Churches

Embrace the Movement

What Next?

They came from all over Canada. A couple of weeks ago when I volunteered at the Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Shop on Selkirk Avenue we were inundated with two bus loads of visitors.  selkirk thrift shop visitors

These were Thrift Shop administrators, volunteers, board members and executive members from other cities. They had come to Winnipeg for a conference called Embrace the Movement where they could share ideas about how to run thrift stores more effectively and efficiently and to receive information and inspiration from guest speakers. visitors to thrift shopI talked with people from Saskatchewan, British Columbia, Ontario and other places in Manitoba. They were touring Manitoba Thrift Stores after spending a number of days attending workshops that addressed such things as recruiting volunteers, creating safe shopping and working environments, dealing peacefully and in restorative ways with shop lifters, quick merchandise turn around and handling conflict. visitors to thrift store

The people who came to tour were different ages, had…

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Mother’s Day Kitsch

What Next?

It’s the day after Mother’s Day and mothers are trying to find places to put all those lovely little gifts they received. Their hearts were touched by the sentiment the presents conveyed but what will they do with all those sweet knick knacks? I was working at the Mennonite Central Committee Thrift Store on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg last week and Mother’s Day kitsch was flying off our shelves. I took some photos before it was all gone.

If Mother's Were Flowers I'd Pick YouIf Mothers were flowers I’d pick you

Mother's Day Teddy BearsMother’s Day Teddy Bears

A Mother's Love Makes All Things Bright and BeautifulA mother’s love makes all things bright and beautiful

Plaque for Mother's DayPlaque for Mother’s Day

You who bears the sweetest nameTo one who bears the sweetest name

Mother's Day poem and Canada souvenir all in one ornamentA Mother’s Day poem and Canada souvenir 

What to do with your Mother’s Day kitsch? Bring it back to the Thrift Store and we’ll sell it again next year. Profits from our sales help to provide food, clothing, medical care and other…

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Picking A Winnipeg Church From A Cereal Bowl

We had to do something! When we moved back to Canada two years ago from Hong Kong I was eager to get involved with a church congregation in Winnipeg. 

My husband Dave thought we should shop around for a church. “Give it a year,” he said “and then we will decide.” There are more than a dozen churches that belong to our particular Mennonite church conference in Winnipeg and I think we went to them all, some several times. But we also attended Lutheran churches, United churches, Anglican churches and non-denominational congregations. And soon……. two years, not one had passed. 

When our two year anniversary of being back in Canada was reached I put my foot down.  ”We have to decide,” I said. 

cereal bowl“OK,” said my  husband. “Let’s each write the names of three churches on slips of paper, put them in a cereal bowl and then you start drawing. The last slip of paper that’s left is the church we’ll attend.”

It ended up that last slip contained the name of a church we’d both written down. Neither of us got our top pick, but we were both content with the choice.

I’m not saying the best way to choose a church is from a cereal bowl, but since our merry-go-round of visits and endless discussions about the matter had produced no results, for us at least it was a practical solution. 

Other posts about churches and faith groups……

Could I Have Been A Hutterite?

On Being  A Church Tourist In Winnipeg

All Saints Anglican

Could I Have Been A Grey Nun?

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Mennonites and Canada’s First Nations People Have More in Common Than You Think

IMG_5751Mennonites and Canada’s First Nations people have many things in common. I was surprised to hear that statement from Ovide Mercredi last Friday night at Thunder Bird House on Winnipeg’s Main Street.  Mr. Mercredi, a lawyer, and former National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, was speaking at a dinner and program organized by Mennonite Church Manitoba and Mennonite Church Canada, as part of their mission to build mutually beneficial relationships with our country’s indigenous people. 

13011_ovide_mercrediMr. Mercredi said both Mennonites and Canada’s First Nations people know what it means to be oppressed. Mennonites left Ukraine and fled to Canada to be free from oppression. Mr. Mercredi noted that unlike Mennonites, Canada’s indigenous people have had no other countries to which they have been able to flee, in order to escape the oppression they have experienced in their native land.

