Matching Macau and St. Boniface

What Next?

st. boniface basilicaWe had a visitor from Hong Kong recently and we took him on a cruise down Winnipeg’s Red River. When we passed the St. Boniface Basilica we explained how the cathedral had burned down in 1968 and only the front facade of the original church remains. It has become a well-known Winnipeg landmark.  Our guest said, “That’s just like in Macau.” We had never thought of the comparison but it was very apt.  

At the church facade in Macau with my parents At the church facade in Macau with my parents

We visited the island of Macau many times during the six years we lived in Hong Kong. There is a famous church there The Church of St. Paul built by the Jesuits. church facade in macauIt was destroyed by a fire during a typhoon in  1835. The facade remains and is probably the most photographed spot in Macau. 

We watched a play behind the St. Boniface Basilica facade at the Fringe Festival last year. We watched a play behind the St. Boniface Basilica facade at the…

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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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Consumption Sabbath – Earth Day Winnipeg

Spouting old-fashioned ‘Come to Jesus’ style gospel tent meeting patter the speakers at this morning’s Consumption Sabbath rally in Winnipeg’s Memorial Park exhorted the 300 or so people in attendance to come forward and take a stand for God’s creation. 

My husband Dave pedaled his bike and I walked to the Consumption Sabbath service since advertisements for the Earth Day event had encouraged attendees to leave their cars at home. 

The site was littered with signs carried by the people who had participated in a walking parade through Winnipeg streets that was held just prior to the eleven o’clock service called a ‘radical revival’ . It had a format like that of some of the crusade meetings I attended as a child. There was a robe-clad choir who led us in old gospel favorites like This Little Light of Mine and Amazing Grace. 

The  first two speakers gave testimonies describing their conversion experiences. Christine Penner Polle began her talk by acknowledging that in the past she had been a climate change avoider but since becoming a fossil fuel abolitionist she lives with much more hope. She encouraged us to be the tree not the acorn. Read about Christine’s conversion in The Canadian Mennonite. 

The second speaker DeLayne Toews was a fiery evangelist . The Lord had sent him to the garden to change his life and there weeding onions and watching pumpkins grow he was saved from his consumptive lifestyle. Read about the collective farm DeLayne helps to operate in this Free Press article. 

Annie Janzen was the third speaker, a volunteer from the audience. I know Annie since she was the cook at Canadian Mennonite University when I was a student there. She fed us so well, but also got to know us and took an interest in students’ lives.  She compared God’s creation to flower bulbs that will bloom year after year if humans don’t interfere artificially with their growth cycle. We all laughed when the elderly Annie said,  “Thank you to every one who has already offered me a chair to sit on today; but it is Earth Day and I want to sit or stand on the earth.” Read more about what Annie has done since her retirement in the Canadian Mennonite article. 

Aiden Enns, editor of Geez magazine, made reference to orators Billy Graham and Barack Obama as he adopted the persona of Brother Aiden John to preach to us about the need for a more poetic and less scientific connection to creation. He urged us to temper our enchantment with human creations like the i-phone by taking more delight in natural creations like flowers and trees. 

Using exaggerated gestures to emphasize his points Brother Aiden entreated us to recognize, restrain and redistribute.

Recognize the abundant free gift of creation

Restrain ourselves as consumers

Redistribute our wealth to those in need 

We had each been given a pledge card when the service started and now Brother Aiden asked us to fill it out, writing down what we were prepared to do to take a break from over -consumption like…….. take a digital sabbath- no computers for a time; take a junk food sabbath-eat locally produced food instead; or take a motorized transport sabbath-bike or walk instead. As the congregation sang we were called to come forward and tape our pledge to a large gold oil drum at the front of the tent as a symbol of our committment to take a break from over-consumption. 

After the service it was great to chat with the many familiar people in the crowd. Here Dave visits with a former fellow church member of ours Charles Loewen.

You can read more about the Consumption Sabbath in this Free Press article.

