Long-time Winnipeg pastor remembered for faithful service
Arno Fast “walked closely with God”
By John Longhurst
Kind. Gentle. Dedicated. Faithful. Those are some of the words used to describe Arno Fast, former pastor of Salem Community Bible Church in Winnipeg. Fast, who served as pastor at that church for 50 years, passed away June 18. He was 91.
For Harold Jantz, former editor of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, Fast was “very kind and sympathetic. He had a gentle way about him. He was the kind of person people easily felt close to.”Reflecting on Fast’s long tenure at the church, “I doubt anyone in the Mennonite Brethren Conference has ever pastored at one church as long as he did,” he says. “It must be a record.”
For 15 of those years, Fast shared ministry at the church with his grandson, Andy Rapko. Now senior pastor at Salem, Rapko remembers his grandfather as a man who “walked closely with God for many years. He taught me the centrality of the Word of God.” Rapko, 37, recalled asking him once what part of pastoral ministry meant the most to him. “I expected him to say evangelism or preaching, but he said his devotional time with God,” Rapko says. “He would often say ‘Jesus is so precious to me.’”
While Fast was a quiet and unassuming man, reflecting his rural Saskatchewan farm roots, he was highly educated, Rapko notes. “He always kept things simple, even though he had many years of higher education,” he says, noting he graduated from Mennonite Brethren Bible College (now Canadian Mennonite University). “And yet he was always learning. He never thought he had it all figured out.” Together, they made a good team, he says. “I had more energy, and he had more experience,” Rapko says. “He gave me space to try things. He was always happy when I succeeded and did well.”
After he died, many people in the low-income neighbourhood where the church is located offered their condolences, Rapko says.This including a local man who Fast had befriended, but who had never accepted his invitation to come to church or accept Christ. “He pulled up in his truck, rolled down the window and express his condolences,” Rapko says. “He told me my grandfather ‘never gave up on me. He had a greater impact on me than he ever realized.’” Also offering a kind word was a drug dealer at a house near the
church. “My grandfather used to visit him,” says Rapko, marvelling that a man in his 80s would be welcome at the home of someone dealing drugs. “No one was beneath him because didn’t have his life together,” Rapko says, noting Fast regularly walked the streets to visit people. “There are people in our church today who first met him on those walks.”
One person who experienced Fast’s ministry first-hand is Agnes Friesen. “He was soft spoken, and very warm,” she says. “He had a personal touch.” Friesen, who has attended Salem since 1980, adds “he was deeply appreciated by the church. He is missed so much.” Another person who knew him through his ministry at Salem is Linda Robertson. “He was a faithful servant, a shepherd, humble,” she says.
For Robertson, who has attended Salem since 1996, the phrase that comes to mind about Fast is “he had a Bible in one hand and broom in the other.” It was not unusual, she says, “to find him doing humble tasks like wiping spills in the church, emptying the dehumidifier or cleaning up garbage that had blown into the churchyard. He didn’t see anything as being beneath him . . . he was a true and faithful servant of Jesus Christ.”
Cam Priebe, who directs the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, only met Fast once, after starting in his position. “He spoke words of blessing, letting me know that he was praying for me. It was one short interaction, but I will always remember his kind and gentle spirit and words of blessing and affirmation. It meant a great deal to me having it come from this experienced leader.”
Elton DaSilva, executive director of the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, interacted with Fast for a number of years. “I came to appreciate his continued dependence on God and his family-like approach to ministry,” he says. “He knew the people he served by name, he knew their life stories, and he was a source of support to a community with diverse backgrounds. He took very seriously the sense of calling he received from God to shepherd his people.”
Fast is survived by his wife, Lena, son James (wife Beth) and his daughter Joan Rapko (husband Pat) 12 grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.