Who knew that ostriches are mentioned multiple times in the Bible? Job 39:13 says: “The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully, though they cannot compare with the wings and the feathers of the stork.”
Springridge Mennonite Church began a six-week series on “Birds of the Bible” in June. The ostrich session was entitled, “Comedy and tragedy.” When asked what the ostrich taught him about God, Asher Warkentin, a Grade 11 student, birder and member of Springridge Mennonite, replied, “I learned God has a sense of humour!” After an introductory sermon, other birds explored included the pigeon, pelican, quail and raven.
The series was borrowed from Home Street Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, where Tany Warkentin, Springridge’s pastoral leader, was visiting in 2020. The Winnipeg church shared its series that included a call to worship, prayer of confession, prayer of assurance, offertory, time for the young at heart, hymns, sermons and benediction, which was based on an earlier “Birds of the Bible” series by St. Jacobs Mennonite Church in Ontario. Warkentin added bird photos taken from members of her congregation, and her son Asher supplemented them with bird sounds.
Individuals in the congregation gave brief descriptions each week of the birds being studied.
“Did you know there are 130 kinds of quail?” one member asked.
Lois Everett, who attends Springridge, remembers when she was a little girl on the farm in Saskatchewan. Her mom would hang coloured yarn on the clothesline to provide the birds with nesting material. This was where her love for birds began. For “Pelican Sunday” she provided photos from Frank Lake, Alta.
Mentioned only a few times in certain versions of the Bible, the “pious” pelican has held a prominent place in the history of Christianity, even making an appearance on the cover of the first edition of the King James Bible in 1611. Pelicans also found their way onto stained-glass windows and were etched into the stone of many church altars in the Middle Ages. According to legend, in times of famine the pelican would pierce her breast to feed her young with her own blood, just like Christ did for humanity.
Everett said, “All the birds teach us in some way that we are deeply loved by God.”
Pigeons taught Springridge congregants that God is with them in the messiness of life. The quails taught them that God is a generous provider who can be trusted even when one imagines slavery to be a more secure option. And the opportunist and ominous raven taught the community that God loves even them.
The Scripture focus for “Raven Sunday” was from Luke 12: “Consider the ravens, they neither sow nor reap.” In Genesis 8, the raven is the first to be sent out of the ark, never to return until the earth dried up. In I Kings 17, the raven cares for Elijah in the desert, feeding him meat and bread every morning and every evening. One lesson drawn out from this bird was that redemption could be found in unlikely places. “God is an indiscriminate feeder. God feeds even us.”
Debbie Blue, whose book Consider the Bird: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible was the inspiration for St. Jacobs Mennonite’s original series, writes, “Birds are everywhere in the Bible, from start to finish. God hovers over the face of the waters in Genesis . . . like a bird. Birds gorge on the flesh of the defeated ‘beast’ in Revelation. . . . [A]s long as humans have been breathing, they’ve been investing birds with meaning.”
According to Warkentin, the series feedback was very positive: “The congregation really liked it and it made people look around, connecting what they see with their spirituality.”
Asher is a counsellor-in-training this year at Camp Valaqua, Water Valley, Alta. He has been enjoying the birds since his grandma’s brother-in-law took him birding six years ago. A few weeks ago, he photographed the dickscissel, a bird that has only had 10 sightings in the province. In reflecting on birds and faith he says, “At camp I get a lot out of walking in the woods. Being in nature really develops your faith. It’s a meditation for me.”
Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Alberta? Send it to Joanne De Jong at firstname.lastname@example.org.