MCEC Gathering Reflection

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by Laura Carr-Pries

The time spent at the MCEC gathering (April 29-30) was framed by hearing Stuart Murray (author, The Naked Anabaptist) and Alex Ellish speak, both integral members of the Anabaptist network in the UK. They shared stories and hopes for the church with us; to me, this provided an entry into the Future Directions discussions for the weekend. Their dreams for the church struck me as similar to the work EVI is doing, in thinking about what our hopes for the church are. Their sharing moved us into a time of considering mission and the role of church congregations in the local context.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone is praying for a church that can be active in their neighbourhoods, as vibrant, hopeful peoples that move beyond their church buildings.

These topics fed into the discussion of the Future Directions Task Force, as people questioned whether or not the recommendation would empower and enable churches to be these vibrant communities. The floor conversations brought to light many questions and concerns about the recommendation. There was a key moment of reflection on the role of trust in the FDTF process, and wondering how we trust the leaders of our church in processes of discernment. I am left wondering how, as a broader church, do we build trust in congregations and in our leaders, and how do we maintain a sense of agency?

During the floor time, an amendment to the proposal was brought forth by Tom Yoder-Neufeld, and it was affirmed. A final paragraph was added, which states that “the MCEC Executive will provide congregations with opportunities for ongoing consultation and review and an opportunity to vote on a more fully developed proposal no later than July 2018.” These modifications call for greater consultation and discussion in the many conversations that are yet to come.

The question remains: What does this mean for MC Canada Assembly if MCEC voted on an amended motion, which was different from the others? I hope that as Assembly draws nearer, people will continue to share their hopes for what the church can be, and how to place our trust in God in whatever the future holds.

Laura, a member of EVI, studies Theology and Peace and Conflict Transformation at Canadian Mennonite University. This summer she is completing a pastoral internship at Toronto United Mennonite Church. Laura will be part of presenting a workshop with EVI at MC Canada Assembly in Saskatoon, July 6-10.

MCEC Gathering Reflection

Young Pastors: Open Letter and Prayer

by Chris Lenshyn, Ryan Dueck, Krista Loewen, Jeff Friesen, Susie Guenther Loewen, David Driedger, Virgina Gerbrandt Richert, Kyle Penner, Carrie Martens and Kevin Derksen (pictured from left)


An open letter to the congregations and leaders of Mennonite Church Canada:

We are a group of pastors from each of the Area Churches who have gathered around the current Future Directions Task Force (FDTF) conversations in an effort to understand and respond together.  We write as younger pastoral leaders with hopes for many years yet in service to the Mennonite church in Canada, and so with a significant stake in this ongoing process.  We would like to offer the following reflections, encouragements, and prayers for our shared family of faith.

At the heart of our shared concern is the recognition that we have all observed expressions of mistrust or even woundedness in this process.  We have each been part of conversations in our various local settings that circle around themes of trust, transparency and confidence. These conversations seem to reflect a fracture between congregations and Area/National church leaders.  Our concern is that the FDTF process has exposed fractures or even initiated them. However it has happened, the unfolding of the FDTF process cannot be characterized by trust and mutuality within the body.  In some circles, in fact, trust has been significantly eroded.

As pastors, we recognize that we have not always contributed well to good communication.  We have struggled to bring the activities and realities of our denominational bodies into our local settings.  We have not always shared a compelling vision for our life together as a broader faith community.  And we recognize that much responsibility lies with the individuals in our congregations as well.  Many of our congregants simply are not invested beyond our own congregations or are perhaps over invested in a model that is no longer viable.

And yet, we also lament a lack of pastoral sensitivity in the way that the FDTF process was developed and led.  Many groups felt unheard (even when they were asked for feedback) in the feedback they offered, while others felt manipulated and pressured in the decision-making process.  Some have experienced a sense of ‘spin’ from leaders that has tried to put everything in the most positive light possible. While we do understand the challenges and constraints of the process, we also long to hear some sense of lament from our leaders where there have been oversights or mis-steps; or to simply help us understand some of the inevitable conflicts. We sense a growing divide between the local congregation and our National Church, and thus call for more pastoral sensitivity from our church leaders when addressing these realities.

While we acknowledge that this process should not be shrouded in lament, we do name lament and confession as an important posture in this time of change.  We encourage some avenue for corporate lament (including from our leaders) at Assembly in Saskatoon, as a step in the direction of healing and reconciliation.

