Aylmer on the Verge of Violence: A Plea for Civility

I have found the last 24 hours quite difficult. Aylmer is the town I grew up and went to school in. It’s the town I returned to as a pastor a dozen years ago now. Ours has always been a pleasant and friendly town, and not particularly newsworthy. But now we are newsworthy, receiving local, regional, and national coverage regularly. It is safe to say that the events of 2020 have done (likely irreparable) damage to the reputation of our community. And we seem to be reaching a new threshold of concern.

It grieves me to see our town on the verge of violence, but that is where we’re at. You could see hints of this at the rally/march in November. There were several heated moments that almost boiled over. Things have been tense ever since, and the events of this past Sunday morning should raise the alarm for all residents of Aylmer. It’s only a matter of time before we see real violence break out in our town if this is not addressed. 

Why is the tension in our town escalating?

  1. The church north of town has clearly been spoiling for a fight for some time. While I am sympathetic to some of their principles, their practice of drowning these principles in waves of incendiary rhetoric is something I detest. This escalates tension.
  1. The police, early on at least, seem to have handled the church’s provocations with inconsistency at best, leading to more opportunities for publicity for the church. This escalates tension. (It should be noted that in the video evidence that exists of Sunday’s events, the officers seem to be a model of courtesy and restraint under very trying conditions.) 
  1. Paragraph retracted. See explanation here.
  1. We have the counter-protesters who are equally angry, equally outraged and in some cases, equally willing to take the confrontation to the next level. Included with this lot is the creepy, mysterious, and anonymous “Plague Pastor” video star, who decries the church’s condemnable actions while promoting his/her own xenophobic biases and implicit calls for violence. This certainly escalates tension.
  1. The protesters – a combination of locals and out-of-town “protest tourists” – lack focus but not anger, outrage or disrespect. So many varied grievances gathered under one tent is like so much dry grass around a shortening candle. This escalates tension.

Where does all this tension go?

All this escalated tension is on full display every minute of the day on social media, where every conversation seems to end in conflict, where the benefit of the doubt is never given, and where judgments are made before both sides of the story are heard. From there this tension works its way into our stores and restaurants, where people are short on patience, often assuming the worst about each other, and sometimes openly serving up abusive insults about the ethnic heritage of some of their fellow citizens.

These are not normal or acceptable boundaries for civil disagreement, least of all among those who claim to be followers of Jesus. We have what seems to be a cult of protest on one side and a cult of counter-protest on the other. Neither one represents the majority while both scream at the top of their lungs, staking their claim to be, apparently without irony, the silent (or silenced) majority. I suspect neither one would win an open vote with the townspeople if given a third choice somewhere – anywhere – between the two. 

What a mess. 

More Than a Mess

But now it is more than a mess; now it’s a public danger. What has come to be a weekly circus north of town is quickly evolving into something far more serious. There is a real potential for open physical conflict.

Back to the events that unfolded this past Sunday, some of which you can see here or below.

The “protest tourists” are the main accelerants of this fire. I want to draw your attention to one moment that should cause us all grave concern. After the ticket was issued and the officer returned to his vehicle, the agitated crowd of angry men were instructed to not allow the officer to leave. One of the protestors shouted at the officer asking, among other things, where he lives and where his kids go to sleep. I would certainly feel threatened to have those words screamed at me, wouldn’t you?

Others stood behind his vehicle blocking his way. When the officer gets out his vehicle to ask those blocking his vehicle to move, someone near the camera seems to say these words around the 2:40 mark of the video: 

“There’s more of us than them…” That’s a lit fuse right there.

Warning

Listen, anyone who would say such a thing needs to be uninvited from future protests. And if they come uninvited they should be notified that they are not welcome. They should certainly not be encouraged in any way. If this is not addressed this will turn from local to national to international news. That might be good business for the news outlets of our region, but it will be no good for the people of Aylmer.

We need to be reminded that we can disagree and still be friends. All but a few seem to have forgotten this fact. Friends can speak to each other bluntly but with care and respect, even when they disagree. It’s time we all start practicing this. There has been enough trauma to go around in 2020. If we don’t take quick action 2021 will be even more traumatic. 

Is that what we want?

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45 Replies to “Aylmer on the Verge of Violence: A Plea for Civility”

  1. EVERYBODY WITH SENSE KNOWS that covid is deadly. As for the violent church goers and I use the church term lightly, chain the church shut until the province opens up. WHY is Aylmer cowering to these Heathens? We all know that is what those so called “church” goers are. I’m embarrassed to say I was raised there. Back in the day this would not have been put up with. Board the church up and keep charging those idiots over and over and over again. Obviously a slap on the hands do nothing!

