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Adventurer explores humanity’s spiritual landscape

    Jan 25, 2005
-by Dan Dyck
 


Arlyn Friesen Epp manages the Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre. “The goal is that the conversation and the resource will be nurturing,” he says.

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Winnipeg, Man. — A 3,000 kilometre cycling trip from Southern Ontario to the Maritimes absolutely convinced Arlyn Friesen Epp of what he already suspected: people are fundamentally good.

The 1994 tour took Friesen Epp and his wife Judith on a route through the USA. The adventure culminated in an 800 kilometre tour of Prince Edward Island.

Two things about the trip stand out for Friesen Epp: how little one actually needs to survive, and the hospitality of the people he encountered along the way. Strangers opened up campgrounds in the midst of pre-season preparations, welcomed them into their home to watch hockey finals, and loaned them a car to shop for groceries in a nearby town before closing time.

The two month long trip bridged a time of youth and worship ministry in Vineland United Mennonite Church, Ontario (a position he shared with Judith), and a return to student life. “The bike trip certainly helped shape some of our lifestyle ideas,” said Friesen Epp of the adventure that had them packing only a few clothes and a tent. It also happened to be good preparation for a return to frugal student living, and later, as a thrifty stay-at-home Dad.

Broad ranging interests in sports, astronomy, outdoor life, theology, history (he also has a history degree), two stints as youth minister at Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, and a term of service with Mennonite Central Committee in New Orleans, LA., belie his youthful 35 years.

A Bachelor of Theology graduate of Canadian Mennonite Bible College (now Canadian Mennonite University), Friesen Epp’s passions are especially fired up when congregational, social, and community ministry are combined with drama to bring a message home.

Although sensing a call, he struggles with the tension of a tug toward pastoral ministry and a desire for artistic expression. He has written dramas and music for worship – an experience that is both rewarding and valued as a ministry.

Now the manager of Mennonite Church Canada’s Resource Centre, Friesen Epp directs his accumulated life experience and education toward helping others in their lives and ministry.

A typical day begins by responding to email and phone messages requesting help in finding or obtaining a variety of multi-media resources. Pastors, worship leaders, Sunday school teachers are the usual customers. On rare occasions callers are seeking personal help. Some are looking for “ready-made” resources to help them solve a relationship problem, perhaps with a spouse, a parent, a child, or an internal church conflict. Sometimes he ends up referring a caller to other Mennonite Church Canada resource people. Referrals may also be passed on to Anabaptist resource centres in Canada and the USA.

“Sometimes there is an expectation that there is a ready made resource that will help solve the problem, but of course that is not always the case, nor is it always the most helpful,” said Friesen Epp. While many callers do not know exactly what they are seeking, most end up getting a useful resource (or a helpful referral) after an investigative conversation to focus the inquiry.

Seasonal worship resources, small group resources, and Sunday school materials are the most popular requests, but inspiring moments come when visitors (via the internet, on the phone, or in person) newly discover the Centre – especially those that are either outside Mennonite or church circles entirely. This segment, says Friesen Epp, appears to be growing as others discover the unique Anabaptist flavour of the Centre’s 7,000 titles. Introducing newcomers to the diverse array of resources the value of what Friesen Epp clearly regards as a ministry.

Mennonite Church Canada’s recent emphasis on being a missional church (discerning God’s mission for the world and aligning with it) has sparked numerous calls from congregational leaders. “Callers are searching for a missional understanding of the church, and are looking for handles to put on those ideas. Others represent congregational mission leaders seeking help in developing a vision for their local setting.”

For many parishioners, the Resource Centre is the first point of contact with denominational staff and ministries. Dave Bergen, executive secretary of Mennonite Church Canada’s Christian Formation ministry says, “The Resource Centre is the most popular, most used, and most widely recognized expression of the Formation program. Our work in Formation is all about nurturing faith in the home and congregation. And it’s important to say that the Centre is not just for church leaders. There are many terrific resources here for individuals and families, and I would like to see those resources used more.”

Growing the number of users has in recent years received a big boost from internet technology. All of the Centre’s titles are on an internet accessible database, available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (www.mennonitechurch.ca/resourcecentre/). The catalogue is updated regularly, and resources can be requested online. The number of downloadable resources is also growing.

Increasingly though, Friesen Epp is being called upon to put a face to the storefront by visiting congregations to preach, deliver themed workshops, and interact with congregational worship leaders and pastors.

The soft-spoken and reflective father of three young children describes the most enjoyable aspect of his work as connecting with people and getting a sense that he is making a difference. “The rewards are in the feedback I receive – that what was sent was helpful, what was said was helpful, and that I understood the caller’s needs.” Another reward is a sense of personal discovery; having been at the Centre for only one year, helping fulfill an inquiry comes with its own journey of exploration and adventure as he gets more familiar with the resources on the shelves.

Friesen Epp’s dream for the centre is to increase awareness, accessibility, and to get feedback about the usefulness of his recommended resources “as they are used on the ground.” Another dream is to deepen the relationship with denominational publisher, Faith & Life Resources (Mennonite Publishing Network), and other complementary Anabaptist resource providers in Canada and the USA.

In some ways, running the Centre is not unlike his two month long cycling adventure. There are new people to meet every day, to whom he can offer a warm smile, a kind word, and help in finding what they need. There are new discoveries to make at every shelf. And of course there is an encouraging sense of accomplishment in knowing that someone has been helped.

“The goal is that the conversation and the resource will be nurturing.”

Sidebar: Resource Centre Facts

  • An on-line searchable index of all titles can be accessed at www.mennonitechurch.ca/resourcecentre/
  • The Resource Centre is the storefront for all MC Canada products (Prayer Week materials, At-Home Advent and Lent resources, Missional Church and other pastoral resources)
  • Sole distributor for Canadian Women in Mission materials (Bible Studies, Group Idea Books, history book)
  • Phone calls to the Resource Centre are free (1-866-888-6785)
  • Loans are free; postage is paid by the Centre both ways (except videos)
  • Consultation via phone, email, fax, or in person is free
  • Monthly Resource Updates sent to churches via the Equipping (all church mailing) highlight seasonal and new resources (Resource Updates are also available on the web at www.mennonitechurch.ca/resourcecentre
  • Submissions of original worship resources from congregations are always welcome
  • The Resource Centre provides over 2,000 loans per year, with books and videos ranking in the top two most frequently loaned items.
  • Nearly 300 loans per year are provided to non-MC Canada borrowers
  • Use by area conference ranked by frequency: Manitoba, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Eastern Canada, British Columbia
  • Top five groups using the Centre (outside of MC Canada), in order, are: Mennonite Brethren, Non-denominational, Evangelical Mennonite Conference, Anglican Church, Baptist.
  • Free email subscription to the Resource Update can be requested. Send your name, email address, congregation and phone number to resources@mennonitechurch.ca. Write “Subscribe Resource Update” in the subject line.