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Musician/environmental activist comes to Assembly 2011


July 15, 2011
-Deborah Froese

Waterloo, ONT. — When Pam Bartel, Administrative Assistant of Student Services at Conrad Grebel University College, was invited to pull together some young adult events for Mennonite Church Canada Assembly 2011, she received encouragement to “think outside the box” and include local area young people in her plans.

“I started puzzling about what would make a 20-something person leave regular activities in Kitchener-Waterloo and an evening out with friends….to get them to come to a Mennonite Church Canada event.”

A student wearing a Sarah Harmer T-shirt, raving about Harmer’s music and activism, inspired Bartel. “I thought; ‘why not?’ and fired off an email to the booking agency.”

It took more than three weeks of persistent email queries from Bartel and her husband, Perry, before Harmer’s agent responded, followed by weeks of negotiations before an agreement was finally reached. After Harmer was booked, Bartel inadvertently heard a 1999 Harmer recording of southern gospel style music that seemed to reflect a Christian influence, confirming Bartel’s choice. “She [Harmer] has the faith influence and a heart for sustainability. These are things that our church believes in and holds up and this event brings some good connecting points between what she represents and what the church represents.”

With virtually no budget, Bartel had to do extensive fundraising. She made numerous phone calls to people passionate about young adults in the church, including local businesses who had commitments and associations with Mennonite groups. “Of the phone calls that I made and people I talked to face-to-face, I had about a 95% ‘yes’ rate.”

She notes that donations came in other ways too, including calls to her house from people who had heard about the event and wanted to provide financial support for it. Clearly, Harmer is popular among some Mennonites.

Bartel’s primary objective for the event is to bring young adults together. “I think it’s amazing when young adults make connections with each other. It is such a fragmented group within the church. And to be in a place where there are 200 young adults together at the same time is exciting.”

The biggest purpose of this was to get them into the same room together where they could make connections and build bridges, and in so doing create some motivation for them to see the church as something that is very valuable for them.”

Bartel scheduled opportunities for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada to address the crowd.

“More than a minute,” she says, noting that representatives had time to do more than bring greetings. Several local Mennonite musicians also played at the concert; Dan Weber, Cody Scott, Nichelle Bauman, Allan Reesor-McDowell, Brandon Leis, Michael Fisher, and Mike Erb.

The concert took place on Thursday, July 7 on the University of Waterloo Campus.

Sarah Harmer photo provided by Eggplant Entertainment

Singer is also activist

Singer-songwriter and environmental activist, Harmer’s most recent album, Oh Little Fire, has been nominated for three Juno Awards and her staunch support of creation care inspired her to co-found PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) in 2005. The organization originally campaigned to protect the Niagara Escarpment from development, and Harmer performed with her band in local venues to generate financial support. PERL continues to advocate for that region and for rural land in the Region of Halton.

On the PERL website (, Harmer is quoted as saying, “It is not permissible to add to one’s possessions if these things can only be done at the cost of other men. Such development has only one true name, and that is exploitation.”