 Upon their arrival in Manitoba in the 1870s the Mennonites were given two large reserves of land both east and west of the Red River. Canada’s First Nations people were also given reserves of land by the government. The Mennonites received 6% of Manitoba’s land at the time of their settlement. The First Nations received a much smaller percentage of the province’s land for their reserves. Mennonites were given good agricultural land, while Canada’s indigenous people were given mostly muskeg.

 Mr. Mercredi explained that another thing his people and Mennonites have in common is strong religious beliefs and an abiding faith in the Creator. The Canadian government allowed Mennonites to practice their faith freely, and even granted them special dispensation to remain true to their religious belief in pacifism, exempting them from military service.  First Nations people on the other hand had their spiritual practices outlawed by the Indian Act and the government tried to convert their children to Christianity by forcing them to attend residential schools.

Finally, like Mennonites, Mr. Mecredi said his people belong to a collective entity, a community with which they can identify. Mr. Mecredi fears the Harper government’s plan to introduce legislation that would allow First Nations members living on reserves to own their own property will irrevocably damage that collective identity. 

Although Ovide Mecredi said he was going to talk about how Mennonites and Canada’s First Nations people were the same, he essentially talked about how we are different, how much more privileged Mennonites have been.

Mr. Mecredi is a knowledgeable and articulate spokesperson for Canada’s First Nations and he used his platform on Friday night to educate us about the challenges facing his people and to explain a concept he called a double understanding. It describes a relationship where both parties not only listen, but they also genuinely hear one another, and try to understand one other’s point of view.

Cartoon by Terry Mosher- Aislin- 1991- from the collection of the McCord Museum- Montreal

Cartoon by Terry Mosher- Aislin- 1991- from the collection of the McCord Museum- Montreal

 He emphasized the need for a double understanding between Canada’s First Nations people and the current government, warning the country is headed for real conflict if that kind of working relationship cannot be established. He said there are now thousands of university educated aboriginal leaders who will rise up across the country to bring about necessary change in a peaceful way. The Idle No More movement protesting the government’s Bill C-45 is an example of the kind of political action we can expect to see.

I left Thunderbird House on Friday night keenly aware that everyone has a role to play in helping reach a double understanding with Canada’s First Nations people, not just Mennonites, but all religious groups and all Canadians.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like……….

Residential Schools- The Hiroshima of the Indian Nations

 There Must Be 50 Ways to Use a Bison

Words of Wisdom From Winnipeg Mayor Bill Norrie

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On Being A Church Tourist in Winnipeg

 I attended church one Sunday last summer  in a loft space above a store. The music was provided by the owners of a local sushi restaurant who sang hymns and love songs in Japanese, while playing electronic instruments.  They obviously loved making music even though it wasn’t always easy for them to stay on pitch or keep the beat. The walls of our worship space were hung with unique art pieces, some quite graphic and unusual. The congregation was a mix of local residents from all kinds of backgrounds. There were men in dark business suits and women in muddy raincoats.  People who were obviously intoxicated shouted out colorful comments during the service.  Psalm 23 was the subject of the short meditation and the text was read in German, French, English, Hebrew and Japanese.

The pastor blessed some crusts of bread and a cup of red juice and we could approach the small altar at our leisure to partake of the elements. Music from a nearby jazz festival was blaring through the windows as we took communion.

       A few months earlier I  had attended a massive stone church right across from the Manitoba Legislature.  It had been built in 1886.  Professional musicians paid by the church directed and sang in the choir. A gifted university music professor played a pipe organ installed in 1917. The lovely stained glass windows surrounding the sanctuary depicted stories from the Bible. The order of service followed a certain liturgy and people knelt, sang and responded orally with little direction from the worship leader. Banners and plaques in the church illustrated its strong connection with military units and soldiers from the two world wars. People wearing fashionable clothes filed up silently and reverently to receive communion from the pastor. During the ‘passing of the peace’ many parishioners shook my hand and welcomed me and when I expressed an interest in the building’s history after the service one friendly church member gave me a tour.

