Gig At Elmwood MB

I played a gig one Sunday afternoon in the Elmwood MB Church of Winnipeg where I grew up.

I sat one Sunday morning about a month ago in a pew in that church with my cousins Lloyd and Kathy Penner after not having been there in years. I noticed in the bulletin an announcement that a music festival would take place in the church two weeks hence. I was immediately inspired to write a poem and perhaps play the sax. The festival was being organized by Bertha Klassen, and she was looking for performers.

Years ago I had been in Bertha’s home several times, coached to play my instrument in church and usually accompanied by her. Her two young children, Andrew and Karen, were sometimes there, crawling between the legs of her grand in the living room.

During the sermon my mind wandered. I remembered that it used to be North End MB, located on the west side of the Red River, while most Mennonites lived on the east side. I had to trudge across the frozen Red to attend Sunday School.

When the new church was built, I helped. But I was really no help at all. When the roof was being shingled, the foreman said it was too dangerous for me to be up there.

Back in those days you could go to summer camp free for two weeks if you memorized 200 Bible verses. I was better at that than swinging a shingling hammer. You had to be baptized in order to take part in communion, so when it came to that once a month, I was banished to the basement where my friends and I ran amok.

I have been at odds with things of God and church much of my adult life, but I have been reconciled with my faith and with my past. If communion were to be served today, I thought, I would participate, being at one with my friends in church.

Two weeks later I was in Elmwood MB again Sunday morning with Lloyd and Kathy. Lo and behold, communion was to be served! There it was up front on a table, the elements covered with a white cloth.

Neat, I thought. By now I had written my poem, ending with a phrase about taking the bread and drinking the cup with friends in the church where I grew up.

Both Bertha and Andrew had agreed to do “Faith of Our Fathers” with me. Bertha has taught many young people how to play piano. Today, after years of diligent work in the church, she is still encouraging youngsters to get up there on stage, perform and take a bow. It’s wonderful to see that many of those young performers are her grandchildren, the children of Andrew and Karen. Andrew is head of the music department at Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, a mean sax player dedicated to introducing students to the wonderful world of music. This afternoon he was emcee of the festival.

Now it was time for me to go onstage to read “My Memory of Elmwood MB”, sandwiched between two hymn stanzas, the first played straight, the second a jazzed-up version. Bertha was on piano, Andrew on alto sax, and I between mother and son on the tenor sax.

The Klassens have a special mission in life, I thought. They make other people shine!

A few weeks later I left behind the frigid temperatures of Canada and made my way to San Jose.

My Memory of Elmwood MB

It used to be North End – how cool!
Got up quick for Sunday School
Winter walk across the Red
Never got to stay in bed
Learned my verses, sang some songs
All in German, some too long
Preachers all said heaven’s neat
Way back there on College Street

Then, in time, they launched a search
Sought some land for a second church
Elmwood MB – built to last
Peter, Paul and Mister Fast
All those Bible verses learned
Camp tuition thus I earned
Now I come a welcome guest
Same old pew, Sunday best

Who can know what future things
May yet be wrought by the King of Kings
Who can know what lies ahead
Sunday morning – stay in bed?
No, I say, you can’t do that
Put on your coat, put on your hat
Make your way to Elmwood MB
God surprises us, you see!

Way back then, when I left the fold
I never dreamed I’d get this old
…and pine for church where lies my heart
Where Deity and Destiny live not apart
I made my peace with all that was
…and is to come – because
I took the bread, drank from the cup
With friends in church where I grew up!

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