Canadian Mennonite
Volume 10, No. 06
March 20, 2006


New church a ‘workshop’ in progress

Steinbach, Man.

God’s Workshop, a new church plant in Steinbach, Man., meets in a warehouse and ministers to those intimidated by more conventional churches and those on the margins of society.

The city of Steinbach is growing, but the churches in this community are not reflecting that same growth. This fact led Marv and Tanelle Wirzba, former co-pastors at Steinbach Mennonite Church (SMC), to call together a small group of church friends to consider ways of reaching out to those who were not finding a place in the established congregations of the community.

“We realized that doing outreach required doing some new things,” said Marv. “Organized religion and large buildings can be fairly intimidating and we realized the need for moving outside the comfort of those buildings.”

Last September, a core group of six families formed a new church—God’s Workshop—and began meeting in an empty warehouse.

“We felt called to start a new church,” said Lois Climenhaga, one of the core group members. “We were concerned about the people in Steinbach who don’t feel comfortable in the large established churches, who fall through the cracks and are on the margins of society.”

God’s Workshop opened its door to those people moving into the community who do not have a church background. The small, simple, informal gathering of 20 to 30 people on Sunday morning has few pretensions. They bring their lawn chairs into the large open space for worship after having a simple breakfast together around picnic tables. There is a prayer room and upstairs space is used for Sunday school. The fledgling church employs Marv Wirzba quarter-time.

Already the church has been a welcoming place for some families and individuals of different social, economic and ethnic classes.

“Seeing that this is a good fit for some people who weren’t part of a church before has been a highlight,” said Climenhaga. “Turning the old warehouse into sacred space is hard work, but tremendously rewarding.”

“Finances is one of our struggles,” she noted. “We are very much on a shoestring budget, but so far we have been able to come up with sufficient funds. We were able to end the year in the black. The Lord has provided amazingly. It is very exciting to see how the Lord works.”

Daryl Climenhaga, another core member, recently delivered a sermon at SMC in which he expressed gratitude for the nurture this congregation has provided God’s Workshop. He acknowledged that the moving out comes with some sadness. “Our task over the next several months is to work out our relationship with SMC,” he noted.

Norm Voth, director of Evangelism and Service for Mennonite Church Manitoba, has been in conversation with the core group at God’s Workshop. “We are just beginning to explore what the relationship with the larger church will look like in the future,” he said.

—Evelyn Rempel Petkau

Church helps African refugees mourn


Amie Bumbeh from Liberia—one of about 30 African refugees worshipping at Holyrood Mennonite Church in Edmonton, serves ice cream to young Rebecca Breen.

In January, Alice Chokpellah heard the news that her older brother, Junior W. Macarthy, had died suddenly in Africa.

Hugo and Doreen Neufeld, pastors on temporary assignment at Holyrood Mennonite Church, suggested a special remembrance and prayer service in Chokpellah’s home.

She picked up on the idea and remarked, “There are so many who have lost family members and friends in Africa. Why not do this in church for all those who have died in the past few years, as well as for those who are missing.”

In the last year, upwards of 30 African refugees have become active participants at Holyrood. Most of them had spent time in refugee camps in Ghana or Sierra Leone after fleeing civil war in their home country of Liberia. In the turmoil and confusion, many families and friends became separated, and the whereabouts and fate of loved ones often remains unknown. Even when news of a death is received, there is often no time or place for loved ones to hold a funeral or memorial service, and grief remains open-ended and unanchored.

On Feb. 12, the Holyrood congregation set aside part of the morning worship time to remember those who had died or had been lost in Africa, and to ask for God’s comfort and nearness in this difficult process of grief over time, distance and unknowing. Scripture readings from I Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Revelation 21:1-4 set the stage for a reading of the names of the lost loved ones related to the Africans in the congregation. More than 20 names of people ranging in age from four to 100 years were read from the pulpit.

Pastor Doreen Neufeld led in a prayer:

“O God, Lord of life and death, God of hope and comfort. This morning we stand, encircled by your loving arms. Thank you that as you are with us here this morning, you are present also in Africa, and throughout the world. We pray that you will comfort those of us who mourn the death of a brother, sister, spouse, parent, child. We thank you that they are safe in your care, and yet we grieve their absence from us. Perhaps even more difficult is the absence of those whose whereabouts are unknown. We wonder how they are: Are they safe or are they in trouble? Are they alive or are they dead? We commit them to your care. If they are alive, O God, keep them safe and return them to our arms. If they are not, help us to hear, so we can know how to grieve. In you alone we trust, knowing that you understand our pain and our grief. Your son too, suffered and died. Jesus, too, wept at the death of a friend. Amen.”

At a later date, the congregation hopes to have a service to remember all who have died in the past year.

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