This past weekend we attended a 100th Anniversary Homecoming combined with the Redneck Games at Major, in west central Saskatchewan. This is Holly’s home community, while my own early school days and our joint farming years occurred just down the road at Superb. One highlight of the weekend was the Edmonds family winning the Redneck Slow Pitch Tourney. Another was the parade, where our granddaughters rode in a float representing their great-great-great grandfather’s store that at one time claimed a place on Main Street. And much was made of the fireworks display, “as good as the Calgary Stampede!”
Sunday morning included an ecumenical worship service. I had been asked to do a little reminiscing about Superb Mennonite Church, one of the area churches. Those remarks follow.
Though I haven’t lived in this part of the world for more than 20 years, Major continues to hold a significant place in my life. After all, I found my life’s partner here, among you.
Another place that is very significant to me is Superb Mennonite Church, about eight miles east and a little south from here. The person that I swiped from this community and I were married there in 1972.
It’s probably fair to say that in my growing up years, Superb Mennonite had a very “family” feeling for me. That just could have been because the minister was my grandfather, that all four of my grandparents were in the congregation, along with a whole whack of uncles and aunts, and about a thousand cousins. I expect that on any given Sunday, about three quarters of the gathered faithful were family.
My grandfather, Reverend Peter Warkentin, was a gentle, peace loving man, and, probably not surprisingly, the church he led took on those qualities as well. Grandpa’s first language was German, and sermons and family conversations were carried out in that language. But Grandpa could see that his grandchildren were being socialized in English, and he certainly didn’t want to stand in the way of that changing reality. When it was time, he stepped down from leadership gracefully.
That gentle way of being and doing church was evident as I went through those years where I felt the need to make a bit of a different statement, to define myself differently from the quiet and obedient minister’s grandchild that I had always been. Some of those stories have been retold enough that they’re barely recognizable, why there’s even one about somebody sneaking one of mom’s pies to church in a coat sleeve and eating it with cousins in the balcony during a worship service. If you knew my mom’s pies, there was truly reason to give thanks!
When a particularly long winded traveling preacher expounded, bets were made in that same balcony as to when the sermon would finally wrap up. But we all admitted defeat when he was finally, finally done, and with much giggling, all the change was dumped into the offering plate, under the suspicious gaze of Uncle Henry.
There’s also an ugly rumour of champagne being swiped, but that could never happen on a Sunday morning in a Mennonite church yard, could it?
The church waited patiently while I carried on with whatever degree of outrageousness felt important at the time. When I was ready, they warmly made a place for me and my family, even though, in those outrageous years, I had convinced an Anglican gal to share a life with me. There was room for Holly as well.
Mennonites have probably historically kept to themselves to a degree. That was complicated a little when we held our barn raising bees, or our cementing bees, or our Christmas Eve church service, and “English” neighbours kept showing up. Our community soon realized that there were fine folks all around us, and that our lives, and indeed, our spirituality, were only made richer through these relationships.
Possibly some of you remember the accidental death of my cousin, Norm Wiebe, in 1990. At his funeral in our crowded little country church, Father Glenn Zimmer, a neighbour and friend from just down the road, came and offered some words of comfort and hope. Hearing Glenn’s warm words about who God is during hard times undoubtedly played a part in my decision a few years later to leave the farm and the community and pursue some pastoral directions as well. I felt a need to get to know the God that Glenn described.
Superb Mennonite continues to offer gentle spiritual care and encouragement, though the numbers are smaller now. The church isn’t as filled with my family anymore, as is the way of tiny rural settings. But it is still a good place to be, still feels like family, still reaches back to those historical roots of warmth and acceptance. It continues to equip folks to go into the world confidently and gently.
Superb Mennonite Church holds my spiritual roots.
Ed Olfert is a Prince Albert freelance writer.