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Service a win-win situation


MC Canada release by Grant E. Rissler

Julie Rempel (second from right) enjoys a light moment at the joint MVS Canada/USA retreat in Knob Noster, Missouri. Curtis Wiebe (on Julie's left), Jesse Graber, Scott Siemens, and Jude and Doug Krehbiel (from Julie's right) join in. (photo by Rick Unger)

Knob Noster, Missouri— Unlike most Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) workers, who go into service after college or between years of school, Julie Rempel is earning seminary credit during her year-long MVS assignment in Hamilton, Ontario.

Rempel, a master of divinity degree candidate at Associate Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind., says the combination allows her to fulfill her pastoral practicum while filling a needed niche in the life of the Welcome Inn Community Centre and Church in Hamilton.

Most participants in AMBS' Congregationally Supervised Pastoral Education (CSPE) program serve out their practicums in the area surrounding Elkhart. Rempel, however, felt a desire to serve her practicum in Canada because "being Canadian, I was thinking that I will pastor in Canada and MVS gave me the chance to work with a congregation in Canada."

Though the arrangements were made through MVS and AMBS, Rempel also had a previous relationship with the Welcome Inn from a summer service term spent there in the late '90's. While from that experience Rempel says she "felt affirmed and really needed," she also took away a sense that there was the potential for much more in the relationship, a sense that she carried through the next several years.

"Going for the short term, I felt that I was not able to get a good feel for the community, to have a sense of companionship with the people. I felt that I've done a little bit of time here, but it would be nice to continue this relationship."

The sense of the limitations of short-term service was strengthened over a two-year period that Rempel worked with the L'Arche community in Lethbridge, Alberta. L'Arche is an organization dedicated to helping developmentally disabled persons become more integral parts of society through appropriate work assignments, outings, and a communal living arrangement.

"Living in L'Arche," Rempel says, "I saw the toll it takes on core members when [volunteer staffing] is so transitional."

Rempel, who grew up attending the United Church of Canada and completed a degree in church music at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, landed in Lethbridge because of summer pastoral internship with Lethbridge Mennonite Church. The experience, says Rempel, introduced her to Mennonites more fully and planted another seed regarding a pastoral calling.

Rempel says that Lethbridge Mennonite, which was smaller than other congregations in her past, "felt like a bunch of aunts and uncles, which was a great thing. To see them work together to pitch in on a project like MCC relief buckets for Hurricane Mitch really gave me a good idea about what Mennonites are all about."

Still, Rempel didn't feel a specific call to ministry and began working with L'Arche, an organization she says "encourages spiritual direction." While there Rempel's spiritual mentor talked to her about going to AMBS. Eventually, Rempel entered the AMBS one-year Master of Divinity program.

"All these little seeds planted along the way culminated in that," Rempel says.

While looking at practicum options, Rempel says she was attracted to the Welcome Inn and MVS because of the past connection, but also because she was drawn to the simple community emphasis of MVS.

"I like the idea of living simply and also being stewards of money and resources," she says. "The Canadian Aboriginal culture talks about being keepers of the earth and how you are given gifts but have to share them. I can see that reflected in MVS."

Looking back on her placement after about nine months, Rempel says that because she was part of MVS, her placement both fulfilled the normal requirements of a practicum, and allowed her to experience the community in other unique ways.

Rempel's role has allowed her to be a part of many different aspects of the congregation's life, from helping to organize youth drop-ins, working with the women's group and participating in the senior's lunch program.

"A lot of Welcome Inn has to do with relationships, being with people who come there. I find intergenerational relationships a great opportunity to get more connected with the ideas, to reflect and see how things have come along [in the community]."

As part of her position, Rempel meets weekly with the lead pastor, journals and reports in to AMBS monthly. She also has had the opportunity to do mini-projects, such as focusing on the beginnings, 30 years ago, of the Welcome Inn as a storefront drop-in centre that grew into a congregation.

Recalling her first experience with a Youth Drop-in at the community centre, Rempel says that in addition to the reports and meetings, she also got to learn lessons and share lessons with some more unlikely mentors.

"I'd heard how thick-skinned" these kids are, Rempel says, but they're also "under a lot of pressure from society to live up to a certain stereotype, the women particularly, needing to be attractive."

That first drop-in was a warm summer day, Rempel says, she was wearing shorts and a number of the girls were shocked by the fact that she didn't shave her legs.

Soon a crowd gathered and several youth asked 'Why do you have such hairy legs?' Some of them began making fun of Rempel.

"I said, 'Why do you have to shave your legs?' and they talked about their boyfriends being grossed out." But in the exchange, Rempel says, "their eyes were opened to a life where you didn't have to be impressing people, that they could be who they are, that hair grows on legs."

Though she was on edge because of some of the jokes directed at her, Rempel says, "inside I was thinking it was great that these girls were learning that you didn't have to conform to society."

And soon, Rempel says, she learned a lesson in return. "Someone stuck up for me," she says, "which broke down my perceptions of tough teens. [I learned] that acceptance [of differences] is still there, even among those who go by survival of the fittest."

Given her positive experience, Rempel hopes that others can combine a school practicum with a service assignment.

MVS Canada is a partnership program with MVS USA. For information about getting involved, contact Brad Reimer (1-866-888-6785, email