Day 2: Sunday afternoon, May 26th, 2013

“Love Winnipeg” by David Kang

I’ve been to a few big Christian gatherings around Canada. These have been typically characterized by a lot of loud rambunctious singing, a great band, an even greater speaker, and plenty of spectacle. In this manner, our visit to Love Winnipeg 2013 was not different. In fact, it fit the archetype quite accurately.

‘Love Winnipeg’ is a gathering of dozens of churches in the city on an overcast, mid-spring afternoon celebrating their city. The purpose of this event is to unite the different denominational and ethnic churches of the city in a celebration of the God at work in the city itself and then “love” on Winnipeg in the weeks that follow. This year’s “Love Winnipeg” is the first official event in the brand spankin’ new Investors Group Field, the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. The speakers did not fail to constantly remind us, that this was a BIG moment for the city. You could say Love Winnipeg was a housewarming party of sorts.

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My first impression, after the shock of the shining steel stadium standing before me, was warm. Maybe it was endorphins, exhaustion, or the Holy Spirit, but upon entering the stadium I felt comfortable and welcomed. In a behemoth of a stadium filled by the thousands wherein I look like an objectified statistic, feeling welcomed is an unexpected experience indeed.

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I mentioned that “Love Winnipeg” was similar to other large Christian conferences and this has some truth. However, I quickly noticed a fundamental discrepancy between this conference and others. Most conferences that I have attended in the past were all about God, me and God+me with a healthy dose of singing worship. “Love Winnipeg” added a new variable that put a unique twist in the equation: the city. Having a conference that wasn’t about the ‘me’ was refreshing and bold because this was about the ‘we’. The speaker (I can’t remember his name for the life of me) gave some nifty sports stories and analogies (because Go Blue Bombers and their new stadium!) that revolved around the concept of team. It was a corny analogy but the attitude it promoted completely shifted my perception of the mass of people before me. I felt that I was no longer an individual who needed to compete against thousands of others to take home his piece of God, but a member of a greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts team who could receive and commune with God as one. By setting the mutual goal of bettering and loving Winnipeg, I felt camaraderie with people that, otherwise, I would have no other connection. The more I think about it now, maybe that is the reason I felt so welcome when I entered the stadium, there was a ‘we’ attitude, not a ‘me’ one.

Makes me think what this might look like in Calgary…

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For those of you who like details… by Beth McLean Wiest

The tagline for “Love Winnipeg” is “Impacting Winnipeg with the amazing, life-transforming love of Jesus”. Amazingly, for the Love Winnipeg has been going on for more than 20 years. Churches are encouraged to be intentional about going into their communities. This evolved to the point where four years ago, the churches began kicking off the Love Winnipeg period with a joint service called “One Heart”.

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The event we attended was the “One Heart” service. The idea behind One Heart is that the churches of Winnipeg give up their individual Sunday morning meetings to join together to declare One Lord, One Church, One Harvest in the their city. In past years the service has been held in the morning. This was the first year that the service was in the afternoon with the idea that denominations who wished to still have their morning service could continue to do so and still participate in the One Heart service. This worked really well for us as we were able to attend the church service at Winnipeg Center Vineyard and then quickly drive over to attend the One Heart service. The program was from 12:00 – 2:30 pm and an estimated 15,000 people from over 90 different churches were in attendance. This was the 4th annual One Heart Celebration.

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From the program we received:

Jesus taught that we are all on the same team, with the same Coach, working toward the same goal: to love and bless and serve our city for the glory of God… We at One Heart want God’s love to be practical, so we are also joining together to launch Love Winnipeg. For the next two weeks, thousands of people of all ages will be mobilized into their communities and neighborhoods to share God’s love in practical acts of kindness and service. As well, we will be taking an offering today to cover any expenses not yet met and to bless some inner city ministries that work with the underprivileged. Last year we gave over $21,000 to three inner city causes…” – Ron MacLean Chairman.

