The following is adapted from a sermon that Kevin Barkowsky, pastor of Sherbrooke Mennonite Church in Vancouver, preached on January 28. Reprinted with permission.
Key Stat #1: Across the world, English Mennonite churches are shrinking, and non-English Mennonite churches are growing. At Sherbrooke, our prayer is to really let it sink in what God is doing with the growth of non-English churches across the world.
It doesn’t make sense anymore to have an English-only worship service in Vancouver. Yes, English will always be our common language, but it only makes sense to pour significant resources into opening up new avenues for more non-English Anabaptists to join us in worship. No matter how small Sherbrooke is, we can still do this.
Key stat #2: Canada is opening its doors to 1 million immigrants a year. Our prayer at Sherbrooke is to see this immigration as a work of the Holy Spirit, and that our part in his work is to become a welcome mat for newcomers to Canada.
We already provide food, clothing, household items, immigration lawyers and a loving space for community to grow every Thursday morning. A few weeks ago, we had 70 people attend. These people have lost their community and their family. However, even more than that, they have lost their spiritual family, so how could we not pour resources into helping them engage spiritually with us and worship with us and have elements of their native language and worship style woven into our church?
If the Pentecostals can put up with each other speaking in tongues and see it as the highest level of Christian worship, we Anabaptists can have brothers and sisters at our church speak and sing in their own language (tongue) and see it as the same. This is the new wave of the Holy Spirit.
We must make every effort to open up our worship gatherings so that Sherbrooke feels like their spiritual home. No matter how small Sherbrooke is, we can still do this.
How can other Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church B.C. churches join in these two mighty moves of the Holy Spirit?
Level one: Start participating once a year in MC Canada’s International Witness Sunday. Start playing videos at the beginning of your service of Mennonite worship from different countries. Start envisioning what it would look like to embrace a non-English group into your church.
Level two: Ask what changes you would have to make in your service so that another group would fit in? Look around your neighbourhood. If there is a group of 10 people of another culture, start inviting them to worship with you once or twice a year and sing half of the songs in their language. Get Jeanette Hanson of MC Canada to Zoom into your service and talk about what God is doing in Anabaptist churches in the country your neighbours come from.
Level three: Go to the country your neighbours are from and connect with the Anabaptist churches there. Become friends with all of them. Develop a church translation team and buy a translation system. Worship with the newcomer group 10 times a year.
Find ways to partner with them in Sunday School (they will likely want English Sunday School), summer kids outreach, outreach events throughout the year, prayer nights. Make them join you but give them freedom to worship in their way. Embrace the difference as a gift from God. Let them be their own group and do their own thing. Let them take over your kitchen. Invite them to the summer camp in your region with you.
Level four: This is where Sherbrooke is right now. Put leaders from the newcomer group on your board. Create a team to manage and integrate the church into one. Be a welcome mat, but not a door mat. Most non-English churches across the world are more conservative theologically. You will have to make room in your theology for their theology. Keep reminding yourselves that God is doing this and your job is to respond in worship and wonder.
Level five: Repeat. Go out and search your neighbourhood for another language group.