A new vision for our national church

A great post from one of our members (Anneli Loepp Theissen), originally appearing on the blog for Pastors in Exile (PiE). Enjoy!

Those of us who have found ourselves worshipping in Mennonite congregations have probably heard that the larger Mennonite Church is going through some significant changes. And by significant changes, I mean radical changes in how we relate as individuals, as churches, and as the body of Christ.

Let me give you some background. These changes have been discerned by a group of people who make up the Future Directions Task Force (FDTF). Recently, FDTF released a report that outlines suggested structural changes to Mennonite Church Canada. These changes mean the restructuring of the national body, with an emphasis on viewing the congregation as the foundational unit of the church.

In December, 2015, I was part of a group of young adults that began meeting on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University to discuss these proposed changes. We are young adults from all across Canada, ranging in age from 18-35…

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A new vision for our national church

Rempel: Polity for Mennonite Church Canada

P Rempel

by Peter Rempel (left, photo from canadianmennonite.org)

Peter Rempel is the moderator of Mennonite Church Manitoba. We are grateful for his thorough reflections and proposal.


 

Polity for Mennonite Church Canada: A Summary and Proposal

INTRODUCTION

Several current processes and issues in Mennonite Church Canada call for re-articulating and updating our polity:

  • The Future Directions Task Force, which is exploring a re-prioritizing of our programs and a re-structuring of our relationships between congregations, area denominational bodies and the national church;
  • the Being a Faith Church process, which is seeking ways for us to discern together on divisive issues which call into question the present status and content of our Confession of Faith;
  • the issuance of A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership  as a new set of guidelines for minister-congregation relations in A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership, misleadingly subtitled as a polity for the Mennonite Church;
  • the Faith and Life Council of Mennonite Church Canada identifying polity as one of the issues it will address.

Beyond our internal deliberations about our polity there is a conversation about “The Church: Towards a Common Vision,” coordinated by the World Council of Churches, which invites Christian denominations to review and share their beliefs and practices regarding the nature, ministries and order of the church.

Our polity is expressed in a variety of by-laws, constitutions, policies and practices.  It would be timely and helpful to assemble and articulate our polity in a comprehensive and integrated document.

DEFINITIONS

Here are the pertinent definitions of key terms from Websters New Collegiate Dictionary

    Polity: the form of government for a religious denomination

    Denomination: a religious organization uniting [in a single legal and administrative body] a number of local congregations.

    Governance: the organization, machinery, or agency through which a political unit [denomination] exercises authority, and performs functions

Here are some definitions specific to this proposal

Mennonite Church Canada: the national denominational body presently incorporated as Mennonite Church Canada (MCCan)

Mennonite Church in Canada: the congregations, area denominational and national bodies which participate in Mennonite Church Canada (MCinC)

NOTE: In this proposal Mennonite Church Canada and the area churches are designated generically as “denominational bodies” rather than as “churches” in an attempt to acknowledge that our “national church” is the “national church” and our “area churches” are the “area churches” only of our denomination, Mennonite Church Canada.

ASSUMPTIONS FOR ARTICULATING A DENOMINATIONAL POLITY

All levels of a denomination – from its individual member to its most global body – are components of its polity.

A denomination’s polity reflects its beliefs, tradition, structures and foundational statements.

The polity of a denomination should be transparent to its members.

The polity of a denomination should enable connections and communication to other denominations.

A polity describes what each level of the denomination does but not how it does what it does.

FOUNDATIONAL STATEMENTS

The foundational statements of MC in Canada are its Vision Statement and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.  Our denomination has reviewed and revised such statements and even set aside past statements and adopted new statements.  However we have no proscribed process for reviewing and revising such statements.  Furthermore, the by-laws of the area and national bodies, and probably those of member congregations, vary in the status accorded to the Confession of Faith.

Our unity and discernment would be enhanced if our by-laws used a common statement defining the status of the Confession of Faith such as

“The Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective (1995) expresses our currently shared understanding of the Christian faith and guides our vision, purpose, values, priorities and programs. Member bodies, board (council) members, and staff are expected to be in substantial agreement with it, to uphold it and to abide by it in their actions and positions.”

Furthermore it would also enhance our unity if we would commonly commit to review the Confession, with the option of revising it regularly.  For instance, the denomination could review one of the 24 articles each year or three together every three years and then re-publish the Confession in its entirety every 25 years. This review would be conducted by or with the council (synod) of ministerial leaders (see C.4 below).

INTRODUCTION TO PROPOSED POLITY

The following outline for a polity for Mennonite Church Canada attempts to articulate much of our traditional and current polity which we generally assume, but have not yet articulated in a comprehensive and integrated document.  It also includes some innovations which recover aspects of our previous polities, and which would serve us well in our internal as well as external relationships.

