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Covenant new – Mentoring


Maya: This morning we continue with our Covenant new theme. The first 2 Sundays we looked at the changes happening in the wider church and within our national church, Mennonite Church Canada, and how those changes might impact us at SJMC.

Sue: We were reminded that our hope and dream is that even in the midst of change, we continue to be a people called into new covenant and relationship with God, a covenant written on our hearts. Not of letter but of spirit; for it is the Spirit who gives life.

Maya: In our reader’s theatre that was presented that first Sunday, we were reminded that rocks can be built into so many things, and that they are both foundation and the materials to layer creatively on top.

Our hope is that last Sunday and the remaining weeks of this series will provide some opportunities to do some creative layering.              

This past October Sue & I had the opportunity to attend a Mennonite Youth and Mentor Leadership Retreat being held at the Muskoka Woods Leadership Studio.

It was a pretty amazing place to gather. They offer various Leadership Programs with their motto of “Inspiring Leaders to change their world”.

It was an appropriate setting to gather because this weekend came about as a result of a Gr. 11 youth and a young adult dreaming about a weekend where they could share some of their dreams and visions for the church. It was a grassroots based weekend planned and led by youth and young adults along with the support of Jeff Steckley. Many of you will remember Jeff leading us through several visioning processes here at SJMC and he also served as MCEC Congregational Ministries Minister for a number of years.

There were 15 of us participating from 4 different MCEC churches with a wide range of ages. It was a gift to be a part of this weekend.

Sue: The focus of the weekend was to look at ways in which healthy intergenerational and mentoring relationships can strengthen the church’s ministry. We considered the question “What does it mean to be in relationship with one another in our faith community and be our healthiest selves? “

To help us address that question we looked at the Parable of the Prodigal Son and considered what this story was telling us about the relationship between being, belonging and contributing and this became a framework for our time together. This morning we’d like to share some of our reflections and wonderings and how that framework relates to each of us as individuals and in relationship to each other here at SJMC. We will be hearing the Prodigal Son Story a bit later and we invite you to think about how these 3 concepts of being, belonging and contributing are being played out. We need all three concepts in relationship to each other in order to be in healthy relationships together.

The Prodigal Son – Luke 15:11-32 (Mark Diller Harder)

Narrator: There was once a man who had two sons. The younger said to his father, ‘Father, I want right now what’s coming to me, my inheritance.’ So the father divided the property between them. It wasn’t long before the younger son packed his bags and left for a distant country.

Voice 1: (Standing up and interrupting) Excuse me. Stop right there. This story isn’t making sense to me. You can’t just ask for an inheritance before someone has died! Poor father! What right does this younger son have to do that? What’s going on with this relationship that he wants to just get up and leave?

Narrator: I don’t know. I’m just reading the story. Maybe he has lots of conflict with his Dad, or feels he can’t really be himself. Perhaps he feels trapped in the family business – that there are so many expectations. Or maybe he is just aimless. I don’t know. Can I continue? (Voice 1 Nods – yes)

There, undisciplined and dissipated, he wasted everything he had. After he had gone through all his money, there was a bad famine all through that country and he began to hurt. He signed on with a citizen there who assigned him to his fields to slop the pigs. He was so hungry he would have eaten the corncobs in the pig slop, but no one would give him any.

Voice 2: (Standing up and interrupting). Ok. I’ve had about enough of this story. Why are we dissing this younger son so much? Cleary his family didn’t make him feel like he belonged, and he had to make his way through life on his own. He’s not the first one, nor the last to be alienated from family. It’s not easy, or fair. If that isn’t bad enough, he gets caught up in a drought and bad economy. Don’t you think he was being pretty resourceful to find this pig farmer?

Narrator: I guess so... The story doesn’t really say. There’s usually a story behind the story... Let me go on. It does say that his experience ‘brought him to his senses.’ ‘All those farmhands working for my father sit down to three meals a day, and here I am starving to death. I’m going back to my father. I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

Voice 3: (Standing up and interrupting). This sounds like a recipe for disaster! This no-good son is going to just march his way in, is he?!? He has never contributed anything! He has betrayed his father, not to mention his older brother. This is not going to go well.

Narrator: We’ll just have to find out, won’t we? When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’ But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time! My son is here—given up for dead and now alive! Given up for lost and now found!’ And they began to have a wonderful time.

