EDMONTON, Alta. — Each week, a little band of disciples known as Edmonton Christian Life Community Church meets at St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, where many homeless people congregate. The congregation of about 20 is made up of Chinese boat people who came to Canada in the 1980s, many of whom got jobs as cleaners upon their arrival.
Originally named Edmonton Chinese Mennonite Church, it had its first service in 1989 as a joint effort of three Mennonite denominations: Mennonite Church Alberta (formerly Conference of Mennonites of Alberta), Northwest Mennonite Conference and Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
The original vision was to “help meet the spiritual needs of the new immigrants at the Mennonite Centre for Newcomers,” which opened in 1980.
Because language continues to be a barrier, church services remain in Cantonese, which Pastor Ken Tse translates into English so younger congregants can understand. He also takes seniors to appointments, as their children often cannot translate terms that come up when speaking to specialists at a hospital or when filling in complicated forms.
Now 30 years later, Tse, who has been pastoring the church for 21 years, talks about his passion for his congregation despite low numbers. Motivation comes from two sources.
“It is my calling,” he said. “The people may not be growing in number, but they are growing spiritually. As long as they keep growing, I am encouraged.”
At the beginning of every year, Tse gives congregants a booklet in which they are encouraged to write down something they learned or experienced with God each week. At the end of the year they are invited to summarize what they learned for inclusion in the annual report.
For more than 10 years, the church has hosted two free computer classes. One is an outreach inviting the wider community to learn how to use word processing and presentation programs. The other is for its own community, to which Chinese Christians are invited to learn the same skills, as well as how to use Bible tools and apps online. The class is followed by prayer and Bible study.
Participants pray weekly for each other, the church and the needs of Mennonite Central Committee. Classes consistently have 12 people.
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Although the congregation changed its name to be more welcoming, it still very much sees itself as a Mennonite church. Belonging to three Mennonite denominations means it needs to be intentional to stay connected in relationship.
It tries to do this by attending each denomination’s annual meeting and worshiping together in joint services with other Mennonite congregations as often as possible. Until recently, Edmonton First Mennonite Church oversaw the church’s expenses and helped with taxes.
“Mennonites live their faith. They do not just say it,” Tse said. “I always ask people, ‘Do people see Christ in you?’ The way you live your life is your testimony.”
While admiring the integrity of the Mennonite witness, he wonders if Mennonites know what motivates it.
“When people see you, who do they see?” he asked. “When people see your work and concern for social justice, do they know you do it as a follower of Jesus?”
The challenge, he says, is to be fully authentic, to combine work for peace and justice with a verbal witness to Jesus.
Even in his own church, members often struggle to put words to their witness. During the share-and-prayer time, he tells congregants they are welcome to share an answered prayer, not only as a testimony but as a way of practicing telling their faith stories.
Every week the congregation reads its vision statement out loud in unison to remind each other of their call not to give up and to focus on being faithful disciples of Jesus: “Our vision is to become a community of Jesus followers, passionate for God and for all people.”
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