Suderman: Collegial Response to Gerald Gerbrandt

Robert J Suderman

by Robert J. Suderman

Update (03/29/16) – the preview on many links to this article reads “I would suggest that defining the congregation as “the foundational unit of the church” is indeed both radical and ground-breaking for MC Canada” (para. 11). Out of context, the author and others have identified this statement as possibly implying full support for the FD proposal, which is not the author’s intent. I (Jonas, EVI web guy) chose the preview statement, but agree that it loses something without its context. That said, you are encouraged to read thoroughly, and my apologies to Mr. Suderman. -JC


I wish to thank Gerald for his helpful reflections about the FDTF report. His comments begin to clarify some of the concerns that have been raised, specifically regarding the FD ecclesiological statement about the congregation being “the foundational unit of the church.

I want to respond briefly. Let me begin by saying that Gerald and I have been colleagues and friends, and fellow congregational members for decades – dating back to the 1960s. Our friendship and respect for each other has regularly been strengthened by good conversations and even arguments. My response here should not be seen as anything but a continuation of this friendship and respect I have for Gerald, for his ecclesial rigor, and for the dedication and leadership he has provided to the church.

I also want to disclose that this is my first public foray into the debate about the FD proposals. I have engaged the Task Force, and Gerald, “behind the scenes” for several years, with specific focus on the question he raises about how to articulate our understanding of church. I have often wondered if there is an appropriate time for an ex-General Secretary of MC Canada to speak publicly into the discernment at hand. Perhaps my contribution at this stage can best be made by reflecting on Gerald’s “puzzlement” from a perspective of memory and recent history.

Gerald says he is “puzzled” by concerns raised about the statement of the congregation being “the foundational unit of the church.” He states: “The affirmation is neither radical nor ground-breaking.” As proof of this, he quotes an MC USA document (Purposeful Plan). This is striking and ironic, and is a signal that perhaps some memory is important.

The crux of the question at hand was a very hot topic during the process of integration and the establishment of two national churches in 1996-2002. MC Canada and MC USA ended up implementing significantly different structures as a result of different understandings. MC Canada preferred to stick to the understanding of “church” as articulated in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective- 1995. In the commentary to Article 16, the current question is identified twice in one paragraph: “Some have identified the local congregation as the primary unit of the church.” “One tendency has been to promote the congregation as the primary unit” (p. 64). In both cases, the Confession indicates that this is not the direction we wish to take. Rather it suggests an alternative, namely, that “The church should be viewed as one seamless garment, extending from the smallest unit … to the worldwide church. Accountability and responsibility apply to every level of the church” (p. 64).

The difference between MC USA and MC Canada became structurally/organizationally visible in at least two ways.

One was that in MC Canada there were comprehensive name changes, from Conference of Mennonites in Canada to Mennonite Church Canada; from Conference of Mennonites in B.C, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Eastern Canada, to Mennonite Church B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Eastern Canada. MC Canada expressed its preference for a “seamless garment” by applying the word “church” to each part of the system. In MC USA this did not happen. In MC USA, the areas or regions continued with the name “Conference” and did not become churches, i.e., given that the congregations were the “foundational units” it was better not to call the regional structures “churches.”

The other visible manifestation of this disagreement lay in the way international mission would be structured in the two bodies. In Canada, it would be Mennonite Church Canada Witness. The emphasis being that this was an initiative of the whole church to do together what could not (or should not) be done separately by congregations or regions. Accountability and responsibility would lie with the whole church, with the Witness Council being directly responsible to the MC Canada General Board.

In MC USA this model was rejected. Rather, MC USA chose to create a Network of mission: more arms-length from the “denominational church” and with its own governing body. This name is important. The sense was not that mission initiatives were joint efforts of the whole church, but that these would be individual, congregational, regional, or interest group initiatives that would be “networked” to each other. Accountability would rest with the initiating group. This was based on the conviction that the purpose of the wider structures was to facilitate the mission of the local initiatives, and not to do something on behalf of the whole.

So the fact that Gerald (and the FDTF?) needs to quote an MC USA document to support this suggested direction is not accidental. It is not the way MC Canada has preferred to define itself.

