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God opens doors to dream


Barb Daniels leads worship at Riverton Fellowship Circle 10th Anniversary

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September 27, 2007
-Martin Penner

Riverton, Man. —   NHL hockey player Reggie Leach spent his first eight years or so growing up in a home on a lot that is now occupied by the Riverton Fellowship Circle. 

Leach, a top goal scorer for the Philadelphia Flyers in the 1970s, is a Métis who still has ties with the community.  He sponsors a hockey tournament there each year and speaks in Aboriginal schools across the country, encouraging students to do their best and to live their dream.  He maintains that nothing is impossible if you keep trying.

Leach’s heritage and his commitment to dreaming provide a loose but somehow fitting connection to the Riverton Fellowship Circle.  The small Mennonite Church Manitoba congregation is primarily composed of individuals of Métis, Cree, Ojibway and Icelandic descent, and the church building in which the congregation resides was the product of a dream. 

The congregation itself was established 18 years ago as a result of the work of Neill and Edith von Gunten, currently co-directors of the Native Ministry program of Mennonite Church Canada.  The von Guntens noted that although there are a number of Native churches in existence as a result of the work of Native Ministries, only two of these, the Riverton Fellowship Circle and the Living Word Church of Cross Lake, are members of Mennonite Church Manitoba/ Mennonite Church Canada at the present time.

On Sunday, September 16, the Riverton Fellowship Circle celebrated 10 years of worshiping in their dream-inspired church building.  Between 45 and 50 people gathered for the celebration, which more than doubled the number of those who usually worship together on a Sunday morning.  Representatives from five Winnipeg and district churches and from Mennonite Church Manitoba and Mennonite Church Canada were also in attendance.  Three of the Winnipeg Mennonite congregations represented, Sargent Avenue, Bethel and Home Street,  have been involved in partnering with the Riverton Fellowship Circle over the past three years. 

The celebration took the form of a typical Sunday morning worship service and was led by Barb Daniels of the Riverton congregation.  Worshipers gathered in a circle symbolizing equality.  The circle was open, extending an invitation to others to join.  A table served as a focal point, with a burning white Christ-candle, a Bible, some flowers, an offering plate and a braid of sweet grass.

 After a 'Six-Directional Prayer of Thanks' those gathered sang several songs and listened to a children's story by Elaine Slough, a Mennonite Central Committee volunteer.  The prayer acknowledged and gave thanks for the contribution which each of four racial groups had made to the congregation’s understanding of life and faith.  It recognized the importance of the earth as the source of food and ultimately directed attention to God the giver of life and all gifts.

Neill von Gunten shared memories of the building process.  The dream of a church home was expressed in 1994.  At first it seemed financially impossible for such a small congregation, but then a donation of 500 US$ came from a Native church in Phoenix, Arizona.  A further substantial donation came from an individual in Neill and Edith's home congregation in Berne, Indiana.  What had been nothing more than a vision became a very real possibility as the result of God’s provision.  Neill spoke about the many hours of discussion, planning and decision-making in the midst of an already busy schedule and summed it up by saying, "Those were crazy times!"

Volunteers contributed many hours of labour between the groundbreaking in May 1997 and the final building inspection on September 28 of that year.  The end result was rewarding indeed.

To conclude, von Gunten remarked, "There is no question of whether the Lord wanted us to have this building.  In fact, He opened up doors for us that we would have thought would be locked against us.”  He then encouraged the congregation with the hope that "you feel this same gracious Lord leading you in the coming years as you continue to worship Him in this building and spread His vast love to others around you."

After the message there was a time of sharing and a communion service.  A potluck meal followed, affording another opportunity for discussion and sharing.  Fellowship around the tables continued long after the food was gone.

It is good to celebrate – and it’s good to dream.

Riverton is a small community of less than 600 people located approximately 120 kilometres north of the Winnipeg and on the east side of Lake Winnipeg.