Let Love Guide you

This summer I attended two family reunions separated by only a week. The Olferts, my paternal family, gathered at Pike Lake for several days, while the Warkentins, my maternal side, came together at next weekend at Shekinah, a church camp near where I live at Laird. Both, fortunately, were near enough that I could escape home to my own bed for night, increasingly important for this aging introvert.
Both families, the offspring of my grandparents on both sides, typically gather every three years. With the confusion of COVID concerns, it’s been much longer. And in both cases numbers took a hit. Yet it was good.
Besides my folks representing that Olfert/Warkentin pairing, there is another family with the exact same roots. We have double cousins who show up at the same reunions, as closely related as it is legal to be.
The culture of these two origin families could not be much more different. The Warkentins are a more cerebral folk, where education, dignity, awareness of the family exodus from Ukraine are important. They are eloquent, they write stuff, they sing hymns in four part harmony. The Olferts mostly get sweaty and shout often. They tease and giggle and wave their arms when they converse. They sing too but mostly the old favourites of 80 years ago (I Saw Esau Sittin’ on a Seasaw) and quality is more equated with volume, and simply remembering the words. Olferts deal with the cost of the rented facilities by pointing to a bucket. Warkentins, meanwhile, bring laptops and have lists. Individual bills include change.
Nowhere is the difference more striking, or amusing, than on the Sunday morning worship service. The strong Mennonite roots in both families ensure that there will be such a service, and indeed, it is the highlight of the weekend in both cases. Olferts crowd themselves into a cook shack, trying to escape the hot sun. They pile on top of each other. At one end, a pair of ukuleles lead music. We try to remember Sunday School songs that were learned when we were children at Superb Mennonite Church. One person, my sister, leaps to her feet and shouts, exhorting us to sing in rounds. The topic we are given is simply to acknowledge and remember those family deaths since we last met. It is emotional, and feels important.
The Warkentins, meanwhile, arrange chairs into neat rows. A piano is called into service, along with stringed instruments. We have a worship leader and a song leader. We sing out of hymnbooks. Again, we name those who have died in the recent past, always a significant number in families of this size. In a preplanned manner, folks come forward to tell the stories of lives and deaths of loved ones. This weekend, candles are lit. This weekend, my sister, the same sister, a nursing school administrator and professor, offers a sermon. The four-part harmony is strong and striking.
In these two portrayals, with differences so striking they cause me to giggle, what is the commonality? What is it that makes both good?
Both families have their spiritual roots in Superb Mennonite Church, a little country church that once stood on the bald prairie of west central Saskatchewan. Both families have someone in their past or present who has been significantly influenced by time spent in the warm embrace of that congregation. In my own experience, it wasn’t until I wandered further afield that I discovered how much spiritual energy can be burned up pointing out the spiritual short comings of another, or another group. That’s not who we were at Superb Mennonite.
A cousin, one of those double cousins who was at both weekends, brought his ukulele to each. At one point, he talked about the final days at the Superb church, when they were few. He pointed out that when things got a little harder, a little less clear as to what the future would bring for that little group, there was a song that appeared more and more often in the church repertoire. And he led us into that song.
“Most of all let love guide you.”
Ed Olfert is a retired clergy person who continues to find glimpses of holiness in every step. These days, his steps wander further into the world.