Voice 2: No Way! This is not what I saw coming! This is fantastic. There is hope. Return. Forgiveness. Making things right again. A new start. Belonging. What a great ending to the story! Thanks for telling us!

Narrator: Excuse me. The story is not actually over! There’s a bit more. It’s always more complicated than you first think.

All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on prostitutes shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

Voice 3: More Complicated Indeed. I get it. You thought you were the beloved Son, had that special place in the family, and now you feel betrayed by a Father’s more expansive love. Is there any hope now for the eldest, the responsible one?

Narrator: His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!’”

Voice 1: I couldn’t have said it better myself. Maybe there’s hope yet for everyone in this Family Triangle.

Reflection 1: Being - first Triangle Slide

Sue: Who am I? Who of us has not asked that question at various points in our lives?

We all have our own personal characteristics that we are born with, and those are shaped by our families, culture, our country, our faith community, our social interactions and relationships within the larger world, and our understanding of and experience of God in our lives. Who we are as individuals is shaped and continues to be shaped by all these contributing factors and if you’ve figured this all out – let me know.

Knowing who we are takes time “to be” as Brent mentioned in his reflections several Sunday’s ago. It requires taking time for some quiet reflection, to be still and open a door to our inner life, where we can begin to sit with God’s presence, to be with the Holy and the Sacred and be attentive to God’s voice.

It’s a very necessary question for us to be asking, however challenging or scary that may feel. It can also be exhilarating because we are delving ever deeper into the person that God has created us to be. It’s cutting through the surface of our lives, and it’s too tempting not to cut through any deeper than the surface when we’re on a treadmill that’s moving too fast.

Ultimately, I don’t believe there are any simple answers, but what the question of “Who am I” does, is invite us to use it as a tool, to use it as a window that allows us to explore the very nature of our being.

And as Tamara reminded us last Sunday - This is a path we are all called to walk, Slowly allowing the Spirit of Christ to thaw the holy in us. To nudge us out of our protective shell and to allow our soul, our deepest and most beautiful self to make itself known to offer its sacred gifts to the world.

It also begs us to ask this question of “Who am I” as it pertains to who we are as a church, as a gathered body, as followers of Jesus in this time and this place. We bring all our unique beings to form a body – what do we want that body to look like? What and who is shaping that body.

In spite of all that transpires in the story of the Prodigal Son, and which also mirrors some of the messiness of our lives as we try to figure out who God has created us to be; God extends love, forgiveness and mercy – no holds barred. Underlying everything, is this: God says to each of us, I know you and I love you anyways. God knows about our inadequacies and failings, our pettiness, our selfishness and our inability to see viewpoints other than our own. But in spite of our flaws God manages to shine through the cracks.

Maya, is this question “Who am I” something you think about?

Maya: This is a question that I have been trying to think about more and more lately. I am currently at a time of change, of choosing, and that can be scary. I just finished my exams this week and I’m about to start an extremely busy semester. I am starting to think about what I’m going to do next, what post-secondary pathway I am going to follow. Deciding where I want to go, choosing a path I will enjoy requires knowing a little about who I am.

So I’ve been asking myself, who am I?

Unfortunately, I feel that we tend to avoid asking ourselves that question as we go through life. When we are busy, or “on a treadmill that’s moving too fast” as Sue explained it, we tend to brush past the question on the way to the next thing. That is why I think it is precisely at these times when we get lost, or move away from being who we really are. And it is therefore at those times we need to really pause and ask ourselves that question. It is time for me to dig down deep into who I am, to open the door to God’s presence into my inner life.

Who am I?

At the last Youth Retreat to Silver Lake in December, Tamara was our special guest. She got us to participate in an interesting activity as part of one of our sessions. Tamara set out a variety of activities: building blocks, colouring sheets, children’s stories, decks of cards, a ping pong table and some puzzles. We had half an hour and we could do whatever we wanted. There was only one catch: we had to pick what we wanted to do. Without thinking about what our friends were doing or what would be the best use of our time. We just had to listen, open the door to our inner life and God’s presence. I chose to read some children’s books. People came and went but for the most of the time I stayed and read alone. It seems simple but for me it was actually quite a learning experience. I realized I didn’t mind being alone because I was happy doing what I was doing. I also realized just how rare it is for me to just sit and decide what I want to do in that moment. This is the same kind of listening I think is needed to “be”. To be our true selves that we have found, not just the selves we are on the surface.

