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.”

A PROPOSAL FOR THE POLITY OF MENNONITE CHURCH CANADA

A. The Individual as a Church Member

  1. The human person
  • Created by God in God’s image
  • Endowed with a free will and conscience
  • Able to make moral and faith choices
  1. The individual Christian
  • Believing in God as revealed in Jesus Christ
  • Striving to live as a disciple in obedience to God
  • Desiring community with other Christians
  1. The Mennonite church member
  • Baptized upon personal confession of Christian faith and commitment to Christian     discipleship
  • Accepted into a local Mennonite congregation at baptism or by membership transfer
  • Participating in the worship, fellowship, service and witness of the congregation *

 

B.1. The Local Congregation

  • Identifies and upholds its confession of faith and theological emphases
  • Accepts, supports and guides its individual members
  • Discerns and affirms the gifts of its members applied within or beyond the congregation
  • Welcomes, forms and nurtures its children into its faith and community
  • Determines the locations and forms of its worship, fellowship, discernment, service and witness
  • Determines its form of internal governance and organization
  • Designates a leadership council in a meeting of its members
  • Chooses its pastoral leadership in a decision by its members
  • Installs, supports and collaborates with its pastoral leadership*
  • Authorizes its pastoral leadership to perform baptisms and lead communion
  • Adopts its budget and financial policies, gathers its income and determines its expenditures
  • Owns its facilities and properties
  • Decides and maintains its affiliations and relationships with other Christian communities
  • Covenants with other local congregations to form and sustain  regional and national denominational bodies
  • Sends representatives to meetings of its denominational bodies
  • Accepts the guidelines, commitments, and constraints of its denominational bodies*
  • Considers the counsel of its denomination and its sister congregations*

*See A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership (2013) for guidelines pertaining to pastoral leadership.

B.2. The area denominational body

  • Identifies and upholds its articulation of its beliefs i.e. A Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective
  • Accepts, supports, and guides its member congregations located within a specified area
  • Removes from its membership congregations which violate their covenant with the area denominational body after a process of mutual discernment
  • Discerns, affirms and applies the gifts of its leaders and staff
  • Resources its member congregations for their worship, formation, service and witness
  • Determines the  locations and forms of its inter-congregational worship, fellowship, discernment, service and witness
  • Determines its form of internal governance and organization
  • Convenes assemblies of representatives from its member congregations
  • Authorizes its leadership council and overseer to act on its behalf
  • Installs, supports and collaborates with its leadership and staff
  • Gathers its income and determines its expenditures
  • Decides on and maintains its affiliations and relationships with other area level denominational and inter-denominational bodies
  • Covenants with sister area denominational bodies to form and support a national denominational body
  • Sends representatives to the decision-making entities of its national denominational body
  • Accepts the guidelines, commitments, and constraints of its national denominational body,
  • Considers the counsel of its national denominational body and its sister area denominational bodies*
  • Resources its member congregations in the calling and care of their pastoral leaders
  • Assists its member congregations with addressing internal conflicts among their members or between members and pastoral leaders *
  • Issues and accepts or withdraws the credentials of ministers serving in its member congregations or on its staff *
  • Receives all financial contributions for its denomination from its member congregations and their individual members
  • Shares the financial contribution from its membership with the national denominational body in accordance with a mutual agreement with sister area denominational bodies and the national denominational body.

