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.