Theologian empowers lay leaders at workshop in Saskatoon

November 2, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 22
Emily Summach | Saskatchewan Correspondent
‘Strong lay leaders are not optional,’ says theologian Carol Penner. (Photo by Emily Summach)

Leading worship was the focus of a two-day workshop organized by Mennonite Church Saskatchewan last month.

More than 30 pastors and lay leaders attended “Called to Be a Worship Leader” at Nutana Park Mennonite Church in Saskatoon October 19–20. Led by professor and former pastor Carol Penner, the workshop focused on what it means to lead worship and its essential role in Christian formation.

“Mennonites have always valued lay leadership, but now, in a time where it’s becoming harder to find pastors, strong lay leaders are not optional—they are a necessity,” Penner said. “Pastors often go to seminary for training, but where do lay leaders get their equipment? That’s why these types of workshops are so important.”

Penner, who is the director of theological studies at Conrad Grebel University College in Waterloo, is the author of, a blog where she shares worship resources she’s written. She started the blog several years ago after noting a lack of prayers available online written from a Mennonite perspective.

Penner’s presentations in Saskatoon focused on teaching practical skills, such as constructing meaningful, accessible prayers, and offering examples of how different faith traditions conduct their worship services.

Larry Epp of Rosthern Mennonite Church, who has been a worship leader for more than 30 years, attended the event. He noted that time constraints and feelings of inadequacy can keep people from giving worship leading a try.

He appreciated how Penner presented different structures of worship planning. “When a lot of us are thinking about shrinking congregations, it’s helpful to think about how we could reorganize our worship,” he said.

In her presentations, Penner recognized that worship in Mennonite churches has evolved significantly in the last decade.

More and more churches are livestreaming their services, land acknowledgments are part of worship at many churches, “passing the plate” to collect the offering has fallen by the wayside and there is a growing openness to including children in the service.

One thing that remains a constant for Penner is the importance of the worship leader in the life of the church.

“The worship leader is the one who sets the tone, ushers people in, communicates that this is a place of welcome: you belong here! You’re part of the family of God,” she said. “It’s about being invitational. It’s not just the words you say, it’s how you say them.”

Penner’s reputation as someone with great wisdom and accessible resources made her a clear choice to lead the workshop, according to Curtis Wiens, chairperson of MC Saskatchewan’s Pastoral Leadership Commission, which organized the event.

“Rather than go for a really weighty or academic topic, we thought it would be helpful to cover the worship angle,” Wiens said. “Nothing about worship is really taken for granted in a post-COVID world, and churches are revisiting their longstanding practice.” 

‘Strong lay leaders are not optional,’ says theologian Carol Penner. (Photo by Emily Summach)

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