Lately, I’ve been learning to watercolor. First, the planning—imagining the picture and sketching it out in pencil. Then the risky, fun part —applying paint to wet paper. It’s the unplanned blending-running-mixing of colors that creates the most beautiful aspects of the painting. For me, being a pastor is a little like watercolor painting. The Scriptures fire my imagination of what the kingdom of God can look like in our congregation. Sketching out the picture comes through conversations and careful planning. And then, like watercolor, beauty is created in the unplanned blending-running-mixing of ideas, dreams, needs and gifts of everyone in church.
I’ve been on the pastoral team at River East MB Church since January, 2011. After mission terms in Congo and Russia, with our denomination, I got my first taste of pastoring in a little Mennonite Church in Vermont, and then for almost 13 years in an MB church in Clovis, California. I’m married to Jon Isaak, and have two adult children, Peter and Rianna. In 2017 the global flavour of our family was enhanced again when Rianna married Benni from Germany.
Several years ago, I dragged a few of my friends to an avant-garde jazz concert. Having little exposure to the genre, they approached the evening with a fair amount of skepticism, and understandably so—the avant-garde has a reputation for being inaccessible, noisy, or just downright weird. Despite this, they came along, and after the show was over, one of them said something to me that has stuck ever since: “The music only started to make sense to me when I saw the band in action, performing it together.” I sometimes think about this experience when I think about the Church. To many people, the Church may seem like avant-garde jazz: inaccessible, noisy, and weird. Yet, when the Church comes alongside one another, as people riff off of one another and the Triune God in a visible, passionate way, there is a strange beauty and captivating energy to the ensuing music, even if it is sometimes dissonant.
As the Pastor of Youth and Young Adults here at River East Church, I am excited to partner with young people as we make a whole lot of noise for Jesus. Between my studies at Canadian Mennonite University and a lifetime of volunteering within the Church, I have been privileged to see God at work in and through the lives of young people. I am married to Simone Thiessen, who also has a soft spot for youth ministry, and together we are parents to our daughter Zoe.
In October 2018, I visited the abbey of the Taize community in southern France, where for a week I attended 3 prayer services a day, sitting on the floor (not always comfortably), singing simple, repetitive songs, and trying to quiet my mind and pray during extended periods of silence. I was drawn in by the surrounding art, candles and the beauty of many voices joining together in a multitude of languages through spoken and sung prayer. What was so notable about this experience was how my body, mind, and heart were engaged and transformed through worship.
“Mumford and sons” sing:
In these bodies we will live, in these bodies we will die
Where you invest your love, you invest your life
awake my soul… awake my soul… awake my soul…
For you were made to meet your maker.
I think this is the essence of life spent in the worship of God. We need constant re-orientation to having Christ be the place where our life and love are invested. At our core, we yearn to experience that awakening, the quickening of the spirit to respond to God around us and before us and in us. We can respond through the arts and through action – and our response should change us. When we meet God in this place, we are transformed and our vision made new; we are re-oriented to have God’s light shine through us wherever we are.
At River East Church, I have the privilege of working with many creative and faithful people in shaping our worship. I also guide our children’s Sunday morning encounter with God, where we explore what it means to follow Jesus’ words to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” I am married to Paul, a theology professor at Canadian Mennonite University, and have 3 young adult daughters.