In this way, I would suggest that defining the congregation as “the foundational unit of the church” is indeed both radical and ground-breaking for MC Canada. That articulation moves against the preference as stated in the Confession of Faith and against what was decided in the process in which MC Canada was born. It aligns, rather, with the preferences as articulated by MC USA. Therefore, I don’t think that Gerald needs to be “puzzled” that astute readers would find this shift significant, surprising, and even unacceptable. Indeed, I would be more puzzled if astute analysis of the FD proposal, from within MC Canada, would not express concern.

Now I need to confess to my own surprise. I have been surprised that the FDTF has been so adamant in keeping this articulation even though it has been pointed out to them numerous times that this generates discrepancy with our Confession and with our preferred direction as discerned in the 1996-2002 re-organization process (more important are the biblical understandings that are foundational to both – a topic we cannot engage here). The final response of the FDTF to the “behind the scenes” discussions is the insertion of footnote #5 in the finalized “Back Story.” That footnote states:

Some suggest this stance varies from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, Article 16. That is not our intent, nor should it be construed as taking away from seeing the church as a ‘seamless garment’ with accountability/responsibility at every level….

[See this footnote in context]

If it is “not our intent” to be “ground-breaking,” why this tenacious insistence on this particular articulation? Gerald does helpfully suggest an alternative: that we could think of congregations as “cells of an organic whole.” I like that. If the present statement must be preserved (in apparent obeisance to MC USA), would it be too much to ask that a tiny shift be made: from the congregation as the foundation unit of the church, to the congregation as a foundational unit of the church? It seems almost silly to suggest that a shift from a definite to an indefinite article (the to a) is important, but indeed it is. A definite article makes the “foundational unit” exclusively so. An indefinite article makes it inclusive of other “units.” This, it seems, is the intention, and if so, why not say it that way?

I have not yet said anything about structure. By and large I agree with Gerald’s reflections on the nature of structures, namely, that there is no one structure that guarantees the translation of a preferred vision into action. I appreciate his transparency in revealing that the FD proposal may not be the best one and that it does not reflect his own preference. He articulates a compelling vision for an alternative model, a vision that would be closer to my own preference. I am concerned, though, about Gerald’s statement that his preferred alternative “… was not to be. Regional pressures worked against it.” This is telling. It appears that the regionalized proposal is already the child of some of the very dynamics (and weaknesses) that many have identified. This in itself is ample cause for a sober, second look.

I have learned – sometimes in the school of hard-knocks – that structures are teachers. Structures may seem at first to be relatively benign, utilitarian tools – servants of larger purposes. But it does not take long before structures begin to define the purposes, rather than to serve them. I ask myself: what will these proposed structures teach our children and grandchildren? What will they have learned from the structures 20 or 30 years from now? How will our society experience the structures we put in place now, 15 years from now?

Gerald says that it is unclear to him why the proposed structures might be understood as “concessions to the regionalism or localism of our time,” – something that is certainly not intended by the FD proposal. But is it not logical to assume that if the “integrated table” is composed primarily of local and regional representatives, that the primary passion, expertise, budgets, and agenda they will bring to the table will reflect local and regional needs? Is it not reasonable to project that over the years the integrated table too will become more local and regional than was intended? Structures will become our mentors. They always do.

It seems to me that we need to strengthen what is already weak rather than to strengthen what will inevitably tend to be dominant; i.e., let’s feed the mouse too, not only the elephant. The dominant tendency of our culture in the 21st century, it seems, will be to absorb more and more resources and resourcing for local purposes, and the larger initiatives will increasingly be there to serve ourselves. This is already happening, and will continue to happen, whether we plan for it or not. What will not happen without a careful plan is the implementation of the counter-cultural values that we cherish as a church. What are these? I would suggest at least the following:

  • a) common identity in the midst of individualized purposes;
  • b) unity of peoplehood in the midst of disagreement and diversity;
  • c) partnership in ministry in the midst of internet capacity to “google it” on our own;
  • d) communal discernment of faithfulness in the midst of privatizing tendencies;
  • e) capacity to speak with a consolidated voice in the midst of relativizing pressures;
  • f) capacity to offer solidarity from a foundation of communal conviction;
  • g) participation in ecumenical and global entities from a credible and representative base; and
  • h) a communal vision in the midst of particularized preferences.