I found it really powerful to be in a stadium full of Christians who had intentionally come together out of love and concern for their city. Singing together, praying together, was incredible- a glimpse of what heaven will look like. The event actually began with a Parade of Nations and as the various flags came into the stadium, the lump in my throat got bigger and bigger. And then we sang O Canada. I was teary and proud to be a Canadian and a citizen in a country where religious freedoms are protected.

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The speaker line up was cool too partly because of the number of pastors they involved in it. There was a welcome by Blue Bomber V.P. Jim Bell, a welcome by Mayor Sam Katz, prayer for the city led by Pastor Bruce Martin, offering by Pastor Junie Josue, message by Pastor Mark Hughes, Benediction by Pastor Ron MacLean. And the most powerful message (according to HtH anyway) given by former Blue Bomber star player Milt Stegall. Worship was led by Derek Zeilstra and a big choir.

Milt Stegall

Milt Stegall

I was thankful for the big screens because I think the photos capture the power of the worship music and the moments. Imagine the sound!

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I was glad we were in the city for this event. It was a great way to kick off our week in Winnipeg and our trip in Canada. I am thankful for the reminder of the immense privilege we have to meet freely and publicly about our faith, to pray together without fear of persecution or being imprisoned and to proclaim a bold message in a public venue. And the Winnipegers we prayed with thought it was pretty cool we were there to love their city too…

We were encouraged to pray with the people around us.

We were encouraged to pray with the people around us.

Please join us in praying for Winnipeg- in praise for events like this one and for the list they gave below.

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www.youtube.com/watch?v=-1c-uBAsxn4

www.lovewinnipeg.com

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Day 2: Sunday morning, May 26th, 2013

Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church Service by Vicki Ross

The Winnipeg Centre Vineyard Church is not like any other church I have ever attended. It felt different, unique, refreshing, even…radical. From the outside you could barely tell that it even is a church- on the outside it looks like a bit of a run-down brick building, located in Winnipeg’s inner-city, right near the train tracks. In fact, if you didn’t see the small, un-imposing sign just above the door that states ‘Welcome to Vineyard’ you would likely think you had the wrong address! But from the moment we entered its doors the church lived up to its sign. You felt welcomed into a community, and I could sense that God was present. From the pictures hanging on the walls, to the smiles of the people who came and spoke to us, to the passion of those leading worship, to the hugs that people would give to each other- like they were greeting family members. It warmed my heart, inspired me…and humbled me.

Waiting for the service to begin.

Waiting for the service to begin.

 

The mission statement of the church is ‘to build a safe community that invites all people to worship Jesus as they embrace a kingdom lifestyle that extends God’s justice on the earth’. That can be summed up in three key words: Worship, Community and Justice. The location of the church might have something to do with the fact that many of the members are people who we might consider ‘the poor’ or ‘the needy’ (although if we all took a closer look at ourselves I think we could all find ourselves in those two categories). However, I think it is more likely a result of the church’s intentional choice to posture itself in such a way that people feel like they belong, regardless of where they come from or what they have done. We will be meeting up again with the church on Tuesday morning to be part of their outreach ministry, and I’m looking forward to seeing how their values are put into practice in that context too.

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I felt the entire church service invited people to enter into God’s presence, and to see His heart and character more clearly, from the choice of songs played to the message that was preached. The message spoke about God as our Father, and identified how He provides us with our true identity, our value, and our sense of approval. One concept that stood out to me (a person who has struggled with perfectionism all her life) was that at the moment of Christ’s baptism, when the Voice came from heaven saying, ‘Here is my Son…with whom I am well pleased’, Christ’s ministry had not yet begun. Jesus had not yet done any miracles, had not yet faced Satan’s temptation in the desert, had not yet been through the crucifixion…and yet God was pleased with him. God approved of Jesus because of his identity as God’s son, just as God approves of us because we are His children. Nothing else is required- we cannot make Him love us any more or less by what we do. And I think that’s pretty cool!