  2. Thank you for your words. After reading the words expressed by Pastor Krahn and the comments that followed a song came to mind that I haven’t sung since I was in my teens. “Humble thyself in the eyes of the Lord.”
    Attempting to speak with the particular community members is like attempting to clean the nose of a charged bull. No words or deeds that will allow for dialogue until we are all humble.

  3. Another County

    I am beyond appalled to see what is going on in Aylmer I understand the frustration we are living through a global pandemic the likes of which I don’t think many of us would ever imagine experiencing in our life time but here we are in the second wave and it’s so much worse than the first wave people are scared I know I am every time I step out the door to go to work the grocery store the gas station I follow all the safety protocols mask sanitizer wash my hands disinfecting the house daily but there are people who refuse to believe our health experts our scientists and who refuse to knuckle under and follow safe distancing and masking rules which to many people is a threat a very real threat to their loved ones and as long as this continues the positive cases are just going to keep climbing and we just don’t have the facilities or enough frontline workers to take care of them I just don’t understand why wearing a mask social distancing and sanitizing is being made out to be government control it’s about protecting our families ,friends, neighbours, coworkers and the public in my opinion it’s a very small sacrifice to make for mankind I hope that some sort of common ground can be agreed upon before we reach the point of no return

  4. this bunch of idiots all should be rounded up and put in jail. Why are we letting these people even dictate their awful hateful ideals! Its so easy to knock the status quo but they offer no solutions.. Screaming and yelling never should be aloud. Total disgrace! Shame on any town that let’s them congragete and put on foolish paredes!

  5. oh , for the return of the gathering of inter denominational churches, for the Christmas Lessons & Carols , where ( i feel naively now ) i felt the true spirit of tolerance, acceptance, open minded cooperation among Christians…and those who just love beautiful music, the poetry of the Bible. Aylmer looked like such a bright shining place of goodwill and kind hearts all around.
    I am sure that spirit is still alive, just hidden beneath the dark underbelly that is always there, and has , in this time, shown itself to the light.
    Maybe shining a light on the underlying issues, will help to start addressing the real problems of prejudice and intolerance, …of “ them “ and “ us “ mentality.
    I often wonder about the women and children and the men who do not protest, or confront, from the Church of God…how do they feel ?

  6. I too sense an impending doom. The hate and tension between a church leader and the public is terrible. I am not mennonite nor do I attend a church here. I do stand for freedom and believe that drive in services SHOULD be allowed.
    I am repulsed by the behaviour of many Aylmer locals toward the members of the Church of God. I have made a point to speak to the members when I see any such member in the community or at least smile, so that they know that hate does not live in every non mennonite persons heart.

    You indicated you grew up here and do not remember it ever being this way.
    I disagree.
    35 years ago when I was first brought here, bias, sterotypes and prejudice was alive and well. I remember how deeply it affected me to hear derogatory names being overtly called out to mennonites then. They were outcasts in “white” circles. It was blantant racism and why? Because they were different and did not fit with the acceptable norms that existed.
    So Mr. Kraun, the pandemic and loss of rights for this church has opened up the ugly truth that has always existed here. The Us vs Them mentality. The pandemic and covid rules has merely provided a playground for the hate to grow, and unfortunately even a few leaders have joined the witch hunt including; Aylmer News Media, local businesses, local leaders and Aylmer Police.

    What can be done?
    Perhaps a townhall where all parties have a voice. It could easily be done online. We all must seek to listen so that we might then understand. We still might not agree, but we can listen and perhaps model what common civility looks and feels like.

    1. Well said! Folks need to be slow to speak and quick to listen in making decisions on anything that impact the lives of others.
      I speak peace over this town, that folks control their minds and open their hearts and take the necessary steps to heal the community.
      When people finally understand that diversity and inclusion is important to social and economic growth, they will have taken a positive step forward to better the future for the children of the community to remove the cyclic levels of oppression.
      Training up children in the way humanity should know and grow, is the pivotal point of change.
      My culture has lived through these levels of racism for many years, This is my footprint for change. I have always said any steps in the right direction will set us on the right path for resolution to human reconciliation.
      Blessings
      SS

    2. What an exaggeration of the truth. I guess their rallies had nothing to do with this. Also the openly break the restrictions for drive in services. Their sermons are more about over throwing the government than god. They use their religion to shield themselves from the consequences of their behaviour. This is the same cult that assaults 84 yr old citizens, try to intimidate police and citizens. Yeah my heart breaks for their unfair struggle

      1. I’m not quite clear what you are referring to here. Was this in response to another commenter? Specifically the statement, “Yeah my heart breaks for their unfair struggle…”

        1. michael krahn all i hear from you is when someone speaks about the church of god , you step in and protect their doings. we as aylmer residents dont mind the church of god doing there own thing,but what gets aylmer is that they wear no mask,they think there untouchable. screaming at police officers,wich ive done my younger days,but didnt get away from it.but looking back i understand what i did was wrong,if the church of god dont get there act together,there will be a problem, so you michael krahn sit down with herbert and henry and explain that, would make alot of aylmer people feel better that its over and go on with our lives as your church can also.