These, in my mind, are some of the key values that new structures need to provide and/or protect. Proposed structures, at least those for the “integrated table,” should be measured and evaluated by such hopes. The limited common resources at our disposal need to be well focused on these values that won’t come automatically; they will require much energy, strategic planning, and visionary leadership. With Gerald, I wonder whether the regional model, albeit, authorized for integrated agenda, can survive the regionalizing and localizing tendencies and pressures. He indicates that these pressures were already strong enough on the Task Force to generate the proposal for a regionalizing model. I am not confident that the safe-guards designed to counter-act the localizing tendencies (annual meetings of regional executives; Congregation of Ministers every two years; Confirmation of Call for ministry partnerships, etc.) are sufficient to avoid the pressures of regionalization. It is quite easy for me to understand how the focus on the congregation as the foundational unit can be a catalyst for localizing tendencies of our time.

And just a word about process. There appears to be an emerging strategy related to the recent procedures in the Area Church deliberations. The concerns expressed by delegates are duly noted and acknowledged. And then approval for the “principle” is requested, with the assurance that the concerns will be passed on to the “transition team.” I want to suggest, with all humility, that the concerns raised in this response are not agenda for the transition team. The transition team will have no mandate to address what is discussed here. These are concerns that address the nature, essence and principles of the FD proposal.

In the final paragraph, Gerald rightfully points to the crises that are present in congregational life. He suggests that the vitality of the larger church will depend on the extent to which local congregations renew their vision for mission and for becoming Spirit-infused cells of God’s Kingdom. I agree. But to this I would simply add that “cells in an organic whole” both feed and are fed by the whole. Generating vitality will of necessity be a two-way street. Sometimes the congregation can inject vitality into the larger system. But at other times, the larger system needs to inject energy, possibility, and vision into the local congregation. The channels must be open in both directions. The model we choose will need to be strong enough for the organic whole to both nurture and to be fed. May it be so.

Robert J. Suderman, New Hamburg, Ontario

(personal reflection)

March 24, 2016 (published March 28)


Robert J. Suderman is the former General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada. We are thankful for his reflections, published with his permission. Please continue the conversation by sharing, posting comments, or contacting us directly.

Suderman: Collegial Response to Gerald Gerbrandt

Open Letter to FDTF from Partner in Philippines

ReginaMondez-Headshot

by Regina Mondez


In response to  Mennonite Church Canada’s Future Directions Task Force Summary, I would like to offer some thoughts on the importance of longterm international ministry, as opposed to the FDTF’s statement favouring commitments of a few months to a year.

In the last five years, I have been involved with Mennonite Church Canada ministry in the Philippines. My first involvement was as a full-time staff with Peacebuilders Community, and then I moved to Manila and became part of PeaceChurch Philippines. In the last three and a half years with PeaceChurch, we have been journeying together as a community – learning, dreaming, and struggling to follow Jesus in this conflicted land.

I grew up within the Integrated Mennonite Church (IMC), which was established with the help of foreign missionaries. It was a product of several missionaries coming to the Philippines primarily for livelihood assistance, and biblical education. In the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, a lot of people were attracted to the Mennonite teachings, and many church leaders and pastors “converted” to the Mennonite faith. The different churches across the country were later organized into an “integrated” Mennonite church. For many years, the Mennonite churches in the Philippines received financial support from North American churches. Today, the IMC no longer receives any foreign financial support, and continues to survive through its local churches’ meagre sources of income.

Research and experience led me to realize that the experience of the current IMC (still on ‘survival’ mode after many years) was a product of foreign mission with good intentions, but not a lot of good relational investments. The few people that foreign missionaries initially came in contact with were fully trusted with huge funds and projects for the church and for scholarships, but only a few of those projects created a long-term impact.

In the past decades, there was (perhaps) millions of dollars poured from North American churches towards supporting the church in the Philippines, but I still wonder why the huge amounts of support  has not produced concrete, tangible results visible at present. If there was anything that surfaced, it is the “relationship” built through years of connection. Missionaries who spent little time in the Philippines are never forgotten by the people they interacted with, the same way the Filipinos are remembered for their hospitality and friendship.

