A Saskatchewan pilgrimage

From Our Leaders

October 5, 2023 | Opinion | Volume 27 Issue 20
Ben Cassels | Mennonite Church Eastern Canada
Ben Cassels in Middle Lake, Saskatchewan. (Supplied photo)

As a child, I was vaguely envious of others who had deep connections in Canada. In my family, that was not the case. My parents are from the UK and we spent our vacations going back to visit family. Although born in Canada, I longed for a deeper sense of belonging.

So it came as a shock when in 2010, on my last visit with my maternal grandfather, I discovered that his father, my great-grandfather, had lived in Canada around 1906. He’d been granted a plot of land near Middle Lake, Saskatchewan, with the agreement that he’d “improve” it. Apparently it didn’t go well for him and he returned to England about a year later. Suddenly I had that longed-for connection and “Visit Middle Lake” was on my bucket list.

By virtue of becoming moderator of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada last April, I also sit on Mennonite Church Canada’s Joint Council. This past spring, our meetings were in Saskatoon. Finally, I’d be in Saskatchewan. Would this be my chance? Sadly, it seemed the schedule just wouldn’t work out.

But a week before the meetings, Jeanette Hanson, Mennonite Church Canada director of International Witness, was the guest preacher in my then congregation. Upon learning that Jeanette lives in Saskatchewan, as a piece of chit-chat I mentioned my own distant familial link to her province.

Surprisingly, a few days later, I received an email from Jeanette and her husband Todd, offering to pick me up at the airport and go hunting for my great grandfather’s plot of land in the brief window of time before my meetings started. I jumped at the chance. We had a lovely time together, and after about 90 minutes on the oh-so-dusty roads of rural Saskatchewan we arrived at a crossroads with a sign that read, “Welcome to Middle Lake.” We took a quick picture, then sped off back to the meetings.

It was so meaningful to get to stand next to that sign and even more meaningful sending the picture along with the message: “Mum, look what I found! This is where your grandfather lived.” I felt connected to place in a way that as a child and even young adult I’d wished for.

But there is a reason I say I’d longed for this connection as a young adult (a moniker I can no longer claim). That’s because, in recent years, this longing for connection and belonging in Canada that I’d felt strongly earlier in life has faded in importance, or more accurately, has been fulfilled.

Around the same time I discovered this long-distant connection to Canada, I also joined my first MCEC congregation. Almost immediately, I felt welcomed, not just in that one church but in the denomination as a whole.  I felt included; I’d found my place of belonging.

All of a sudden I had that sense of connection that I’d yearned for as a child: that because of this wide community of faith that I’d joined, I could now show up in all kinds of places and not be a stranger but instead have some point of welcome and connection. Jeanette and Todd’s generosity to me encapsulates this so well. Although I’ve often reflected on this profound sense of settledness, joy and contentment that I’ve found in being Mennonite, it wasn’t until this journey to Middle Lake that I realized how profoundly this has also met the need for belonging and connection that I’d previously carried with me.

I am grateful to Jeanette and Todd for taking me to Middle Lake. I am grateful for the place of belonging I have found as a Mennonite. And I am grateful to be both a pastor and MCEC moderator, so that I can contribute to many others finding the same place of belonging that I have found. My prayer for us, God’s Church, is that we will always be just such a place of belonging for all.

Ben Cassels serves as a pastor of Steinmann Mennonite Church in Baden, Ontario, and as moderator of MC Eastern Canada. He can be reached at ben@smchurch.ca.

Read more From Our Leaders columns:
Hear the climate call
The nudge
Creating a community of calling
Learning about waiting
Executive road trip

Ben Cassels in Middle Lake, Saskatchewan. (Supplied photo)

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