On questions of transparency and accountability, we also have some practical suggestions. We understand that there has been conversation regarding the development of a listening group in the transition process. We strongly affirm this direction as a healthy mechanism for transparency and accountability.  We also see this listening group as integral to keeping present to us the questions and concerns of those often absent in the formal (paid and unpaid) leadership structures of the church. We identify the need for this group to reflect the voices of our Witness workers (Indigenous and International), new Canadian / non-white congregations, youth / young adults, and LGBTQ members and adherents.  We also call for this group to reflect the theological diversity in our congregations and to aim for good gender balance. It is our hope that such a group would aid in addressing questions of accountability and transparency while hopefully nurturing trust in leaders and process.

Further, we understand that key leadership in the transition process will be taken up by Area Church Moderators in some form of interim council. Given the lack of diversity in this group, we recommend   the addition of a few ‘at large’ members who can provide additional perspective.

Finally, we recognize that questions of triumphalism, homophobia, racism, sexism, and other abuses are not named at any point in this process.  However, given that any organization is an organization of power we insist that present and possible abuses of power be identified and addressed in the transition process. Institutions are by nature conservative and so we confess that the church as an institution has often responded with hostility to groups and individuals that do not fit its beliefs or practices. We see our calling to address these systemic abuses as part of the peacebuilding work of the church (much like the “Undoing Sexism” and “Undoing Racism” initiatives within MC USA). We can see in retrospect how such attention would have benefited the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process regarding who was included in the formal levels of discernment and decision making.

We affirm that the future of the church needs to be accountable to and informed by those inheriting the church structure. In light of the BFC recommendations we also ask that space already be made in any transitional structures for LGBTQ members (as well as representation from those groups noted above). We see this kind of major change to our church structures as an opportunity to ensure that they reflect our attentiveness to the marginal and vulnerable believers in our midst.

Lingering questions remain about how we will continue to express ourselves as a national body. The current proposal will see more work done by Area and National church staff. We understand that these individuals will still be accountable to Area and National boards. We also acknowledge that there have been various conversations around the development of national gatherings focused on study and worship. We affirm the need for such gatherings, but we also name that this remains an area of ambiguity.  How will our larger vision and shared documents be developed and approved responsibly within an ecclesiology that encourages strong congregational and individual engagement? In the midst of these questions we acknowledge that we will need to let go of some expectations and opportunities once afforded to us by a larger structure.

We confess some uneasiness and an inability to clearly see the vision and processes of our national body.  We call for greater care, attention, and clarity to be given to these questions.

We acknowledge that the Future Directions Task Force has worked under considerable constraints of time and resources.  Additional constraints have been imposed by the constituency through expectations that are either contradictory or impossible to fulfill.

We commit to refrain from placing unrealistic or unhelpful expectations on the FDTF and on the transitional structures of the coming years in whatever form they take.

Despite some difficult and disconcerting experiences in this process, we do also celebrate and give thanks for the various conversations and connections that this process has inspired. We give thanks for the Emerging Voices Initiative that reflects the vitality of our younger members, even as conventional wisdom insists that youth are less interested in the work of the church. The EVI models a helpful and hopeful approach to theological reflection and spiritual practice. We have also been grateful for the connections with each other that have taken place in developing this statement. In the course of the FDTF process, important questions of faith, church, and theology have been brought to the surface.

We give thanks for the life and work of the church and commit to publicly celebrating and sustaining the conversations that are emerging at this time.

Each one of us carries pastoral concern for the broader Mennonite church alongside that of our own congregations. So, in a spirit of pastoral response we offer the following prayer to help gather God’s people around both the FDTF and BFC process as they come to fruition in Saskatoon this summer. We encourage the use of this prayer for both personal and congregational use as we prepare to gather as one body of believers in July.

Continue reading “Young Pastors: Open Letter and Prayer”

Young Pastors: Open Letter and Prayer

NKMC Young Adults Respond to EVI Questions


by Tim Wenger

I wear a number of hats. I am Faith Development Pastor at North Kildonan Mennonite Church, I am a student at Canadian Mennonite University, I am a member of the Emerging Voices Initiative, and I also co-authored an upcoming curriculum for youth groups attending the MC Canada Assembly at Saskatoon, which helps explain what BFC and FDTF are and hopefully allows for youth to enter into the discussion.

