Fred Redekop has only a few more months behind the pulpit at Floradale Mennonite Church.
He’ll be leaving this August after 25 years as pastor of the church.
He spent four years as a pastor in Pennsylvania near where his wife grew up before accepting the position in Floradale. He grew up in Ontario and when the couple was expecting their fourth child they decided to make the move to Floradale.
The choice to retire was all his.
“I decided it was time, maybe I was too comfortable. More and more people were saying you can retire here. It seemed like at some level it was going to be sort of, I’ll just continue to work until I retire and that didn’t seem to be fair to me or to the church,” Redekop said.
He had been serving five-year covenants and at the end of the last five-year covenant he gave his notice.
His colleagues are in the process of calling someone to take over as pastor in an interim role for at least a year.
“Especially after 25 years they need some distance between the long-serving pastor and the new one so that the match works well,” he said.
But he’s not retiring. He plans to be out in the workforce again once he’s finished at the church, but won’t look until he’s done.“It might not be in a pastoral role anymore because it’s been hard on me physically, spiritually and emotionally. It’s been a rough ride for me at times, but this is a lovely place,” he said.
He’s also a tour manager for TourMagination and just got back from two weeks in Uzbekistan. It’s a job he’s been doing for 10 years and this was his second trip to Uzbekistan.
“In the 1880s Mennonites began to leave the Ukraine. Most of them came to North America, but there were two or three groups that felt they should go east in order to be there when Jesus would return for the second time because they felt that Jesus would return to the east first,” he explained.
They set up communities and stayed until 1945. The tour was to explore those communities, including a mosque that welcomed Mennonites to worship there. Some of the things they left behind after being deported by the Soviets from another village, have been kept in a mini-museum.
“There were two Muslim villages, they welcomed Mennonites with great hospitality, so part of our tour is to go back to those two villages, which Mennonites haven’t been there in 100 years and people continue to welcome us as we were part of them for awhile,” he said.
He’s seen Floradale Mennonite Church make great strides since he began his pastoral journey there in 1991, including the new building being constructed in 2006.
“The new building is wonderfully designed and built, and we have a great opportunity to host larger events, host community and church events, so we try to do that more and more,” he said.
They were able to pay off the new church because of the community’s generosity, he adds. The congregation continues to be generous in terms of time and the money it donates not only to the church but beyond it.
“I’m always amazed at the generosity of this place,” he said.
They also recently hired a music minister, which they never had before. He says they’re committed to making their worship more relevant to all ages of people, and the music is part of that.
He’s also proud the church hosted the play called This Will Lead to Dancing, which deals with issues that LGBTQ people face.
“It was good for us to finally engage that conversation. I was happy about that. We won’t come to any conclusion, but that was a good place for us. It went well,” he said.
No church is without its challenges though. It’s more and more difficult to find volunteers. He says the congregation is still passionate about the church, but they have opportunities to serve elsewhere. It’s tough when the church wants to do the same amount of things, but realizes there are fewer volunteers.
“I think you have to decide that you can’t do everything that you’d hope to do anymore because you can’t burn them out. We can’t demand any more of our volunteers. A generation before, many of the women would have not worked outside the home and/or would have worked part-time. So for one example they would at a moment’s notice do a funeral meal. That’s harder now. They still do it and they’ll do it well, but there’s a certain pressure,” he said.
They’re also not immune to the issue of an aging population. He says young adults are a complex group because there isn’t one single thing that unifies them, since they can be farmers, professionals, students and young families. He suggests there needs to be more than one program for them.
“I don’t have any fix for that. If it becomes the place to be, if the young people and the young adults that are here speak about how it’s important and you should come for worship, we have young adult meetings in the evening and if it begins to snowball then that would be the best,” he said.
He says he’s been fortunate over the past 25 years to be offered three sabbaticals. These allowed him to travel with his wife and four children, and to energize him in order to continue his work with the church.
“It’s been a great opportunity to be paid to care for them and they’ve given me a great opportunity to read the bible and interpret it every Sunday,” he said.
He’s hopeful the church will continue to reach out to the community with larger events so more people can get into the building and see what they’re all about.
“I hope that they continue to engage young people and youth on what it means to be a church, that they have programs and opportunities for them to serve. I hope that we can incorporate young adults sooner into the leadership so that we get their opinions and get their ideas about what the church should be about,” he said.
Redekop and his wife, Shirley recently moved from Floradale to Elmira. Their four children will join them for his last sermon in August.
“It’s been a wonderful place for me to grow and I’m a better pastor for being part of this good congregation. They made me a better person and a better pastor,” he said.