   We spent our first year in Winnipeg church shopping and it’s been an interesting experience. We’ve been to tiny churches and huge churches, churches that are new and some that have been around for a hundred years. We’ve been to Mennonite churches, Anglican churches, United churches, Alliance churches, Lutheran churches and non-denominational churches. We’ve been to churches where most of the people seem to be over eighty years old and others with lots of young families.

        In some churches people warmly welcomed us, while in others not a single person talked to us.  At one church we received several invitations to join families for lunch, while at another the pastor came running after us down the street as we headed to our car because he hadn’t had a chance to talk to us.

        When we moved to Hong Kong we had been attending Grace Mennonite Church in Steinbach for the better part of forty years.  

We quickly found a Lutheran congregation in Hong Kong that became our home church for our six years in Asia. Now we are living in Winnipeg and we need to find a new church to attend so we have been church shopping.  We’ve heard every kind of music, listened to many thought provoking sermons and met lots of interesting people. In fact church shopping has been so fascinating we’ve been procrastinating on making a decision about where we want to become members. I know we need to decide soon, but for right now we are enjoying the absolutely endless variety of ways people of the same faith choose to express themselves in worship.

If you enjoyed this post you might also like………

Connections at All Saint Anglican

Could I have been a Grey Nun?

Consumption Sabbath- Earth Day Winnipeg

        

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There is Winnipeg Mennonite Fiction!

He got it wrong! In March I took a course called Winnipeg Fact and Fiction from Roland Penner octogenarian story-teller extraordinaire. One class was about the contributions immigrant families have made to the city.  Penner was right in asserting that immigrants and their children helped put Winnipeg on the map. Just  look at people like ………….

Manitoba Theatre Centre founder John Hirsch who was a war orphan from Hungary

Sculptor Leo Mol who came to Canada from Ukraine in 1948

Politician Stanley Knowles who immigrated to Canada from Los Angeles with his parents in the early 1900s.  Intrepid war hero William Stephenson, Winnipeg’s own James Bond, whose parents were immigrants from Iceland and Scotland. 

and comedian David Steinberg born in Winnipeg to Romanian immigrant parents. 

The purpose of the course Winnipeg Fact and Fiction was to introduce a topic about Winnipeg history and then suggest one or two companion novels that might shed an interesting perspective on that theme.  Our teacher Roland Penner got it wrong when he recommended Fredelle Maynard’s book Raisins and Almonds as his top fiction pick reflecting the Winnipeg immigrant experience.

Raisins and Almonds tells the story of a young girl growing up on the Canadian prairies as the child of Jewish immigrants from Russia. The first problem I have with Roland Penner choosing this book is that it’s not fiction, but Maynard’s memoirs. Secondly, although there are a some pages in the book devoted to life in Winnipeg the majority of the stories are set in the small Canadian prairie towns where Fredelle’s family moved in hopes of finding one where her father’s mercantile business would be successful. 

Someone in the class asked Roland if he could recommend fiction books that would represent the Mennonite immigrant experience in Winnipeg and he said there weren’t any. He claimed since Mennonites settled primarily in the rural areas of Manitoba, if there was any fiction about their immigrant experience it wouldn’t be set in Winnipeg. He was wrong. 

Dora Dueck’s novel This Hidden Thing, winner of last year’s McNally Robinison Book of the Year award, is definitely fiction and is set almost solely in Winnipeg. It tells the story of young Mennonite girls who came to live in Winnipeg to work as maids in the homes of wealthy people in order to help pay the money their families owed to the Canadian Pacific Railway. The CPR had financed loans to make it possible for Mennonites to come to Canada from Ukraine.  Maria, the main character in Dueck’s novel, spends almost her entire life in Winnipeg after immigrating from Ukraine as a teenager.  

Penner is also wrong when he says there weren’t many Mennonite immigrants in Winnipeg. By the 1920’s six Mennonite churches had already been established in the city and by the 1950’s there were 7000 Mennonites living in Winnipeg. 

I’d like to find out if there are any other novels set primarily in Winnipeg that reflect the experience of Mennonite immigrants. 

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Could I Have Been A Grey Nun?

