Centenary celebration bittersweet
A homecoming weekend celebration attended by some 200 people marked both 100 years and the final service of Arelee (Sask.) MB Church, June 27–29.
The weekend included four services, meals, some creative games, an offering for Mennonite Central Committee, and visiting time, with more than 200 gathering Sunday morning for the last official meeting of Arelee MB Church. A choir organized over the weekend under the direction of Greg Dalman performed Sunday morning, and provincial conference minister Ralph Gliege presented a gift to the current pastor and his wife, Archie and Erna Jantzen, for their 15 years of ministry in Arelee. The event closed with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper and singing of “Blessed Be the Tie that Binds,” as everyone stood in a circle and held hands.
Former church members and pastors shared songs, testimonies, and reflections during the three days. The mission work of Arelee has extended to Mexico, Colombia, and Ethiopia through members like Willa Edmunds and Alex Martichenko. The ladies group assembled 1,399 quilts (and counting) for charity between 1996 and 2008.
“Like many in my generation, after graduation from high school, I moved away from Arelee,” said former member Debra Matiko. “Returning for the celebration was a reminder to me of how God used the people of the church during my growing up years to establish a strong spiritual foundation for my life. God has scattered us [former Arelee members] across the continent to serve him, thereby multiplying the impact of the church many times.”
A common phenomenon in rural areas, the population of this small farming community has dwindled in recent years, and church membership with it. When half of the dozen active members and attendees moved away, the decision was made to close down the church.
“It’s kind of natural” for the church to die with the community, said Jantzen, “but there’s a sense of sadness. For the few people still in area there is a sense of loss, that’s for sure.”
“[When we came] 15 years ago, we thought year by year we’ll keep the doors open as long as we can,” says Jantzen of his vision for the church, “in the knowledge it wouldn’t be a growing community.” Jantzen and his wife Erna will remain in the manse in Arelee, but they and the remaning church members will commute outside the town for worship. The Saskatchewan MB conference is supervising the sale of the building.
Services began around 1903 in various locations, with the members obtaining a building and formally organizing as a congregation in 1908. The original fellowship, pastored by Luka Krowchenko and Apalon Melashenko, was known as Eagle Creek Russian MB Church, and was an outgrowth of the MB missionary impetus to Russian peasants in Ukraine in the 1880s.
A history book was published to commemorate the event, updating and complementing a 60th anniversary book released in 1968.
—Karla Braun with files from David Bergen.