Sunday, July 22, 2018

Pedestal-free environment

Joyce Sasse - Mennonite families in the Springridge district (between Fort Macleod and Pincher Creek, AB) recently celebrated the 90th Anniversary of the time when their Russian immigrant families founded a congregation. It was a joyous gathering and time for reaffirming their faith.

They built their church in the midst of prosperous farm land, 20 miles from the nearest town. An old hotel building in Fort Macleod, damaged by fire, was bought and dismantled (1927). Families spent the winter straightening nails so the new church could be erected in the country-side in the spring.

During those early years, a church history writer noted, “there wasn’t much material wealth”, but we “shared a bond of unity and love”. The ladies were more forthright when they wrote (in 1978) of the “ups and downs” and “misunderstandings and hurt feelings” that happened among members. “But there was also forgiveness and fellowship … We have learned to love and appreciate each other.”

Bible study, blending voices in musical song, working with the young people and mission outreach have always been essential pillars for the congregation. But, as with any living community, they have struggled with how to practise their faith in changing times.

For the first time, in 1965, they decided to offer their minister a small stipend. Gradually, too, the time came for church services and meetings to be held in English. Changing to English helped the congregation be more open to strengthening relationships with farm neighbours. Within a few years, they also became part of the Pincher Creek Ministerial Association and shared in the spiritual support of the larger community.

The original building had two entry doors – one for men and one for women. Gradually it even became acceptable for men and women to share the same pew. In 1964 the decision was made to “extend rights and privileges to women members as they apply to men.”

Of more recent years, the congregation have also wrestled with whether or not to be more accepting of “gay rights”, and how best to relate with the Indigenous Community who are their immediate neighbours.

Referring to the scripture about the followers of Moses building a tabernacle, the guest preacher (a former minister) spoke about what occurred. Pooling their gifts, blending their contributions, mixing their offerings to celebrate the presence of God - the Exodus people built something beautiful, a place of peace.

“Our denomination intentionally has a pedestal free environment”, he said describing this as “a way of being church that makes all of us equal.” It is a place for peace and reconciliation – a place for God!

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