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Pastor in residence urges students to consider ministry

Carol Penner has a list of ten reasons why she couldn’t be a pastor. The pastor of The First Mennonite Church in Vineland, Ontario also has ten stories of how God helped her surmount those barriers. Telling those stories to students at Canadian Mennonite University was one of Penner’s priorities during the week she spent at on campus as a pastor in residence.

In mid-February The First Mennonite Church loaned its pastor to CMU for a week. Penner travelled to Winnipeg and spent a week on the CMU campus as part of the university’s new pastor in residence program.

Inviting pastors to spend time on campus is a way of providing spiritual care for students and staff and helps CMU strengthen relationships with its supporting churches, says CMU’s spiritual life facilitator, Melanie Unger.

Twice a year—once in fall and once in spring—a pastor comes to live on campus for a week. The pastor in residence meets with students and faculty, hosts discussions, speaks in chapel and offers pastoral care. Churches give their pastors a week of paid leave and pay for their transportation to Winnipeg. CMU covers room and board.

“It’s a huge blessing to us for a church to free up their pastor to come here for a week,” says Unger.

Dan Unrau, pastor of Fraserview Mennonite Brethren Church in Richmond, B.C., came to CMU last fall as the program’s first pastor in residence.

During her week on campus, Penner spoke to chapel gatherings, led a workshop for student leaders on how to care for oneself spiritually, spoke in a seminar class, and hosted lunchtime discussions for students considering the ministry. One luncheon was specifically for women and explored some of the unique challenges faced by women in church leadership. Penner also hosted a forum on sexual abuse and family violence.

Penner, who graduated from Canadian Mennonite Bible College in 1981, says it was a joy to visit CMU and meet some of her old profs.

Penner never intended to be a pastor. She earned a PhD in theology at the University of Toronto hoping to become a professor. “Doors weren’t opening for me,” she recalls. So she changed direction and decided to enter the ministry. “It’s a very rewarding career,” she says, looking back.

“If you’re passionate about listening to people and sharing the gospel, maybe this is the job for you,” she counsels curious students. “If you’re bored with those things, maybe not.” But don’t let fears stand in your way, she says.

Listening to students sitting around the table and asking questions about the ministry is exciting, says Unger. “People are quite encouraged at the gifting, the passion for God and the depth of character among these students. We’re encouraged that the church is going to be in good hands.”