These days, with many congregations searching for ways to carry on with existing children’s programming, Nutana Park Mennonite Church in Saskatoon has launched a brand new peace club for children aged seven to 11.
“We’ve been working at this club for a long time,” says Susanne Guenther Loewen, the church’s co-pastor. Knowing that the church had a number of children approaching this age range, parents expressed a desire for something similar to the Venture Club the church once enjoyed.
Guenther Loewen says the idea for the peace club came from Lendrum Mennonite in Edmonton, which had a peace club of its own, but also from parents at Nutana Park.
“Parents have talked about wanting Anabaptist Mennonite values taught to their kids,” she says. They also saw the club as a way for their children to build community with their peers.
What was intended to be a weekly in-person gathering turned into a monthly Zoom meeting, as the group adapted plans to follow COVID-19 protocols. But because meetings are taking place virtually, the church is inviting children from other Mennonite Church Saskatchewan congregations to participate as well.
Marlie Leis, Sarah Unrau and Valerie Epp worked together with Guenther Loewen to bring plans for the peace club to fruition. Unrau created a poster and logo for the club, and Guenther Loewen drafted the curriculum.
At their first online meeting, children worked together to create the following club pledge, which they plan to recite at each meeting: “Peace is nice, peace is kind, peace is what is right. Making peace makes me sleep well at night. Peace is for everyone, ourselves and others, too. God and Jesus have a recipe for peace to follow.”
“They really got into creating [the pledge] themselves,” says Guenther Loewen.
Each month’s club meeting will be tied in some way to other things that are going on that month, says Guenther Loewen. For instance, the October meeting used Orange Shirt Day as a springboard to talk about making peace with Indigenous neighbours.
In November, the red buttons Mennonite Central Committee provides around Remembrance Day, which feature the words, “To remember is to work for peace,” will be the focal point of a discussion about conscientious objection.
December’s meeting will focus on Jesus as the Prince of Peace and the angels’ message that Jesus’ birth brings peace on earth.
Each gathering will include a Bible story and a picture storybook related to the month’s theme, a game, a craft, a Bible memory verse and a closing song or prayer.
“For some of the activities and crafts, we’re mailing out supplies ahead of time,” says Guenther Loewen. “It got a little more complicated with COVID-19.”
Originally, organizers planned to incorporate service projects into the curriculum. This, too, has been complicated by the pandemic. They are still hoping to somehow collect supplies for a food bank or a learning centre as part of December’s meeting.
Using Bettye Stroud’s book The Patchwork Path, in February 2021, the children will learn about the Underground Railroad and how escaped slaves used coded messages in quilt designs to help them know where to go. The children’s craft that day will be to create a quilt pattern out of tissue paper.
March’s meeting will feature a discussion about peace and food. In response, the children will have an opportunity to plant a seed and watch it grow.
Guenther Loewen says the response to the peace club has been positive so far. Children, she says, are excited to have something new to do, as well as an opportunity to see their church friends.
Nutana Park plans to keep the peace club going as long as there are children in the church in the age range. Guenther Loewen says the organizers would like to increase the frequency of meetings next year, building up to weekly meetings, although she admits that a weekly Zoom gathering might be too much for some families. Everyone eventually hopes to be able to meet in person.
MC Saskatchewan parents whose children are interested in the Peace Club can contact Guenther Loewen at 306-374-2144 for more information.
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Saskatchewan? Send it to Donna Schulz at firstname.lastname@example.org.