When summer comes, many churches experience a drop in attendance. But being fewer in number can be an opportunity to try new forms of worship.
This summer, several Mennonite Church Saskatchewan congregations chose to worship in creative and perhaps less conventional ways.
For the second summer in a row, Eigenheim Mennonite, located eight kilometres west of Rosthern, has invited others to join it for its annual singing Sunday. Last summer, the church invited Waldheim’s Zoar Mennonite. This year, it extended the invitation to nearby Tiefengrund Mennonite as well.
Worship chair Linda Swab says the joint service, held June 30, not only solved the problem of diminished attendance on a holiday long weekend for all three churches, it also fit well with MC Saskatchewan’s 2019 theme of “Deepening our walk with each other.”
Swab says there was good representation from each of the three congregations, and participants enjoyed a potluck lunch following the service.
Worship focused on service
North Star Mennonite in Drake is located 138 kilometres southeast of Saskatoon. On July 14, while Pastor Dan Graber was on vacation, Lisa Martens Bartel led the congregation in worship focused on service.
“This idea came out of a care group discussion about ‘doing’ church,” she says. “When there was an open Sunday in summer, we took the opportunity to try something different.”
The congregation met in the church basement for announcements, offering, Scripture reading and a hymn. Then congregants divided into groups to complete two service projects.
One group stayed in the basement and assembled relief kits for Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). Graham McDonald, material resources coordinator for MCC Saskatchewan, helped congregants pack towels, soap, toothbrushes and more into pails to create the kits.
The other group went outside to build picnic tables for a nearby hospital and seniors residence. “The idea was to make hospitality and comfort more possible for residents and their families and friends,” says Martens Bartel. “All kinds of tools appeared out of vehicles and the [number] of skilled builders was incredible. In about an hour volunteers constructed and stained three picnic tables. “It felt good to build them and was well received,” she says.
Mennos and Methodists
Eyebrow Mennonite, 139 kilometres northwest of Regina, is tiny to begin with. Faced with the possibility of closing for the summer months, Pastor Sharon Schultz approached Seth Freeman, pastor of Eyebrow Free Methodist Church, to see whether the two congregations might worship together.
When both church councils approved the plan, the pastors prepared a six-week series on the fruit of the Spirit, with each church hosting three services. Each Sunday began with coffee and fellowship at 10 a.m., followed by the worship service at 11. The series culminated with a service on joy, and worshipers shared communion. “It . . . worked really well,” says Schultz.
This is not the first time the Mennonites and Free Methodists have worshipped together. World Day of Prayer and Good Friday services are held in one of the two churches, and Remembrance Day and a Christmas carol festival are held in the community hall. Also, for the last few years, on or near Sept. 9, which is Suicide Awareness Day, the community holds a special service focused on mental health.
‘Dwelling in the Word’
Regina’s Grace Mennonite spends the month of August studying a single Scripture text. Pastor Rose Graber calls the practice “Dwelling in the Word.”
This summer’s text was Isaiah 55:1-9. Seated around tables in the church fellowship hall, congregants spent the first Sunday meditating on the text using Lectio Divina. Graber invited them to listen for a word or phrase that stood out for them in the text. She then asked them to ponder why that particular word or phrase stood out and what it might mean for them.
The second Sunday was spent in traditional worship, with Graber preaching on the given text.
Congregants responded to what they’d learned on the third Sunday. Graber pre-arranged several responses and then gave opportunity for spontaneous responses from others. In the past, responses have included artwork, poetry and floral arrangements.
On the final Sunday, they dug deeper into the text, once again using Lectio Divina. This week’s questions included, “What are you, or what is the world, thirsty for?” and, “What do you spend money on that doesn’t satisfy?”
“Because we’re smaller in attendance,” says Graber, “this gives us opportunity to delve into the Word in a more intimate setting.”
Whether meditating on God’s Word or building picnic tables, reaching out to other Mennonite congregations or to congregations of another denomination, these churches have discovered that being fewer in number doesn’t need to hinder their summer worship, and, in some cases, may even be an advantage.
West Hills congregation tries 'messy church'
Members of North Star Mennonite in Drake pack relief kits for Mennonite Central Committee as part of Sunday worship devoted to service. (Photo by Heidi Martens)
Members of Regina’s Grace Mennonite Church spent the month of August studying a single Scripture text. Using Lectio Divina, they listened to the text, meditated on it and responded in table groups. (Photo by Rose Graber)
Members of North Star Mennonite in Drake build picnic tables for a nearby hospital and seniors residence as part of Sunday worship devoted to service. (Photo by Heidi Martens)
Three congregations sing together as Eigenheim Mennonite Church hosts its neighbours from the Tiefengrund and Zoar Mennonite congregations. (Photo by Donna Schulz)