Rhythms of service in a small town church

Written by Jasmine Wiens

As a child I always looked forward to the Christmas Eve program put on by my small town church. The best part of the night was our last song, the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah

An unassuming group of farmers and teachers, friends and neighbours, church members and visitors would join us in the choir to perform this final song. They would file up the stairs and squish into the pews of the brightly lit choir loft, overflowing onto the stage and around the piano. With one voice, we would belt out the song into the darkness, the audience standing and joining us in our wonder and anticipation of the hope of Christmas.

This community has become a staying force in my faith when other circumstances shake it. In recent months, several friends I met while attending a Christian college have left their faith, to varying degrees—including some who tried their hand at ministry. 

Considering the barrage of highly publicized scandals involving pastors, it’s no surprise “exvangelical” is an increasingly common affiliation among young adults. We chafe against troubling ethics divorced from the good news of Jesus, especially from our leaders. 

I can’t speak to the reasons my friends left Christianity, but I can certainly sympathize with them.

I too must reckon with the difficulties of collective faith. Yet it is because of the influence of my childhood church that I continue to follow Jesus.

It is this ordinary community that has shown me what it means to be part of the people of God, and to live into the glory of this mystery, Christ in us.

Growing up, the rhythms of our church year did not include anything quite as captivating as that Christmas Eve performance of the Messiah. However, our common calendar was dotted with another practice: service. One weekend a group would repair someone’s roof in the trailer park, the next there would be a blanket sewing event to make blankets that the humanitarian organization Mennonite Central Committee would distribute across Canada and around the world. 

My peers and I were folded into these events in our teenage years, just as we were with the choir. On Sundays we would hear Jesus’s words, that He came to bring good news to the poor and to set free the oppressed. The rest of the week, the community would try to imitate Jesus in that calling. 

On blanket-sewing days, we would all descend into the church basement. Many of the ladies were skilled at sewing the square patches together into a blanket; young people like myself were assigned the task of knotting. Each blanket passed beneath our fingertips as we made a knot in the center of the squares, holding the layers in place. 

Afterward, the congregation prayed over the completed blankets and for the people who would receive them. Looking around at the blankets displayed throughout the church, I could spot my 13-year-old work knit together with the skill of women who had been doing this their whole lives. 

Not only was the younger handiwork integrated together with the older, so too was our vision of the gospel. The good news of Jesus Christ led these women to care for those in need, and we learned with our hands that following Jesus meant using our bodies, our gifts, and our time for the good of the world.

Eventually my church’s pianist, my aunt, developed tendonitis and our annual singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus” came to an end. Then I moved away for college and could no longer attend the blanket-sewing events. Since then, I’ve been part of a few larger churches with well-produced services and extensive weekly programming. But charismatic speakers and generous budgets can’t compare to the steadfast example of following Jesus I found in my childhood faith community.

Having returned to my home church during the pandemic, I’ve been reminded of the power a worshiping community can have in shaping how we locate our lives within the gospel. For me, my home church continues to be the place that guides me in exploring the mystery of the gospel by soaking in its beauty. 

It is this community that shows me how to follow Jesus through their long commitment to helping others in our town and in our world. Our communal pursuit of Jesus provides a place to lean when my faith wears thin.