Interim premier builds connection on values of faith

Kelvin Goertzen has a message from the Bible for whoever succeeds him in the Manitoba premier’s chair.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/10/2021 (399 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Kelvin Goertzen has a message from the Bible for whoever succeeds him in the Manitoba premier’s chair.

It comes from the New Testament, and it has been his mantra while serving as interim premier over the past two months. Sworn-in Sept. 1, after premier Brian Pallister stepped down, Goertzen will, at a yet-to-be-determined date, hand the reins to the winner of Saturday’s Progressive Conservative party leadership election.

It’s in the Book of James, Chapter 1, verse 19: “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”

Goertzen, who says he has attended more than 120 meetings since taking the role, along with many other informal events, said there is one thing he has heard over and over again.

Mike Sudoma / Winnipeg Free Press Manitoba premier Kelvin Goertzen.

“To a person, everyone says they want to connect better with government,” he said. “I don’t think we learned that lesson well enough in the past.”

To do a good job, the next premier should also focus less on speaking and do more listening, he said. “That’s the best way forward.”

Goertzen, 52, started learning those lessons as a child in the Pansy Chapel, a small Evangelical Mennonite Conference church, located about 25 kilometres southwest of Steinbach.

“I have great memories of going to church there,” he said, praising pastor couple Leonard and Betty Barkman for the examples they set for the congregation.

Although a Mennonite church, that aspect was not played up by leaders, who were focused on creating a hospitable atmosphere for anyone from any culture or group.

“To a person, everyone says they want to connect better with government. I don’t think we learned that lesson well enough in the past.”
– Kelvin Goertzen

Because of that, “I didn’t really grow up Mennonite,” Goertzen said, adding his family later attended a Pentecostal church in Steinbach.

Church was also one of the few stable features of youth, growing up with an alcoholic father.

“My mother wanted us to have a normal life,” he said.

As for his father, who died when he was 11, “He was a loving man with a great heart,” Goertzen said, pointing to a photo in the premier’s office.

“He might have had mental health issues as well,” he added. “He clearly had a destabilized life.”

Like many others, Goertzen drifted away from the faith in his teenage years. He returned to full participation in church in 1998, when he and his wife, Kimberley, were baptized at Southland Church, a large non-denominational congregation in Steinbach.

“The (COVID-19) pandemic threw a lot of things into the air, including our church attendance.”
– Kelvin Goertzen

Today, the couple are in-between churches, instead logging in to different services online from around North America.

“The (COVID-19) pandemic threw a lot of things into the air, including our church attendance,” he said, adding, via the internet. “Now we’re going to more services than ever before.”

As for Southland, “I wish the people there well,” he said. “I have only positive things to say about it. We will see where we are led to go in the future.”

One thing Goertzen is ready to move away from for good is the pandemic.

“I can’t wait to never hear the word ‘COVID-19’ again,” he said.

His family are all vaccinated, but says he understands how complicated it can be for some Mennonites who “keep alive the historical memory of fleeing government restrictions on religious freedom.”

“I encourage everyone to be vaccinated. I’ve taken no small criticism for saying that.”
– Kelvin Goertzen

Goertzen wants to assure anyone distrustful of government all actions taken by the province during the pandemic were thoroughly discussed and debated before being announced.

“We aren’t trying to overreach,” he said, acknowledging, however, a better job could have been done of explaining how decisions were arrived at.

“I encourage everyone to be vaccinated. I’ve taken no small criticism for saying that.”

Yelling at the hesitant “won’t convince them to get it,” he said of his approach. “We need to talk heart-to-heart.”

Although not part of a Mennonite church, Goertzen remains proud of his heritage; his Mennonite ancestors arrived in Manitoba in the 1870s, fleeing religious persecution in Russia.

He can’t escape it; wherever he goes, people hear his last name and assume he’s Mennonite.

Inevitably, “The next thing that comes up is Mennonite Central Committee,” he said, adding people then go on to express their high regard for Mennonites because of how MCC helps people around the world impacted by disasters.

Mennonite values have also affected the way he has developed as a politician, he said, noting he has tried to practice building relationships, seeking to avoid conflict, and achieving conciliation with others.

“As a politician, I’ve grown in the last few years,” he said. “I now see politics as less about policy and more about people.”

Politics is partisan, he acknowledged, but, “I have become less partisan over the years. We can disagree, but we can still show respect for others, listen to them.”

It’s an approach others have noticed. Another Progressive Conservative MLA told him: “‘You are the peacemaker of the caucus,’” he said.

“That’s not a bad legacy to leave.”

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John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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