place to be. And it was home.

Hi David,

I appreciate your tongue-softly-firmly jammed into your cheek comments about aspects of Superb’s memories - concluding with a Superb sense of home.

Trinity Mennonite Fellowship’s story, now re-entwining with Crystal City MC to become a new-again Prairie Mennonite Fellowship (a name I think I recall being bandied about back in ‘76/77, when TMF was coming into view), brings me, like you, back to a place/time when Bev & I had just agreed, “This seems like a good place for us to be, and a good place to raise our children,” when we were thrust into the world of semi-nomadic life, as pastor and family within what is now MC Canada.

I have also come to appreciate the ways, times where your path, Ed’s path, and mine have crossed.

I anticipate that more is yet to be written in the “Book of Mennos”, before we all get to find our rest, in a true and everlasting home!

Appreciate both stories.

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