For Marv Friesen, who began serving as pastor of University Mennonite Church in September 2010, moving from Ontario, Canada to State College, Pennsylvania held a pleasant surprise: peace and quiet. Living within two blocks from Penn State fraternities, Marv and his family expected to encounter some noise and rowdiness. “But it’s actually been pretty calm and laid-back,” Marv says. “And we’ve received a very warm welcome from the neighborhood.”
As Marv gets down to the business of learning to know his new congregation, he’s been struck by the diverse nature of the group. “There’s a little more diversity here than I’d originally thought—in terms of economics and formal education as well as theology. I think that’s a real strength of our group, that we can challenge each other in terms of where we find ourselves as we struggle to make sense of life and our faith. It’s a real gift of this congregation.
“Part and parcel of that,” he continues, “is what I observed at UMC’s recent Camp Hebron retreat. On Sunday morning when our sharing time focused on the faith community as the family of God, it became crystal clear to me that the relationships in this congregation are important enough that we’re willing to work at them. We may not always see eye to eye, but at the heart of our faith are those positive relationships with one another.”
Marv comes to UMC after serving as pastor of the Welcome Inn Church in Hamilton, Ontario for the past six years. Welcome Inn originated through the outreach of the Mennonite Church Canada and the Hamilton Mennonite Church. The congregation began in 1966 as an inner-city mission project and Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) unit. During Marv’s tenure as pastor there, the group was made up of about forty people, which lent itself to a more informal worship style. “Sermon time often was more of a dialogue,” says Marv. “It was unusual for me to get through a sermon without someone interrupting me to comment or argue. I don’t think that’s part of the tradition at UMC!”
He also points out that, despite other differences between the two congregations, including socioeconomic and educational differences, one key similarity stands out: the high value placed on community and relationships. “That comes through very clearly at UMC, and I’m really looking forward to being part of that. I want to get to know people—to get to the point where we can feel comfortable saying what’s on our hearts.”
What is Marv’s vision for UMC? “I’ve never been a real strategist,” he says, but I do know what the greatest commandment is: to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love your neighbor as yourself. And if that really is the critical piece of being followers of Christ and people of faith, it means being in tune with each other; it means being in tune with God and our sense of calling and our sense of being; and it means being in tune with ourselves, having a sense that we are created in God’s image. And that right there is a pretty big task to pursue.”
Marv grew up in Jordan, Ontario, fifteen minutes from Niagara Falls. He spent his early years on his parents’ farm, then moved to St. Catharines when his parents started a real estate business. He received a bachelor of theology degree from Canadian Mennonite Bible College, Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1988. In 1993 he received both a Certificate in Urban Ministry Training from the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education, Chicago, Illinois, and a master of divinity degree from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Elkhart, Indiana.
Marv and his wife, Brenda, have been married for 28 years. They rode the same bus to high school for one year but “paid no attention to each other.” Later, they had the chance to become acquainted when Brenda’s sister married Marv’s cousin.
Marv and Brenda have four daughters: Sherrie, 26 (married to Levi Thiesen); Teresa, 22; Melissa, 21; and Grace, 12. He is a fan of “sports of all kinds” and has already attended Penn State football and soccer games since arriving in State College. He also enjoys canoeing, bicycling, reading, and following politics.
By Krista Weidner