 

Day 1: Saturday, May 25, 2013 Our Journey Begins

While one doesn’t have to leave home in order to go on a journey, travel seems to always result in a journey of some kind- both literal and figurative. Our blog entries over the next while will capture our journey. Sometimes the blogs will be more detailed in the travel activities and sometimes the blogs will be more about our inner journeys and lessons learned.

The writers of our blog will vary- we’re going to try to have everyone write something at some point. HtH exists for its participants. To that end, our blog entries of this trip are a written response to our travels and experiences. The trip has been so intense that we have intentionally chosen to NOT have this be a daily blog of the day’s events. We hope you will enjoy our stories and that you will enter into a journey of your own as a result of reading them.

Our journey begins at the Calgary Airport, early in the morning, on Saturday May 25th, 2013. It was a day that had two components: Travel and Intro to Winnipeg Tourism. Here are a few perspectives of this first day…

 

Beth McLean Wiest: Travel Logistics

There are so many details in planning a trip for 16 travelers. It is very exciting to have no issues. We were greeted and escorted by an agent in charge of group travel who was delightful and we were checked in much more quickly than any of us had anticipated. We were off to a relaxing start. There was no one else in line so we decided to sing for the check in agents. Arriving in Winnipeg, all luggage made it and so it was off to get the rental vehicles.

 

Winnipeg Airport

Winnipeg Airport

And there we encountered our first glitch: their computer system was down. So the wait was long. But memorable. A few from our group ended up outside playing Frisbee- not your normal activity at an airport terminal- others played games. And eventually… we got an upgrade on all three of our rental vehicles! We were now traveling in style in three SUVs- for the price of three standard cars! Hooray for Hotwire.com!

Alanna Watton: Initial Discoveries

Today was a grand adventure that started with us gathering at the YYC airport. This went smoothly and we even got to share some music with the lady who helped check us all in. After a brief stint in the air we landed in balmy Winnipeg. Wearing our newly acquired HtH swag, we looked highly presentable and ready to rock. After getting vehicles and settling into our room, we headed off to The Forks…which is a super cool historical area location right next to downtown. We were then let loose to explore the area and discover what Winnipeg has to offer. Some of our highlights of the afternoon were exploring Union Station and the train museum there found. We proudly represented HtH as we explored the inner workings of fine locomotives and the history that went along with it all. It was cool to see the different architecture that exists downtown as well as to learn about a bit of the history. It was also really neat to see the cultural diversity, the vibrancy of the area, and the First Nations influence on public art. All in all today was relaxing start to our adventures. We’re looking forward to all the learning and adventures these next weeks will hold!

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Inside the Forks

Inside the Forks

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John Vooys: Ultimate Frisbee

Our time spent at The Forks included a lot of moseying around, but the musicality of this part of Winnipeg stood out. There were a lot of “busk stations” set up, which allowed performers to stay in a designated area for 30 minutes, and many folks took advantage of them while we were there. I was impressed by how much music went on here – far more than in Calgary. Two guys we met while walking commented that The Forks required a special busking license, and you didn’t need one to busk at random around town; more musical than Calgary indeed! Later, we gathered near The Forks’ skate park, and played a game of Ultimate Frisbee with a random stranger named Tyler. The soundtrack to the game was a live punk rock band, and later a hardcore metal band, all gathered to entertain the skateboarders and bikers and raise money for cancer. As a finish to our time there, we watched Peter and Shaun headbang with the other audience members and join the mosh pit.

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Peter Vooys: A Metal Concert at the Skate Park!

I had a lovely, pensive afternoon of walking through St.Boniface, a francophone borough that is part of Winnipeg, on the other side of the Red River, where I visited a Cathedral and the grave of Louis Riel, and stared over the vastness of the Red River at buildings that bore the tang of Quebec. After a little wading in the Red River, I headed back to take in the sweet sounds that beckoned me across the bridge back to Forks. The sweet resonant smacks of a bass drum, and little snatches of electric guitar and high-pitched, nasal tones of melodic punk rock. That we could happen upon a punk rock concert on the day we ended up at the The Forks was a blessing!