Another part of discovering who we are is asking why we are who we are. As Sue mentioned, it is our families, culture, our country, our social interactions and relationships within the larger world that have a large influence on who we are.

As most of you probably know I come from a family with a long history in the Mennonite church, but I grew up in St. John’s, Newfoundland. There I attended St. David’s Presbyterian Church as there was not official Mennonite church. All the same, being Mennonite was still something I was aware of. I caught glimpses of the Canadian Mennonite here and there, my parents would play the Mennonite game when friends from Ontario would come to visit and they would complain about how our church never sings in four-part harmony. I would come to VBS in the summer and never know who anyone was but they all knew me. In the end I ended up thinking quite a bit about what being Mennonite made me even if I never remembered being part of the Mennonite church.

Then I moved back and became fully immersed into the Mennonite community again. I immediately was welcomed back into this community at St. Jacobs and into Rockway Mennonite Collegiate. And the one thing I regret is that I never really paused to think deeply enough about what living in St. John’s and what being part of that community made me.

It was where I grew up. It was where I made my first good friends. It is where I discovered my love for a rugged landscape on a windy day. My experience in Newfoundland comes through when I least expect it. I found myself doing a painting of the jellybean row houses in art class last week. I just found out I might get an opportunity to go to St. John’s over March break and that makes me happier than I can say. But it is a part of me that I think I never really fully appreciated until I decided to dig down into who I really am and why.

So now it is your turn. When is the last time you have taken the time to pause and listen, to dig down deep into who you are? If you’d asked me before this service I would have said a very long time. Who are you? And why?

Reflection: We are going to move into a brief time of quiet reflection and I invite you to take your STJ #81 – Take O take me as I am, and have that ready. We’ll sing it several times before and then several times after our reflection.

For our reflection I invite you to sit quietly, if possible close your eyes, breathe deeply several times and then just “be”.   Allow these words that we will sing wash over you and begin to seep into your very being. God takes us and loves us just as we are and lives within each of us.

Reflection 2: Belonging – show slide 2 of triangle

Sue: In the early 1920’s my parents at the age of 10 and 11 yrs., along with their families and about 7,000 other Mennonite families from Saskatchewan and Manitoba, gathered all of their personal and household belongings, their farm animals and machinery, boarded a train and migrated to Mexico to start a new life.

Then in 1953 my parents along with their 12 children returned to Canada, settling in the small, mainly Mennonite community in Yarrow, B.C. I want to share a bit of my story because I think it demonstrates the importance of having a place to belong and the opportunities we have as a church to foster it.

I was the youngest of my 12 siblings and 6 mos. old when we arrived in B.C. so I was spared a lot of the experiences that my older siblings faced of adjusting to and finding their place in a new country, culture and language. It was challenging for them – being different, feelings of shame and not being readily accepted, impacted how they saw themselves amid feelings of alienation - some of those scars remain to this day.

The village of Yarrow had 3 churches – The Alliance, Mennonite Brethren, and the General Conference Mennonite Church. It was the GC church that welcomed us as we were, and though my parents were not regular attendees, the rest of us attended thanks to efforts of some folks at the church. Through the years many of us became involved in the church – singing in the choir, teaching S.S., very involved with the youth group, and so on. There were some in the congregation that recognized various abilities and skills in us and invested time, money and love mentoring us and encouraging us to grow in our faith and develop our gifts.

A few years ago when I was visiting in B.C., I reconnected with the person who was a mentor to me at the church while I was growing up. I thanked him again for being the person in my life who saw me through the surface layers, and saw something of value and supported and encouraged me. With tears in his eyes he responded that our family was what made him and his wife’s presence and involvement at that church worthwhile and meaningful.

