August 17, 2021
We recently had the opportunity to chat with Ken Stoesz (Lead Pastor) from Elmwood Mennonite Brethren Church about the ways God has been working at Elmwood and the community. We hope that you feel as encouraged as we did by this conversation!
Revitalize – that probably articulates best what we have been trying to do at Elmwood. Though the theme of ‘Revitalize’ was present to Elmwood before the pandemic hit in early 2020, it still continues through to today.
Elmwood MB Church is over 100 years old, but one is never too old to hear the gospel. Elmwood needed to hear the gospel. We needed to repent collectively, and more than that, to be, as Paul says in Ephesians, to pray that God would supernaturally help us understand His great love for us. We needed transformation by His grace, love & mercy. Elmwood didn’t need a hug; we needed to come face to face with hard truths.”
When Covid hit, we decided early on to commit to three things:
- To be consistent
- To be accessible
- And to be “us.”
We realized that what our congregation needed was a sense of normalcy. Everything was changing. Nothing was normal. Can we just provide normal? Can Elmwood be the one thing that remains stable? The answer was yes, and after trying a few things, we landed on the simplicity of an iPhone and a mic for streaming our services.
We also realized early that we needed to be transparent with the church as much as possible in our writing and our speaking. Transparency meaning that no one is promising that they know exactly what to do and that they won’t be able to get covid ‘right.’
There have been struggles dealing with covid itself, specifically how the church would handle the health orders. There are a portion of people who support the health orders, a portion of people who do not support the health orders and a portion of people who might be found more in the middle. I found myself having to navigate these conversations. Back in May, we had a 3-hour zoom call and walked through:
- What does scripture say about medicine?
- What does scripture say about the government?
- What does scripture say about how we relate to one another?
We found that the bible says less about medicine, a little more about government, but a ton about how we should relate to one another. And really specific things. So the meeting ended with realizing that we all have different opinions about these things. You’re going to pull a verse out of here to defend, that’s fine, but you actually don’t have a lot on either side, but you have a ton of direct commands like ‘you cannot slander each other.’ So we unpacked those texts and tried to do it with a ton of grace, realizing that we are all in this together.
Elmwood has a leadership council consisting of about 11 people, and we have been training towards this council being the spiritual leaders of the church and co-pastoring alongside the pastors. This has been one of the highlights during covid – watching the council step up and say “yes” to the care of the people in Elmwood. Practically, that has looked like a lot of phone calls and intentional conversations with members. It’s been awkward and hard. To pray with people and ask them how they are doing and what God has been teaching them, not just Netflix shows and lamenting about the jets, but saying – the reason I am calling you is because I have a mandate before God and before the church that I would give an account for your soul one day.
The council has really stepped up during this season.
Another leadership gift came when we hired a new pastor, Conrad Dueck, three months before Covid hit. I can’t even underestimate what he’s brought to the table this last year. I don’t know where I’d be.
Elmwood is an incredibly generous church, and we found ourselves in a place where we collectively felt that it was time to do something with the gospel we’d been learning about. People were ready. Together we have:
- Began a partnership in NorthEast India and have sent three teams out to assist new pastors in training.
- Sponsored a family living in a Ugandan refugee camp through MCC that is in the final stages of moving to Canada.
- Begun to build relationships with some people living in a camp along the Red River.
Although it isn’t known what church will look like in the fall when people start to trickle back in, we are sure about one thing: The goal isn’t a fixed building or a new awesome program, but it is people who know God and are growing in maturity and love and affection for Him. That’s the goal. That’s what we are trying to do here.
Praying for Elmwood
Pray that we are steadfast in our love for one another. Pray that we would be steadfast in God’s word. Pray that we would be instilled with a desire to reach the unreached with the gospel. Pray that God leads around this corner and that we would become a great commission church. A church that is actively faithfully reaching out to share Christ. Pray for perseverance in ministry, healthy marriages and joy in the ministry even in the midst of opposition, rejection and confusion.