B.3. The National Denominational Body

  • Identifies and upholds its articulation of its beliefs i.e. A Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspectives
  • Consults and collaborates with sister national Mennonite denominational bodies (eg. Mennonite Church USA) on jointly owned and/or operated agencies, institutions, projects, policies and confession of faith
  • Accepts, supports, and guides its area denominational bodies
  • Removes from its membership area denominational bodies which violate their covenant with the national church after a process of mutual discernment
  • Discerns, affirms and applies the gifts of its leaders and staff
  • Resources the member congregations of its area denominational bodies for their worship, formation, service and witness
  • Determines the  places and forms of national level worship, fellowship, service and witness within its country
  • Determines its form of internal governance and organization
  • Convenes assemblies of representatives from its member area denominational bodies
  • Authorizes its leadership council and overseer to act on its behalf
  • Installs, supports and collaborates with its leadership and staff
  • Receives its share of contributions from local congregations and area denominational bodies and determines its expenditures
  • Decides on and sustains its affiliations and relationships with other national level Christian denominational, inter-Mennonite and inter-denominational bodies
  • Covenants with other Mennonite national denominational bodies to form and support a global denominational body / communion, i.e. Mennonite World Conference
  • Relates to global inter-denominational bodies
  • Sends representatives to the global denominational body
  • Considers the counsel of its sister national denominational bodies and the global denominational body
  • Resources its member area denominational bodies in their resourcing of their congregations and in their service and witness efforts
  • Assists its member area denominational bodies with addressing internal conflicts among their member congregations or between member congregations and area denominational body leadership *
  • Issues and accepts or withdraws the credentials of ministers serving on its staff *

C.Organizational Components of the Levels

C.1 Membership Assemblies – Local Church (Congregation), area and national denominational bodies

  • receive reports of the activities and decisions of its council and staff,
  • discern direction on common concerns
  • appoint its leadership council
  • appoint its representatives to affiliated bodies,
  • commit to specific actions and positions
  • approve its budget
  • designate its leaders
  • approve its by-laws
  • appoint its auditor

C.2 Councils – Local Church (Congregation), area and national denominational bodies

  • Appointed by the membership of their church
  • Composed of members of their church
  • Coordinate the leadership of their church
  • Nominate the ministerial leadership for their church to their membership for approval
  • Coordinate the efforts of the various committees, commissions in their church
  • Assure the compliance with the church’s foundational statements, i.e. confession of faith, by-laws (constitution) policies and position statements
  • Oversee the making of changes in the church’s foundational statements

C.3 Committees and Commissions – Local Church (Congregation), area and national denominational bodies

  • Oversee the work of the church in the specific aspects assigned to them
  • Report to council and to the membership assemblies on behalf of the council

C.4 Council (Synods) of Ministerial Leaders – area and national

  • All ordained ministers, area ministry directors, and credentialed teachers of theology (see D.3)
  • confer and advise the denominational bodies on theological and pastoral issues
  • convened by a Committee on Faith and Life

D. Forms of Ministry and Leadership (to be elaborated)

 

D.1.     Pastoral Ministry  – Local Church (Congregation) and Care institutions (Hospitals, Personal Care Homes and Prisons)

D.2 Oversight Ministry

Area Overseer

  • Nominated by area council
  • Affirmed by areas membership assembly
    • Participates in the ordination of ministers serving in the member congregations
  •     Participates in ordination of overseer of national denominational body
  •     Supervises staff of area denominational body,
    • Represents the area denominational body in relation to other area level denomination bodies and in inter-denominational bodies

National Overseer

  • Nominated by national council
  • Affirmed by national membership assembly
  • Collaborates with national council
  • Convenes area overseers
  • Participates in ordinations of area overseers

 

D.3 Teaching Ministries

  • Teach Bible, theology and ministry in church-related educational institutions

D.4 Evangelistic Ministries

  • Missionaries and evangelists in Canada and abroad

D.5. Diaconal Ministries

  • The executive, administrative, and support staff of congregations, area and national church, and church-related agencies and institutions

D.6 Lay Ministry (all members)

  • serve and witness in their families, congregations, communities, study and work places
  • serve as volunteers in the assemblies, councils, committees of their church

 

Submitted by
Peter Rempel

November 2014, revised April, 2015

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Rempel: Polity for Mennonite Church Canada

One thought on “Rempel: Polity for Mennonite Church Canada

  1. Todd Hanson says:

    Amen, Peter. I support your major innovation and also your comment that the congregation is not “the foundational unit of God’s expression in the world and of the church”. It is “a” unit, but not the only one. Thank you very much for your work on this.

    Liked by 1 person

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