At age 20 I left my parent’s home and community for 2 years of voluntary service with Mennonite Central Committee in PA. That was a tremendous time of personal growth in my life. That’s also where I met my husband Bob and how I ended up here at SJMC – almost 44 years ago. It was initially hard for me to realize I would not be returning to my family and community in B.C. While I was excited about starting a new life in Bob’s home area it meant starting over with making new friends and developing a sense of home and belonging and it took a while for me to find my way. But we joined a small group that was named the “covenant” group and was comprised of a variety of ages that had a number of older and wiser members that modelled a faith that I learned so much from. This group was one of the important entry points for me as I began to foster a sense of belonging and forming new relationships.

There is much that has enriched and challenged my life and helped nurture a deep sense of belonging here at SJMC. I was encouraged, mentored and supported in developing my gifts here. I value my intergenerational relationships and the opportunity to participate in the Youth/Mentor program has also been a life giving experience, and one in which there has been mutual growth.

We’re at a point in time where I believe it’s vital to the health of the church to very intentionally nurture relationships across the ages, whether those are formal like our Youth/Mentor Program or informal. I found it interesting last Sunday that Tamara commented on how the young adults that are participating in the various opportunities to engage through pastors in exile, are desiring connections and relationships with older people.

In a recent Leader magazine the editorial encouraged us to bridge the chasm between what happens in youth ministry and what happens in the rest of the life of the congregation. We have to grapple with how to effectively form the faith of youth while also engaging them in the larger life of the cong. And toward a deeper, active faith.

5 Gifts of Mentoring – show slide

Maya: At our retreat weekend we looked at author Lois J. Zachary’s 5 key gifts of mentoring that are vital to making mentoring relationships constructive and fulfilling.

The first gift of mentoring is recognition. We all need to be recognized - it is a deep human want and I would also say a human need to be valued for your contributions to the world. Recognition is a part of being. While we must look in ourselves for who we are, we also need other people to see us for who we are. And while I very much appreciate what my parents think of me and how they recognize me as a contributing young adult, we often need someone other than our parents to also see us for who we are :)

The second gift is support. Often mentors do this without even knowing it. But I must say I definitely notice it as a mentee. It truly is a gift to have someone by your side to offer comfort and healing in times of struggle and even times of joy. Support is part of belonging.

The third gift comes almost hand in hand with support. The third gift is challenge. A mentor holds the responsibility of knowing when to give a push or offer significant insight. The challenge must be offered alongside support and willingness to work together and to learn from each other.

Inspiration is the fourth gift. A mentor is a role model at its fullest. To offer challenge and learning a mentor should also offer a steady example and be an inspiration and encouragement to contribute.

The final gift of mentoring is accountability. I have interpreted this to mean that a mentor should hold themselves accountable for whether or not they are challenging and asking important questions that prepare the other to be accountable for themselves, to speak with their own voice, to contribute with integrity and dignity.

I would also just like to note that mentoring goes both ways. In our mentoring program here at SJMC, we are called the youth and the mentors but both people should feel the ability to offer some aspects of the five gifts of mentoring to the other. Mentorship is not only giving but also receiving. In a way, a mentee simply asking someone to be there mentor is a way to recognize the mentor. To seek wisdom from someone’s personal experience is to “see” them. Now I speak for the youth, but I can definitely say I have benefitted from the 5 gifts of mentoring and I think it only natural I should attempt to offer some aspects of them back in return.

I also have come to see that the 5 gifts could also apply to our church. It is important, first of all, that every church be recognized for what it is. Each church has its own unique gifts and strengths to offer. And to be recognized, we must presently “be”. Look at who we are, delve deep into who and why we are what we are.

Our church is also in need of a steady inspiration to guide our path and to be the center from which all contribution happens. Our church’s inspiration would be our mission statement or Jesus’ example that is part of everything we do. Our church’s inspiration is like the stones, a firm foundation that we build and grow upon.

Reflections 3: Contributing – show 3rd triangle slide    

Sue: We all have areas of strength and giftedness, and as we grow in an understanding of our true self and our sense of belonging we are able to contribute to the life of our church in more healthy ways.

How we feel valued and experience belonging will have an impact on the degree to which we are able or willing to be an active participant in the life of the church.

And sometimes becoming involved is also what contributes to a sense of belonging so I think all of the three areas actually are inextricably linked.

At the retreat weekend we spent some time in our church groups which gave Maya & I some time to dream, do some brainstorming and reflect on our life together at SJMC.

To be honest, there are lots of wonderful things happening here and initially it was a bit of a challenge to think of things that we would like to see happen or done differently.