A major innovation proposed herein is a re-designation and re-conceptualization of denominational leadership from the corporate notion of “executive director” to the ecclesial (and biblical) office of “overseer.”  However, the “overseers” are to be accountable to and collaborate with a council elected from and by the memberships of the area denominational bodies and national church rather than being the highest authority as in the past.

This proposal also includes a more deliberative role for a gathering of the ministerial leaders for shaping the theology of the denominations (also suggested by the MC Canada Future Directions Task Force).

In this proposal and in our practice the congregation is a basic component of the church and the primary community of faith for the individual Christian but not – as declared in the final report of the Future Directions Task Force – “the foundational unit of God’s expression in the world and of the church.” Continue reading “Rempel: Polity for Mennonite Church Canada”

Rempel: Polity for Mennonite Church Canada

Derksen: My Hope for the Children of our Church

JulieDerksen

by Julie Derksen (photo from cmu.ca)

This piece originally appeared in The Grapevine newsletter at Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg. It is posted here with the author’s permission.


I come from a town called Wymark in Southern Saskatchewan. It is located in the heart of the Mennonite Reserve first populated by Old Colony Mennonites. The Old Colony left for Mexico in the mid-1920s, leaving a handful of parishioners and no ordained minister behind. My people were Sommerfelder, who came from southern Manitoba and emigrated to Saskatchewan in the early 1900s. In the late 1920s the Old Colony villages were filled up with the newly arrived Russlander. At that time there were about 15 Mennonite churches in the area. By the time I was growing up in the 1980s there were four General Conference churches in the area. Today there are two – with approximately 70 worshippers between the two congregations. In my community, there are many people with Mennonite names; however, they are attending charismatic evangelical churches, or they are not attending church at all.

I grew up in a strongly Mennonite family. My dad was a Conscientious Objector during World War II and the experience of going before the judge in defence of his faith affected him profoundly. As a child, and as a teenager, I often felt that my faith didn’t fit the boxes that existed in my community. I felt uncomfortable with the charismatic evangelical and mainstream groups who didn’t understand the importance of pacifism for me. Growing up, our family regularly attended MC Canada Conferences, and I attended camp. These occasions were a revelation to me. I felt at home and a sense of belonging that I didn’t in the church community at home. I met other young people who shared a faith that felt familiar to me and during those times I grew in my understanding of the corporate nature of faith and of God. I remember as a fourteen year old in 1986 attending the Saskatoon MC Canada and MC USA assembly and being amazed at the sheer number of Mennonite youth playing and worshipping together. I also remember that the entire church was gathered to discuss and discern sexuality in the church. I was amazed at that age that everyone could speak to the issue and as a group discern a way forward.

Moving to Winnipeg and CMBC, I marvelled at the number of Mennonite living in this area. It seemed luxurious to be surrounded by people of shared faith and experience. CMBC gave me the theological language to give to my experience of corporate theology. It solidified my feeling of homecoming. Conferences, camp, RJC and CMBC also created for me relationships with Mennonite outside of my congregation and geographic area. Between Kenton and I – wherever we travel in Canada, and sometimes abroad – we connect with our friends who in many cases are part of churches in their own areas. Those relationships built long ago, continue to draw us into the larger church and the wider perspectives of churches across the country. I am deeply grateful for those relationships.

I find it ironic that as our experience of the world grows and becomes more global, our experience of the church has shrunk and is more immediate. What I hope for my children and the children of our church is:

  • That they offer themselves, their time and their passion, to a congregation that will invite them in, care for them, and discern with then God’s will.
  • That they understand “the church” is not just Charleswood Mennonite Church. That they have a responsibility to participate in something larger than our congregation.
  • That they experience the church in other places – Saskatchewan, Ontario, India and the United States for example – so that they appreciate the diversity and richness of the church.
  • That they continue to build, and work in, a church that is less about structure but continues to actively engage questions of faith.

In the years before my dad died he was very concerned about the future of the Mennonite Church. He would say “In ten years there won’t be a Mennonite church in the Swift Current area.” We would always assure him that it may look different but where there are people of faith – there is the church. My hope for the future comes from those young passionate voices I heard at Mennonite Church Manitoba delegate sessions and who I hear at CMU. That they will continue to engage and discern difficult issues, draw the church together me and care for those congregations who stand alone in places far away from Winnipeg or Kitchener. That those seeking a larger church home will find it.


Julie Derksen is a research assistant at Canadian Mennonite University and attends Charleswood Mennonite Church. We are grateful for her writing, and share her hopes for the future.

Derksen: My Hope for the Children of our Church