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I was distracted repeatedly on my way back to the concert area at The Forks. There were more places in the general area to see, more interesting local colour to observe and absorb before I had to meet back with the group at 6:45. I went into the Market and had an empanada (don’t if you’re here, they’re not that great). I was tempted to browse in the stores upstairs in the market before I was reminded of who I am. Am I a shopper? Definitely not. Am I a rocker? Yep.

I went back outside, hoping to hear the next band onstage. It seems like some sort of festival had been going on, as there’d been an assortment of sounds coming from the stage; ska, rockabilly, melodic punk rock, etc. I noticed a lot of buskers in the area as well, many of them quite good. This is what the Eau Claire Market area should be like!! After affirming my affection for Winnipeg’s public art culture, I started to walk toward the stage again. And what I heard made my heart beat faster. My eyes started to widen and I started to smile. This sound wasn’t punk rock. This was better. This was Metal…

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The closer I got, the more I realized that this wasn’t screamo, this wasn’t metal-inflected melodic emo-punk. This was just straight up Metal. And it was amazing! I saw that a bunch of kids were gathered around the stage and that the stage was, in fact, in the middle of a skate park. There were even kids moshing. Sick! I saw the HtH group playing Frisbee. Beth and Shaun were sitting by the group. I was glad to see Shaun. He’s the one guy in HtH who is more into metal than I. I asked if he wanted to go mosh. He said “yeah, I kinda do”. We went up to the stage and had our faces melted off by a band called Waster. Their music was immediately enjoyable, reminiscent of 90’s thrash kingpins Pantera. They had energy to burn, and we showed our appreciation through some moderate headbanging. The moshing had stopped, though, before we got there.

At two key points, the band took it to another level, and their groove-heavy power-thrash, and some exhortation from the singer convinced us to get a circle pit going. It was time to mosh! A circle pit is a mosh pit where concert-goers mob around in a circle, flailing elbows and pushing each other. If you don’t know, moshing is a fixture at good heavy music concerts. The participants flail at each other, slamming into each other good-naturedly. At times it can be violent, depending on the crowd and the band, but today’s crowd were fun skater kids, and most metal fans are quite decent folks, and take care of each other in the pit.

As the band prepared for their second last song, the singer commanded the crowd to move to the front of the stage. A few of us rose to the instruction, and we were hit with a blistering groove. Our head-banging now was more profound and had some full-body involvement. Neither Shaun nor I had enough hair to whip around, but at this point it didn’t matter. It was ON!

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The moshing started again. I got smoked in the face by another dude’s head and we smiled at each other. As was well. If you’re reading this choir blog, I’m going to go with the odds and guess that you aren’t a metal fan. I could try to explain it to you, but that must wait for another day down the road. Shaun and I had a wonderful time in the pit.

If you walked by the stage, you might have thought, “what’s that horrible racket?” It turns out the whole rock/punk/metal concert was called Skate 4 Cancer, and was a fundraiser for a local cancer society, put on by a local skate shop. Their t-shirts might scare you, and the tattoos, or hair might put you off. The lyrics are sometimes brutal, the music can be pummeling, and you might want to write off metalheads when you see them. But despite the rough edges, they are decent, lovin’ people, and I was happy to be slamming into them bodily, incurring some bruises, and feeling blessed and surprised that Day One of our choir trip involved a metal concert! And the moshing was made all the better by the involvement of my friend and fellow tenor Shaun Paulson.

 

One of the kids at the park... supporting the cause...

One of the kids at the park… supporting the cause…

Thinking back to when the band tore into its last song, I say to myself “There’s something I love about Winnipeg”, and pray “Thanks God, for such a day that brought me to a Cathedral, to Louis Riel’s grave, and to a metal concert. It was a wonderful day. Thank you Lord!!”