But why is the IMC still experiencing challenges within its own leadership and survival? There were relationships built by foreign missionaries to Filipino leaders, and there were funds that supported their initiatives in the past, but what could have gone wrong? I believe it was the time invested in building relationships. Foreign missionaries came for short visits, saw that people needed food, education, housing, livelihood assistance, among others, and they went back home to raise money to be sent to the people they built relationships with. The problem is, the way those charitable actions impacted the Filipino thinking was different from the original intentions. To avoid “colonial” type of missions, they let the locals decide on what to do with the huge amounts of money and how to distribute it. SO here is the underlying issue: Filipinos are not good financial managers. Most Mennonite churches are composed of members who grew up on day-to-day survival mode. What they earn for the day, they spend for the day. They are not used to huge amounts of money entrusted in their hands. If they receive more money than usual, the culture is to share it with their relatives, friends, and neighbours by having a feast for lunch, and the following day they might go hungry again.

This aspect of Filipino mind set is only one of many other things that could be different from a North American perspective. I can try to write longer to explain it, or there are perhaps tons of books published about the Filipino psyche that could be a good source of information, but an outsider can only truly understand our culture, the way we think, and the way we feel, if you spend time “experiencing” our culture. “Experiencing” a culture could be done in a 3-6 month “field trip,” but if the church is concerned in “understanding” the local culture, real-life, day-to-day interaction, laughter, communion, and struggles are the best ways to experience a culture. It only happens after years of investing authentic relationships with people.

At PeaceChurch, we have community members that come from various economic classes. This does not become a barrier for us to interact and share and live together as a community, but one of the things we are learning is that we need to be financially accountable to each other as a community. There are people in the community who may always need assistance for their daily survival, and the rest of us could always provide that. But if we really love them and care about them, we can teach them how to manage their own resources, how to save, and how to spend wisely. That is exactly one of the things we are working towards now. Teaching one another to be financially responsible is more helpful than dumping a million dollars into our bank account, which could probably disappear in a few months if we do not know how to manage it. But we can never arrive at this realization together, if the missionaries were only here for a few months. It takes a long time to be able to unfold every single layer of mistrust, shame (which is a big part of our culture), and indifference.

As Mennonite Church Canada is now looking toward its future direction, particularly on international ministry, I hope the Filipino experience would be considered. Cross-cultural ministry can be ‘colonial’ only if you do not truly and fully understand the culture you are going into. It matters little how many people you build relationships with – there could be thousands, there could only be one. But what matters is how much time you spend understanding that culture. How much emotion, more than finances, you invested with the people around you, and how much trust and confidence you developed, that once you figure out which area we needed help with, you can confidently offer support without being ‘colonial,’ but merely being a representative of Jesus in our lives.


Regina Mondez is a Mennonite Church Canada Witness partner in the Philippines. We are grateful to have her voice in the conversation. This letter was received via Darnell Barkman and is published with the author’s permission.

Open Letter to FDTF from Partner in Philippines

Gerald Gerbrandt: Reflecting on the FDTF Report

GeraldGerbrandt-Headshot

by Gerald Gerbrandt (a member of the Task Force, but not on behalf of the Task Force)

Photo from cmu.ca


 

This past weekend [March 5] it was Mennonite Church Manitoba’s turn to react to the Future Directions Task Force report. And respond it did. I was humbled and pleased at the sensitive and serious reactions to the report. Especially gratifying was the very thoughtful response of a group of young adults largely from Canadian Mennonite University calling themselves Emerging Voices. Both at the MC Manitoba assembly, and elsewhere the report has instigated conversation about the church and its future. On this level the report can only be deemed successful.

And yet, the responses force me to review and rethink what we as a Task Force said in the report. How do we understand the concerns and criticisms raised? What might we have said differently? What did we miss? And perhaps most significantly, where did the critical reaction identify genuine disagreement, and where was it more a matter of failed communication, whether due to less than helpful language in the report or due to less than careful reading of the report?

The Congregation and the Larger Church

One statement in the report that has received considerable reaction is the affirmation that the congregation is the foundational unit of the church. I am pleased at this, but also puzzled at how the affirmation has been often heard or interpreted. After all, the affirmation is neither radical nor ground-breaking. For example, the MC USA’s missional vision document similarly notes “As Anabaptist Christians, we believe that congregations are the primary expression of God’s work in the world” (“Our Purposeful Plan,” 2014, p. 17).