Maya: Many of my ideas came from things we have already started here at SJMC, some great ideas that I see could be pursued further.

I very much appreciate that we have made the addition of the multimedia projectors to our worship space and I would encourage us to use it even more. As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” and I think that is true. A photo or even a video have a way of summing up what we are saying and giving the words more meaning and context.

Another way I find I become more engaged in the service is to get up and have a conversation, or pause during the message to talk about it. To simply shake someone’s hand and say hello, allows us to get up and move around and become more active and present in the service.

Another area we could build on would be our opportunities for intergenerational time together. My friend, Maria, who goes to Breslau Mennonite Church, and was also on this retreat, told me how her church is forming random small intergenerational groups that meet over lunch. They call it “Table Talk” and it is just an informal time for conversation to get to know people you might not normally hang out with. For us here at SJMC it may not even need to take the form of a preplanned event, it might just require all of us to look for opportunities to mix it up whenever we sit down for a meal or form a group for a congregational activity.

This leads me to my next idea. This would be a more medium term goal but the idea of offering more opportunities for dialogue between churches. I have seen how productive it had been to get together with just a few people from other churches at the retreat, so I can’t imagine what ideas we could come up with after making connection across other churches. I think our current connections with Grace Lao and Benin Bible Institute are amazing and very inspiring and I think to branch out even more, to connect even certain aspects of our church with other churches in the area to get their thoughts, perspective and new ideas.

I have also had some more crazy ideas, somewhat inspired by the interrupting of the Prodigals Son today, on ways we could get creative with the sermon. For example, a progressive sermon, similar to a progressive supper but instead of going house to house for each meal, we could start writing a sermon and then pass it from person to person to add their ideas and thoughts and see how it goes.

These are just a few of my dreams of ways we could contribute to the already very contributing church. I would like to get to hear what you all have to say and perhaps in further discussion we will discover that even our wild and crazy dreams are not so crazy after all but very real and possible.

Sue: We continue to look for ways to involve all ages in worship and especially children and there have been some wonderful ways they have been involved as scripture readers, music, singing, drama, let’s keep finding ways to encourage that to continue.

I think an area of growth for us would be to find ways to connect that opens the door to deepening relationships and mentoring.

I believe we do fairly well at welcoming newcomers but not sure we do as well in helping them integrate and feel like they belong. It can be intimidating to get to know so many people and try to remember names.

Some ideas:

  • Greeters: It hit me in Dec. when I saw Lori, Ryan and Isaac being greeters. What an awesome idea. Why didn’t we think of this sooner? Let’s have more families doing that as they’re able, I know it wouldn’t work for all families, let’s include the youth, young adults, anyone really, mix up the ages.
  • Favourite pews: I know some of us have very particular places we like to sit. If you can handle it, change it up. Sit somewhere else and get to know someone you don’t always connect with or is new.
  • Post Worship: we love to visit so I don’t think finding someone to connect with after worship is a problem; but maybe find someone who isn’t in conversation; if someone has shared a joy or concern let them know you appreciated them sharing and will be praying for them.
  • Impromptu get together: Maybe once a quarter let’s have a Sunday where we’re encouraged to do something with someone; no official planning or sign up sheets, just get together with someone in a way that works for you. Keep it simple. If it doesn’t work that Sunday do it another time. It’s all about flexibility and allowing the Spirit to move among us in fluid ways!

We need to continue to find ways to interact that doesn’t necessarily involve planning or adding a new program but that gives us opportunities to be together.

Brent also asked us whether how we “demonstrate our vision” (located on the right wall) still holds for us. I think it would be good for us to look at that again.

I trust that what we have shared this morning is an invitation for you to take some time: to be, to dig deep, to ponder your place in our church family.

Response: Have our suggestions triggered thoughts and dreams of your own? Take a moment to share one dream with another person.

Benediction: I came across these words recently and I feel they are a fitting benediction for us this morning.

Church is not so much a place to which we come, as a place from which we go. Just as we enter into this place, we are sent back out by the same way – the entrance is also an exit – so when our service of worship is over, our service and our worship begin in the wide world.

“The church is only the Church when it exists for others” When we serve in love we are most like Jesus. Let’s go out from here and serve in love. Amen