The Grey Nuns are a Canadian order of  Catholic sisters founded in 1738 in Montreal. Four women from this order came to Manitoba in 1844 to provide educational and medical services to the fledgling Red River Settlement, which would later become the city of Winnipeg. Could I have been one of them? I don’t think so. They were brave and courageous women, compassionate and daring, overcoming extreme hardship to carry out their divine mission of caring for those in need.
On Sunday I was out for a walk and went by the St. Boniface Museum. I noticed it was open and decided to go in and pay a visit. St. Boniface is a French suburb of Winnipeg.

The museum which tells the story of the Grey Nuns is located in their former convent, built in 1847. It is the oldest building in the city of Winnipeg. 

You might wonder why they were called Grey Nuns when their habits are clearly brown and black. Apparently originally the sisters did wear grey habits but their name comes from another association. The order was founded by this woman Marguerite d’Youville. She was a young widow. Her deceased husband, an abusive liar, who left his wife and two young children in debt when he died, had sold bootleg liquor for a living. Because of this, Marguerite and the three other women who helped start the order were called “les grises” – a phrase meaning both “the grey women” and “the drunken women”. The first description came from the color of their cloth habits, but the second, because Marguerite d’ Youville, the order’s founder, had been married to a man who sold illegal alcohol. 

 Sisters Valade, Lagrave, Coutlee and Lafrance were the four nuns who volunteered to come to Manitoba  from Montreal.  They left on April 24 in a canoe and their trip was no picnic. In their journals they talk about walking through endless bush as they portaged from one body of water to another. They describe the snakes in their camps, which scared them so much they could hardly sleep. They had to climb steep hills and it rained almost everyday. Sister Emily Lafrance twisted her foot and the voyageurs who were paddling the canoes wanted to leave her behind. She soldiered on and walked with a limp the rest of her life. 

Sister Emily was very artistic. I took a photo of this paper mache’ Virgin Mary she made for the Grey Nuns’ first chapel. She also painted frescoes on the chapel ceiling and spun and wove beautiful altar cloths. 

The nuns traveled around to Indian and Metis settlements providing medical care and teaching the children. Metis are a cultural group in Manitoba. They are the children of First Nations women and French voyageur men. 

This statue of Louis Riel, Manitoba’s most famous Metis stands outside the Grey Nun’s convent. Many people say he was the founder of our province. Louis was one of the Grey Nuns’ students. When Sister Valade made a trip back to the order’s convent in Montreal she took Louis along and enrolled him in a college where he studied for seven years.

Sister Teresa McDonnell was a Grey Nun who came to Manitoba in 1855 and won the hearts of the Metis, because her herbal remedies cured many of their illnesses. She traveled anywhere, in any kind of weather if someone needed her help. She was affectionately called ‘Sister Doctor’. In 1859 she was to go back east to the central convent but the Metis actually kidnapped her and kept her in Manitoba.  An article on the Manitoba Historical Society website says Sister Teresa was the founder of Winnipeg’s St. Boniface Hospital, and St. Mary’s Academy, a well-known girls’ school. 

I have several personal connections with the St. Boniface Hospital. I lived on the hospital campus for a year when I was six years old, because my father was a medical resident there. There was a special apartment building near the hospital for residents and their families. My sister Kaaren was the chief nursing officer at the St. Boniface Hospital from 1997-2007.  Now I visit the hospital regularly because it is where my mother has received dialysis three mornings a week for the last four years. 

I asked the attendant at the museum if the Grey Nuns’ order was still active. She said there are a few Grey Nuns left but the youngest is 65.  The government has taken over most of the hospitals and care homes that were founded by the Grey Nuns. There is a plan underway to bring in young nuns from an African order to carry on the Grey Nuns’ legacy. Apparently there just aren’t enough North American women willing to dedicate themselves to a nun’s life anymore. 

Could I have been a Grey Nun? I’m not sure I could have lived the isolated, selfless life they did, ignoring physical discomfort to bring hope, literacy and healing to so many people. 

I am glad however that I visited the St. Boniface Museum and learned all about the Grey Nuns and the important contribution they made to Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba. 

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