I understand the affirmation as descriptive of our experience and practice, and quite consistent with Anabaptist theology. The congregational setting is where Christians experience church. It is where we worship on a regular basis, where mutual support happens, etc. Our practice of baptizing people into particular congregations, and ordaining ministers, church leaders and missionaries in the congregation is consistent with that. The largest portion of financial and human resources are devoted to the congregation. Discernment and discipline take place in the local congregation, even as it is an insufficient setting for these (more below). As Anabaptist Christians we believe that the church is not some ethereal, invisible body, but is only fully realized when real people gather together in real communities. As such the affirmation is fairly straight forward and non-controversial, one reflecting both our theology and practice.

I suspect the criticism of the affirmation has less to do with the affirmation itself than with what it is taken to imply, presumably impacted by later language and proposals of the report. That phrase then becomes the target of genuine disagreement over some of the later aspects of the proposal.

It is unclear to me why the affirmation has been taken as a concession to the regionalism or localism of our time. I very much agree that localism (whether excessive congregationalism or provincialism) is a trend and a temptation today, and needs to be directly challenged. It is all too easy for church people, even leaders, to feel a pressure to go with the flow, to think that in order for the church to remain relevant it needs to become only local. I do not believe the report does that. In fact, the report, and the phrase itself, points to the importance of the larger church. Instead of saying “the congregation is the church,” the report points beyond the congregation to affirm the local congregation as only one small part (unit?) of the church, the New Testament body of Christ. Personally I prefer the term “congregation” for the local community over the term “church” so as to reserve “church” for that larger body. Clearly the report has done an inadequate job of communicating this conviction, or its implication.

Given that conviction, it may be asked, what is the significance of affirming the congregation as the foundational unit of that larger church. Consistent with the Anabaptist tradition (and, I believe, Biblical story), the affirmation indirectly challenges a popular trend. Much has been written about how for many spirituality (or religion) has become essentially an individual emotion or experience, quite removed from the life of a community of people interacting with each other in worship, fellowship and witness. This is in tension with the Anabaptist tradition that the church consists of real communities, congregations of people in relationship with each other. That contemporary tendency to imagine faith as an individual spirituality the affirmation challenges.

But there also was a more particular unsettling reality among us that the affirmation challenges. I was surprised during the Task Force process at how much the larger denomination had come to be understood as an entity quite apart from, distinct from, or removed from the local congregation. Mennonite Church Canada (similarly, even if perhaps not to the same extent, the area churches) has become an “it,” or “they” which provides some services to the congregations, but as often as not, is perceived as a financial drain on the life and work of congregations. All too often pastors consider church assemblies as events they feel pressure to attend, not as times for strengthening local and larger identity, local and larger mission. Yes, the larger denomination does some programs on behalf of the local congregation, but the perceived difference between those programs and similar programs of other independent agencies is often perceived as minimal.

Seldom did people use the name “Mennonite Church Canada” (or the parallel area church names) as including themselves. This was true of pastors as well as laypeople. It could be argued that even in the imagination of staff working for the denomination, the denomination was something different from the congregations or their members. How else can one explain an MC Canada staff member coming to an area church assembly, and “bringing greetings from Mennonite Church Canada”?

Historians will assess how this shift happened. Did it begin in the 1970s as denominational leadership shifted from pastors to lay people? Did this trend already begin earlier with the hiring of staff and adopting budgets? Was it related to significantly increased programming that followed? How much was it impacted by the dramatically increased professionalization of assemblies where budgets were no longer debated in detail or even revised on the floor? Did the merger of 2000 bringing formerly separate traditions, along with the creation of a new structure and new name, play a factor? No doubt larger societal shifts also contributed to this distancing of conference from congregation.

The affirmation that the congregation is the foundational unit of the church challenges this bifurcation between congregation and denomination/conference, emphasizing that the larger church consists of congregations. It is not a giving in to congregationalism (much less some perceived General Conference tradition) but an affirmation that the congregations are the integral units of that larger body, they are “cells of an organic whole.”

But unless this larger church, this “organic whole” is embodied in a particular structure with clear roles, it has little meaning. Some kind of organization is needed to give flesh to this larger church, a structure which contributes to at least the following goals and roles:

  • 1) To be a visible sign of that larger church, with the potential for dialogue with other parts of the church;
  • 2) To be a setting within which conversation (e.g., discernment, discipline) can take place, representing a more diverse community than commonly present in a congregation;
  • 3) To support, encourage, challenge and inspire the local congregation;
  • 4) To initiate and administer programs too large for a local congregation.