  7. There is much to be said about the overall lack of discord throughout all of this. Much of the problem with the COGR and the Freedom Rally Protest Tourists is that there is no thought behind what they are doing..they act at the behest of powers that they deny exist, but who seek to profit from their acts of unrest.

    When evidence contrary to what they believe is presented it is ignored, belittled or insulted. The members of these groups draw comparisons to both Communists and Fascists in the same breath…and in doing so show their lack of understanding of history and of the political spectrum. They seek support from Right Wing rasict organisations but call our public servants Nazis.

    The COGR is a blight on Christian Faith in general, a threat to our community and a divisive force that will reap no good except further polarizing the divide and accelerating cultural biases.

    It is unfortunate that this cancer exists that paints all who identify as Mennonite with a broad swath…but this is absolutely no different than what other minority faiths experience all the time.

    If a Imam stood on a stage, or walked into a crowd as COGR leaders do and insight the hatred and violence that their words proclaim…they would be labeled as Terrorists….but because of White Privilege they are allowed to exist…to bread the contemptuous filth that they spew. To terrorize businesses, hold our community hostage….for what? Some Klout on social media? More followers to aid the profiteers who are out to make money off of those most vulnerable to the emphatically false information that they share? COGR is by every definition a breeding ground for domestic terrorists.

    Offers to have civil discussions with these “leaders” go ignored because they are righteous in their beliefs and can not be swayed by reason, logic or civil discord.

    They attract a scourge on our community that only the full extent of public pressure can extend on them through continual criminal and civil charges. Just like the lasting effects of COVID (as a disease) this community will not forget the actions of those who so willfully and dangerously continue to put our community in harm’s way.

    Your words did not fall on deaf ears though. You speak as a civil man of God, one who understands the balance that faith and the modern world need to strike…as that is ultimately the will of God. I wish you well and hope that you and those like you can help to bridge the gap and erase the bias and hatred.

    1. In seeking to erase bias and hatred you have actually done the opposite. TCOG as you call it is not a curse to Aylmer. Hate is all its forms is a curse for the entire world.

      1. Yes, Michael, I have done some research on the COGR, the churches track record with medical freedom nonsense and the way that the other congregations and the Apostles leading them acting suspiciously like some of the most nefarious Cult Leaders in history. I don’t drop that term lightly either, but my understanding is that the actions of the United States leadership is being quietly being investigated by State and Federal Law Enforcement.

        I have also done my best to try to look at as much information as possible on the science behind the public health directives, the wild conspiracy theories driving the agendas, and the hidden agendas of the leadership and organizers of the rallys and the legal challenges being raised.

        Profiteers the lot of them. The claims of supplying hidden truths but blatantly doubling down on information that is continually refuted and proven false.

        Let me sight a few examples – Vaxx Canada mounting a constitutional challenge (with an $11 Millon damages request) that includes testimony that the vaccines will include aluminum that will turn us into 5G Network Antennas, the Constitutional Attorncharging $90 for Small Claims Forms that are freely available on EVERY provincial website and the best one the rallying cry to support a Small Business Owner that repeatedly admitted on the Alternative Media that tells only the truth, that he didn’t bother getting a business license and in doing so didn’t have his Etobicoke BBQ restaurant have a Health Inspection….but should be justified in opening despite the City of Toronto Lockdown.

  8. Thank you for sharing Michael. Aylmer is a great community of people. Sad to see the current situation in these times of struggle.

  9. I’m sorry but I disagree with many of your points. First Aylmer Anonymous never suggested violence. Which was confirmed many times in statements in the papers. Second the protest Sunday was peaceful. No one came out of their vehicles. The aggression and violence is sadly coming from the COGR. They are calling for war, endangering the community and disrespecting our laws. I find your thoughts paint an unfair picture. We are here because a small group is running rough shot over this town. I will defend this community. Lastly it truly disappoints me how you are putting a false narrative on those standing up. You may not agree but they are trying to build a resistance to these bullies

  10. Thank you for such a clear and much-needed call to reason.
    May we all stop to consider “is how I act and how I speak following the example Jesus gave us?”
    God bless!

