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
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.
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.
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”