Incarnating the Larger Church in Structure

Unfortunately there is no direct or easy road from the affirmation that the church is much more than the local congregation to a particular structure or model. I am not sure a biblical case can be made for the model with which we have been operating in the past fifteen years versus some other model, nor for that matter, for the existence of a Mennonite denomination distinct from a Lutheran denomination, much less 5 or 6 different Mennonite denominations. The best structure is one which is experienced by those involved as most effectively furthering the mission of the church in a particular time, place and culture, both through congregations as well as through larger programs of the larger organization.

The question the report then forces us to confront is: “What organizational model and structure has the best potential to do that?” Is it the model proposed by the report, or some different one? One might ask similar questions retroactively, e.g., is our current structure, or the ones we had previously, the best ones possible.

I must confess, I am not sure the model proposed is the best one, nor is it my first choice. My view is that a model which would have united all of our congregations in one strong national body, with that body having regional office, staff and program arms (cf. Mennonite Foundation) could have served us more effectively. Such a model, I submit, would more helpfully embody or give flesh to the larger church, it could more effectively foster common Anabaptist identity, and it could more readily continue or initiate programs which serve congregations as well as reach out beyond congregations. Such a model, I believe, would also have had the ability to deal more flexibly and beneficially with the huge differences across our body in demographics and resources, a major challenge for us. But that was not to be. Regional pressures worked against it.

Fortunately I am not one who believes there is just one right model or structure—each potential model has its strengths and weaknesses. If a model is to work well, those weaknesses or temptations must be recognized, and then guarded against with concrete policies and safeguards. I believe the model proposed can work, and it can work well, but in order to prevent its weaknesses from undermining it some more concrete governance provisions and policies are still needed.

An obvious strength of the model proposed is that it builds on structures closer to the local congregation. As such it can be more responsive and flexible to local needs, with the potential to build greater relationship and identity between the local congregation and the larger church. Perhaps area assemblies can be reimagined and reinvigorated to include much greater participation from congregational members than just the official delegates.

Additionally, I do believe the model does include some elements which, if they are retained or enhanced, have the potential to counter its weaknesses. Perhaps most significantly, the proposal does call for the formation of a Congregation of Ministerial Leadership, a national body which would meet regularly “for purposes of studying ethical and theological issues, fellowship, networking, discerning vision on theological matters.” Such a body has the potential to nurture larger identity as it functions as a context for difficult discussion (without necessarily becoming a decision-making body). It also has the possibility of more closely connecting the local congregation to the larger church through its ministerial leadership (perhaps in association with national worship and study conferences). Other elements of the proposal that move it beyond the region are the call for a national plan and program in leadership development, and a national strategy for higher education. Important as well is the recommendation to develop a unified communication plan, along with a common name and logo.

Each of these, if implemented into an integrated whole has the potential to nurture and strengthen a larger identity, contributing to a sense and reality in the local congregation that it is part of something larger. But that statement also draws attention to what may be a weakness in the report (or in expectations of the report). At this point the details of the proposed model are either not spelled out in any detail (governance of the national body), or are described in fairly vague language. Further, I expect we could have sharpened aspects of the report, e.g., by organizing the responsibilities of the national work into a few simple categories.

The challenge will be to follow through on the report in a way that serves the larger body, especially given the localism/provincialism so endemic to our time. An important aspect of this is developing the model so that it takes into consideration or overcomes significant regional disparities in numbers and resources. Area leaders will need to expand their identity and vision beyond their own area to the larger body so as to prevent local agenda from taking over. Having a larger national program (e.g., international witness) would certainly also help bind the body together.

Returning to the Congregation

A final observation, once again building on the affirmation of the congregational as foundational in the church. The report itself devotes much space to structure and organization. That was necessary given the Task Force’s mandate. And yet, the vitality of the larger church in the future will be dependent not on finding the right structure, but on what happens in the congregation. That is where the most radical change currently is taking place, and where it will take place in the future. It is the local congregation that people are leaving in large numbers, where there is all too often a loss of clear conviction, identity and vision. The vitality of the larger church will be determined by the extent to which congregations regain their vision for mission, for becoming spirit-infused cells of the Kingdom of God, through which God’s healing and hope spread out to the world.