  11. I have read what you have written over the last few months. I think you are brilliant. I am not a Mennonite nor do I go to church. From my perspective may I tell you the other pastor is not doing those two groups of people any favours. On a daily basis I am eager to move. To leave the church communities and this seemingly strange and bizarre Mennonite culture far behind, but then your voice in all this seems to bring a calm. I encourage you to keep being the voice of reason in all of this. I hope I don’t have to live out all my days here but if more people were reasonable I may not feel the rush to escape.

    1. Thanks, Amanda. This current spectacle is not representative of Aylmer but it is certainly our calling card at the moment. There is a lot of goodness in Aylmer, and a lot of good churches. I am saddened that in the eyes of those outside our community, all our churches are assumed to be represented by the vocal minority.

  12. We elect politicians to sort these issues. Not pastors police or social media. When you elect a politician he represents you. It is the epitome of naivete to elect anyone whose values dont coincide with yours.
    So we argue.

  13. Thank you Michael. My husband and I too have been talking about how crazy things have become. I was ashamed and embarrassed when I watched the video earlier this week. The name calling, the demands, the attitudes all seemed horrifying to watch. I know that is not what God calls us to do or act. It saddens me how quickly things have escalated into such ugliness.

  14. Thanks for putting pen to paper to express what so many from Aylmer feel, myself included.
    I love this town and am heartbroken about how the media is continuing to vilify Aylmer.
    There has been a level of us vs them mentality brought to the surface. In terms of mask, religion and ethnic background. Some of these undercurrents have always been there and will continue to thrive in the dark places because we fear what we don’t understand.
    Just like the BLM movement, tolerance, love, respect and a wanting to understand/learn from each other needs to become the priority. This can only happen if the “third opinion” make a stand against the ongoing vilifying of our beautiful town.
    Well that’s my feeling on it anyways.

  15. Thanks again Michael. Well said, and a concern for us all. Lindsay’s request that we meet and talk is a great idea, and I believe most of our church leaders would be wiling to work together, but we’ve been criticized for not being in agreement with the actions taken by the supposed Freedom participants. One local pastor sent a letter in the spring to encourage CoG to not take the actions they were taking but his advice was not taken.

  16. Hi Michael though I often have differing thoughts and opinions from yours I found your current blog post to be exactly what this community needs to read. As a writer who also loves my town of Aylmer, ON and the Mennonite community I can say the majority of us just want peace. My thoughts and questions are: as a pastor and leader in the community do you not see it as part of your Christian duty to meet with other local pastors (including COD) and see in what area we can at least unite and find common ground? As a Christian I feel as though their church has gone too far in securing their “rights” and could benefit from the support of other church leaders but on the other side EVERY other church isn’t doing enough for their congregation or community especially when it comes to being the hands and feet of Christ . (including the EMMC)

    1. Hi Lindsay. You’re assuming that I haven’t met with any CoG leaders to talk this over. Not so.

      Second, we are doing everything we can as church leaders to serve our church and the community. We are also open to feedback and suggestions. 🙂 If you have any ideas about how we can do better, please send them my way.

      1. Glad to hear other local pastors are taking steps to attempt to unite and smooth things over with other religious groups in the community. What I meant when I said other churches are not doing enough is that we need other churches to stay open they ARE essential to tell the struggling Christian sorry see you from behind the screen (or at walmart) is incredibly disheartening, cowardous, and dare I say un christ like. Follow all the Covid policies you can but keep the church doors open. If we cant agree its crucial for a congregation to gather physically (even if the groups are much much smaller) then you’re part of the problem not the solution.

        1. Lindsey, I appreciate your passion for the church, but there is no chance we would open for large gatherings right now, when both the Tillsonburg and St. Thomas hospitals are struggling to keep up with caring for people due to the increase in COVID patients. Hospital staff are having to make decisions about who receives life-giving care because their resources are at their limit. Under such conditions, it would be negligent on our part to contribute to the problem.

          Having said that, people do need care and contact, and we are committing to provide as much of that as we can within the current restrictions.

  17. This article is objective and balanced. Someone needs to be a peace broker. Aylmer media and Aylmer officials, reps from this assembly; are you willing to take this on? This is not a situation where anyone can say “they started it”. No one will win this; only the town loses.

    1. Blessed are the peace makers, I’m pleased with your passion and commitment to Christ. Hopefully things are different in Windsor.

    2. 100%… No need for the blame game… doesn’t matter. We need to find common ground as a community and have some compassion and understanding. Just like war, all the soldiers are simply just fighting for what they believe in… But who is really right?
      Drop the weapons. Drop the fear.
      For love is all we need.

      1. I agree with your ideals. Unfortunately with all the education and patience that has been shown over several months this group is not at all interested in working with our community for the health safety of all. As a lifelong resident of this community it breaks my heart to see the divide and feel it will take a miracle to de-escalate the current situation.

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