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Dr. Thomas Long speaks at CMU ReNew conference

Over 100 pastors gather to discuss death, funerals, and Christian hope

Dr. Thomas Long speaks at CMU ReNew conference Dr. Thomas Long was a keynote presenter at CMU's fifth annual ReNew conference for ministry for pastors and people working in spiritual care

Renowned preacher Dr. Thomas Long spoke about death, funerals, and Christian hope at Canadian Mennonite University's (CMU) fifth annual ReNew conference on February 12-13. The conference provides resources for ministry for pastors and people working in spiritual care.

Gerald Gerbrandt, organizer of ReNew, says the planning committee chose to focus on death partly because of its relevance for those working in ministry, but also because of their desire to have Long as a speaker. "Tom has developed a very strong reputation both for being a dynamic presenter and for being a helpful person on this topic," says Gerbrandt. "He really brings biblical studies, theology, and preaching together to bear on the question of funerals."

Long certainly drew a crowd. Roughly 115 pastors attended this year's gathering, including almost 20 from non-Mennonite denominations and over 20 from outside Manitoba. "Death is a very interesting topic because it's got a lot of existential weight to it," says Ryan Dueck, Pastor of Lethbridge Mennonite Church in Alberta. "It's not just something that I have to do as part of my job, it's something that we all face personally."

Participants were equipped with resources through sessions with Long, discussion, worship, fellowship over food, and workshops led by pastors, professors, and funeral directors.

"When you've done something for a long time it's good to interact with other people who do it in similar but different contexts," says Lois Litz, who is Spiritual Care Director at Lindenwood Assisted Living in Winnipeg. "You rethink things, you ask yourself why you do things a certain way, you find something you can add. It's enriching."

The average age of the population Litz works with is 88, so funerals and end of life discussions are common. "Part of what drew me here is my observation that people are doing less and less of [funerals]," she says. "Especially older people, they're telling their family... 'We don't want anything.'" She was curious whether other people were experiencing the same thing.

Long spoke to this during one of his sessions, saying, "The first thing we need to do in terms of a good funeral is to banish from people's vocabulary this sentence: 'I don't want to be a burden on my family.'... By taking care of the dead, we also increase our wisdom about death. The work of caring for the dead is holy work."

"Even as pastors we can kind of get in the rhythm of just putting one foot in front of the other and not taking time to reflect on these deep theological questions about the meaning of life and death. [ReNew] is a good space to do that I think," says Dueck.

ReNew is co-sponsored by CMU, Mennonite Church Manitoba, Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, Mennonite Church Saskatchewan, and Mennonite Church Alberta. It is planned by a committee of CMU faculty and the ministers of the supporting church conferences.

To learn more about ReNew, and to view all three of Long's sessions until April 30, visit cmu.ca/renew.

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