This piece was originally submitted to the Golden Thread Contest, a literary competition launched to honour writers 35 and under on the occasion of Canada’s Sesquicentennial anniversary. The stories collected during this initiative continue to exist as a part of the Voice From the Crowd collection, an online space that gives voice to the countless stories of faith that enrich the Canadian landscape.
The words anamnesis and prolepsis are two words used in Christian theology that carry significant meaning for me. Anamnesis is a word used to describe our connection to the past. It is a word that has a certain weightiness to it, with regards to how we both remember and talk about the past, and how we are presently shaped by and connected to the events of the past. The word prolepsis, on the other hand, is a word that describes our relationship to the future. While it is a word to describe how our actions shape the future, it is much deeper than that; it also describes how we are intrinsically connected to the people and events of the future. This word also carries with it a sense of Christian hope; just as our faith has carried us through the difficulties of the past, it will continue to carry us in the events yet to come.
The God of the Bible is a God who transcends even time itself. Therefore, when we worship as communities of faith, as we tell stories of faith past and present, and as we have faith and hope for the future, we are connected to all the lovers of God throughout all generations, both long deceased and yet to be born.
I am the pastor of a small country church in southwestern Ontario. I have been serving as the pastor here for about four years. Most of our members are immigrants to Canada who were born in Mexico. While I was born in Northern Alberta, they and I are from the same ethnic and faith background. We are what people commonly call “Russian Mennonites”.
After the Reformation of the early 16th century, our people were hated and violently persecuted in Europe. This ultimately led to a mass resettlement in Russia, where we lived for many generations. Around the time of the Russian revolution, life was no longer safe for my ancestors and so many chose to relocate to Canada, coming as refugees. After a short time many left Canada for Mexico and other countries in Central and South America. From there families have moved around a great deal, travelling from country to country in search of a home. Many recently have chosen to settle in southwestern Ontario, and these are the people who make up my beautiful little congregation.
The centuries long history of trauma has left its mark on our people. For many of us our sense of national identity is not very strong, as our people have been displaced on several occasions over the past few centuries, and then have voluntarily moved around a great deal thereafter in search of a place to call home. Even our ethnic cuisine is a fascinating blend of foods from Ukraine, Russia and Mexico.
One thing—the only thing, really—that has our held together our communal identity through the centuries is our faith. It is the reason our forefathers were exiled from their homes in Europe. It is what sustained them and strengthened them as they fled for their lives during the Russian Revolution, and it is what has given hope to us all from Menno Simons to me and to my congregation. Our faith is rooted in the idea that God, through Jesus Christ, has given us hope for the future and also hope for the present. We as worshippers of God are driven by the teachings of Jesus and the Bible to make this world a better place wherever we find ourselves.
Our congregation is not a wealthy group of people. Many struggle just to pay the bills. Once, in the middle of a financial crisis, I was told that unless something changed quickly, the church would not have enough money to pay my modest salary at month’s end. Yet it was this financial crisis that drove us to re-examine our purpose as a church and as a faith community. Though we did not have a lot of money to funnel to other charities, we began to ask questions about poverty, and what our church’s role was in alleviating poverty, even as some of us struggled with it.
Having a background in communications and media, I dusted off my camera equipment and started asking some hard question of other pastors and faith leaders as I had opportunity. I then used that material to develop a curriculum on the subject called Pov.ology, which is now being used by churches across Canada and beyond. I insisted we offer the series for free online (www.povology.com), so that other churches like us could use it—churches that don’t have the means to continually pay exorbitant prices for new curriculum. We are on a journey, and Pov.ology is a snapshot of our journey learning about how we as a faith community are summoned to help others, even as we have needs ourselves.
Our faith is what has sustained our people for generations, and as we remember that and celebrate the faith of the past it strengthens us today. It connects us to the past and allows the past to shape us into better versions of ourselves. As we struggle to find identity and meaning in our world, our faith comforts us and reminds us that our lives have meaning and purpose. Our faith inspires us to look beyond ourselves to what we can do to help our neighbours. It also inspires us to admit when we are wrong and make amends when we fail or cause harm to others. When we look to the future it is our faith that fills us with hope because we are each part of a story so much larger than ourselves.
We testify to our faith in the goodness of God through our shared history and throughout our individual lives. This faith is not ignorant of suffering or the reality of evil, as our people have experienced much of this first hand. For us, to say that there is no God because of the suffering we have endured is as absurd as saying there is no sun because we can see a shadow. Though our people have been scattered across many countries through the tragedies of our history, we can testify that God has been at work among us. Though we have suffered losses, we have not lost hope.
Each person in the world has a story. We each have a unique story about how we overcame something to be where we are. While I speak of the history of my people, each person has their own history, and my faith is larger than just my own people. We are connected to other believers past, present and future. Words like anamnesis and prolepsis help us understand how our story is merely the next chapter of an ancient story, and also a pivotal chapter connecting the past to the future. As we walk those ancient paths in modern times, our faith also beckons us to open our hearts, homes, and communities and invite others to join us in continuing the story.
We may not have a lot of money, but we have faith, and we are willing to share.