March 11, 2016 (published March 18)

 


 

Gerald Gerbrandt is President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Bible at Canadian Mennonite University. We at EVI are grateful for his permission to publish these reflections.

Gerald Gerbrandt: Reflecting on the FDTF Report

MCM Workshop Grows Conversation

TimWenger-Headshot

Story by Tim Wenger, EVI Web Guy #2/Photos by Beth Epp


About 70 people crowded into the lower lounge at Bethel Mennonite Church for Emerging Voices Initiative’s (EVI) workshop at the Mennonite Church Manitoba delegate sessions on Saturday, March 5.

Following an introduction by Peter Epp, Tim Wenger prayed for God to help everyone there listen for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and listen to each other.

Peter then outlined who EVI is and how we began: EVI started as a group of students at Canadian Mennonite University brought together by the question, “Does anyone on campus really care about Future Directions and Being a Faithful Church?” Eventually, a working group of around 17 people and a larger accountability group of about 30 were formed. It became clear that our work should focus on the Future Directions Task Force.

Kathleen Bergen shared about the development of EVI’s first document, eventually published as “A Vision for the Church.” Ten themes were developed by the working group one Sunday evening over snacks at a member’s house. When the themes were brought to the accountability group, the working group was asked to add an eleventh. Kathleen explained how these themes are meant to work alongside the Confession of Faith. Jonas Cornelsen walked through the themes, saying they are structured to move from the individual and congregation to the larger picture.

Katrina Woelk outlined the development of a second working document (A Vision in Context) that outlines challenges and opportunities for the church. Some key themes from this document include Technology and Communication, Diversity, and Communal Identity.

Laura Carr-Pries shared about EVI’s engagement with the FDTF report, highlighting the strengths we affirmed in it as well as some of our concerns. She explained EVI’s main critique of the FDTF as asking whether the principle that the congregation is the church’s foundational unit, and the implications of building a denominational structure on this principle, are faithful and feasible. Audience members were then given a chance to read EVI’s main documents and ask questions.

Many questions were asked, including whether young adults felt they could address these issues in their home congregations. Some group members said EVI adds to what we do in our congregations. Laura said it gives those who are away from their home churches while at CMU a place to share their perspectives. Another workshop participant asked if EVI had thought to include voices outside of CMU. Jonas said we chose the benefits of extended in-person meetings before inviting broader contributions, especially through our website, even though this initially limited participation.

One participant noted that congregations and individuals already focus on themselves first, and that FDTF is acknowledging a current reality. Another observed that EVI’s makeup reflects wider church issues such as a lack of diversity. Participants saw EVI’s view of mission differently – one noted the absence of the word “mission” in EVI’s vision document, another said he found mission “written all over” the document, but in broader language.

We were grateful for the high level of attendance and engagement, and left feeling both encouraged and challenged.

Update: find EVI’s reflections on the MCM gathering as a whole, including the feedback we received in our workshop, in our follow-up document.

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MCM Workshop Grows Conversation

Publishing our Work – It’s Out There!

JonasCornelsen-Headshot

 

by Jonas Cornelsen


 

Surprise! Me again. Being the administrator of the website, I have the privilege of being able to write whenever I want. More authors coming to the blog soon.

Today’s big news is the release of Our Documents, which give a sense of our process so far and our response to Future Directions. We’re very excited to finally have them out there – after a lot of hard work, we enjoyed some delicious snacks at our last meeting (pictured).

P1110524 copy.jpgThe other thing I wanted to highlight today is our brand-new Facebook page. Likes are coming in strong already! This will be a great place for you to get updates on our latest antics on a platform you may already spend lots of time on (confession – I do too). You might also see more amusing pictures, and can share all of these profound things with your friends and networks.

Finally, we’re very excited to present a workshop tomorrow morning at the Mennonite Church Manitoba delegate sessions. If you’re attending the sessions, we hope to see you there! However, if you choose to go to one of the other great workshops being offered, we’ll be around all day for conversation. Watch out for our old-media efforts: paper documents and business cards!

Thanks a lot for your interest and support so far.

-Jonas

Update: I just realized that I wrote “we’re very excited” at least twice in this post. What we lack in variety we make up for enthusiasm!

Publishing our Work – It’s Out There!