Visiting Jubilee Mennonite Church on a Thursday evening, one discovers a flurry of activity – youths waiting to be shepherded into vehicles for an evening at Birds Hill Park, young adults putting up a new basketball hoop, adults working in garden plots, young children playing in the yard and basement – but Anna Marie Geddert, director of community ministry at Jubilee Mennonite Church (a member of both Mennonite Church Canada and the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches), has it all under control.
This evening, the theme for J Club (three- to 12-year-olds) is “trees.” With adult guidance, youngsters are planting seedlings around the church. The butterfly garden J Club planted earlier in the month with help from the Living Prairie Museum is too busy to lure any butterflies Thursday nights, but the dream is to bring nature to the churchyard.
“Many do not have cars or cannot afford to go to a camp, so we would like to bring nature to them, to learn to care for it and love it,” says Geddert.
In April 2010, the church hired Geddert part-time for a three-month term to determine needs in their corner of the city and help connect with churches and secular organizations to find out where gaps existed. (Four Manitoba Housing complexes with numerous aboriginal, new immigrant, and single-parent families form part of the neighbourhood.) The term was extended to six months, then a three-year commitment for 20 hours/week.
Geddert distributes a newsletter to a couple hundred households every month, informing of upcoming activities. Often, she takes time to visit as she does the mail drop.
“We are beginning to see people who identify the church as a place to come when they need someone,” says pastor Dan Nighswander.
It isn’t always smooth sailing; things get broken and conflicts between community members erupt at times.
“There is still a bit of damage that gets done,” Nighswander says, “but the congregation says wear and tear on the building and vandalism is part of the cost of being who God calls us to be.”
Geddert meets regularly with community groups, churches, organizations, and schools in the area; many are interested in assisting through donations, volunteers, and resources. The local school shares some of their staff time with Jubilee’s community kitchen program; stores and churches have donated sports equipment for Jubilee’s hockey and soccer teams.
“We’re all working at a common purpose and it’s a wonderful way to have conversations about your faith,” says Geddert.