What next? I’ve pledged to try to reduce my computer screen hours. Hope I will still have time to complete a blog post everyday. 

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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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Connections At All Saints Church

Yesterday I attended All Saints Anglican church at the corner of Broadway and Osborne in Winnipeg. I had heard the music at the services was excellent as indeed it was, led by Dietrich Bartel the Dean of Music at my alma mater Canadian Mennonite University (CMU). Dr. Bartel conducted the choir and played the church’s grand pipe organ with masterful flair.

I recognized a couple Mennonite singers in the choir, one a former CMU classmate of mine.  The choir members nearly outnumbered the congregation. About 50 people were in attendance, and they seemed lost in the grand sanctuary with its high ceilings and endless rows of polished  dark hard-backed wood pews.  When it was time for the children’s story three young girls came forward. To celebrate the lovely spring weather in Winnipeg this weekend, the trio of smiling young ladies handed out colorful tulips to all the women in the congregation. One girl was from a Chinese family, a nice reminder of my six years living in Hong Kong. 

 The service at All Saints was led by pastor Edmund Laldin. Later talking to some of the congregants they told me he was fairly new to the church. Rev. Laldin is from Pakistan and is a former pastor of a Lutheran church which is perhaps why some of the liturgy choices he made sounded familiar to me, since we attended a Lutheran church when we lived in Hong Kong. 

This old car was parked just outside the church, a fitting reminder of just how old All Saints actually is. According to an article by James Hartman called The Churches of Early Winnipeg All Saints was founded in 1883 by Winnipeg residents who were looking for a more ritualistic service than was available in other churches. They wanted a greater emphasis on good quality music. The church was at the centre of a scandal almost immediately as the writer of a  letter to the editor of  a Winnipeg newspaper accused the church of immoral behavior. They had apparently conducted a raffle for a quilt to raise money for their pipe organ. The writer said this was illegal gambling and the church should be called All Sinners Church not All Saints. 

Here’s how All Saints looked in 1886. The wood frame building in English Gothic style could seat 450 people.

Dozens of plaques like this one in the church indicate the congregation’s strong link to the military community. All Saints was initially nicknamed the Garrison Church because the barracks for the Royal Canadian Dragoons was just across the street and the soldiers stationed there often marched in parade to services at All Saints on Sunday mornings. 

There are many beautiful stained glass windows in the church, like this one of the Last Supper.  A number of these have been donated to All Saints in memory of fallen soldiers. 

I was surprised to look up and see this flag with Chinese lettering saying Hong Kong Veterans hanging from the church’s ceiling. I knew there was a regiment from Manitoba The Winnipeg Grenadiers who had served in Hong Kong and that many Manitobans had been killed there when Japan attacked Hong Kong the same day they attacked Pearl Harbor. I also knew many more Winnipeg soldiers had died in Japanese prisoner of war camps.

I wrote an article for the Winnipeg Free Press about visiting the Sai Wan War cemetery where these Winnipeg soldiers are buried in Hong Kong.

I also had a Sai Wan piece in Imprint a magazine project of the Hong Kong Women in Publishing group of which I was a member. 

Later when an All Saints congregation member saw me examining  a plaque that paid tribute to the Hong Kong Veterans he said the survivors of the Winnipeg Grenadiers had met annually in their church for many years, holding a memorial service and meal. Of course by now virtually all of the Winnipeg Grenadiers who served in Hong Kong will have passed away. 

All Saints was a very friendly congregation to visit. Before the service a woman helped me find the right liturgical book and hymn book I would need. During the ‘passing of the peace’ many people shook hands with me. After the service quite a number of smiling congregation members introduced themselves and invited me to stay for coffee. 

The All Saints Church is steeped in history, has beautiful art, a welcoming congregation and more personal Winnipeg and Hong Kong connections for me than I realized.

You might want to check out this Free Press article about the stained glass art at All Saints Anglican.  

All Saints Windows Shine to the Glory of God

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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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