St. Catharines, Ont.
“Who is your neighbour?” Derek Parenteau asked congregants at Westview Christian Fellowship, St. Catharines. “Jesus defines your neighbour as one person you wish wasn’t,” says Parenteau. “A lot of hurt has been done [to First Nation people] in the name of Jesus.”
Parenteau is a program facilitator for RUGGED tree, a non-profit organization that organizes compassionate work in First Nations communities.
Westview’s lead pastor Victor Ratzlaff met Parenteau a year ago and “knew Derek had to meet Westview.” Parenteau and his wife Tiffani minister in the Georgian Bay region where there are many First Nation communities who “rarely make eye-contact across cultural lines.” Parenteau’s passion to pursue “peace, justice, and reconciliation” made him a fitting guest speaker for Westview’s service designed to honour and bless the First Nation people in their congregation.
Community outreach pastor Erika Klassen organized the morning. “As an MB church, we sometimes honour and recognize our MB heritage and traditions,” she says. “But we have other cultures represented in our church family that are equally important to recognize.”
Ratzlaff invited the relaxed gathering of approximately 80–100 people to light candles to represent prayers held in their hearts. Passionate worship followed, revolving around songs of praise honouring God and marvelling on creation. In the celebratory atmosphere, worshippers sat, stood, or danced their expressions of worship with colourful flags and tambourines adorned with trailing ribbons.
Micha LaChance, Westview member and daughter of an aboriginal man, shared her personal story and emphasized Jesus as the healer. “What happens to a nation when the sins of men are attributed to the church? We go to the cross. Restoration and identity is found in the Living God.”
Parenteau highlighted the Truth and Reconciliation events being held across Canada and the grassroots movement of similar events happening in smaller clusters. He says, “First Nation people are coming to these events saying, ‘We are ready to forgive.’ But there are very few non-aboriginals attending who are ‘ready to repent.’” He encouraged Westview members to attend and support such events as opportunities arrive.
Visit www.ruggedtree.org for more information.
—Stacey Weeks, Ontario correspondent