On May 3, I led North Kildonan Mennonite Church’s Young Adults in a discussion about the Future Directions Task Force using the questions provided by EVI. The following points summarize what I’ve learned from the experience.

  • I discovered that there currently is not a quick summary of the FDTF report readily available. Luckily I had a rough draft of “What Is the Future of the Mennonite Church?” and used it for my own notes. However, the FDTF Report is 24 pages long, it is embedded in a 36-page PDF file with two other documents which might be considered a summary, but it is unclear where one document begins and another ends.
  • If the participants in the conversation had heard about the FDTF, it was only through my shameless promotion of EVI on my Facebook page. These are active members of our church community. This raises questions of how widespread church engagement on the issue is.
  • A major point of discussion was the need for vision. There was a sense that the FDTF report itself did not seem to be visionary, and a concern that leaders within the broader church have not been given sufficient space to be visionary within their roles without fear of reprisal.
  • Within our group there was both recognition of the importance of the wider church, as well as ambivalence for the specific church structures that make up MC Canada. We appreciated assemblies, and the existence of a national school that allowed us to connect with fellow Mennonites across Canada, but realized that we need to hold specific structures loosely as we face uncertain times.
  • Mission and Outreach were important themes in our conversation. We realized that of the group present, only three out of eight grew up in NKMC. Friends had reached out to us and invited us to participate in the community. We also recognized that many formal forms of outreach had fallen along the side of the road in recent years as NKMC faced its own problems. This worry connected to FDTF; as we in MC Canada focus inwardly and rearrange ourselves to deal with the struggles we are facing, we are trimming back programming that enables growth. While the expectation is that programming and resources will develop naturally in this new structure, there is a sense that we will lose the outward drive as we focus inwardly.

Tim Wenger wears many hats as pastor, MA student, EVI member, etc. We’re grateful for all the NKMC Young Adults who took some time to tackle our discussion questions. If a group you’re part of would like to share a response, don’t hesitate to contact us!

NKMC Young Adults Respond to EVI Questions

Dyck: On Structures and Unknowns


by Sam Dyck

Every room in the building that I work in has a small sticker placed discreetly on the door hinge that tells maintenance workers whether or not it contains asbestos, which would mean that an enormous amount of planning and preparation is required before any work is done on the walls or ceiling. Undoubtedly it would be cheaper and more convenient for everyone if those who designed the building many decades ago had chosen a different insulation, but they were presumably unaware of the problems asbestos causes, and so cannot be blamed for their decision. If we cannot curse the foolishness of the engineer who made the decision to use asbestos, we also can’t celebrate the wisdom and foresight of those who, for whatever reason, chose to pack buildings with a less toxic material. Neither of them had enough information to understand the consequences of their choice sixty years later.

Any sort of planning requires a degree of confidence that your plan is the best option that can be implemented, and that any alternatives are either not as good in some way or unworkable for some reason. Such confidence is a necessary part of decision making: if no one ever decided to be reasonably certain that a particular choice was, at the very least, probably the right one, nothing would get done. As followers of Jesus, we are not supposed to have such hubris, and remain aware of our own fallibility (without being self-loathing).

Based on my reading of the final report and continued engagement with the broader church, in some ways the FDTF has done a remarkable job at trying to bridge this divide by being open-ended in many its general recommendations, in order to allow congregations, area churches and the national church to respond to its recommendations according to their local and temporal situation. As Gerald Gerbrandt noted, “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.”

Having attended my share of church meetings I know that we (myself included) are not always as humble in discussing policy and planning as we ought to be; attitudes are sometimes combative, responses to the plan being discussed can be more critical rather than focused on constructive engagement, and there is a lack of good faith towards various parties, specific or vaguely defined.

It is important to consider our assumptions about policy and ideas when we are talking about “defining the congregation as the most important unit of the church.” The members of EVI have noted that this concept as set out in the FDTF report is vague, at least in the sense that it does not fully spell out what (re)defining the church in this way will look like exactly, and how it will function. Some Witness workers have expressed legitimate concerns about the effects of this shift on mission work. But the ambiguity is likely somewhat intentional; the FDTF cannot fully understand the differing effects of any structural or cultural changes on individual congregations in the context of their own culture, context and situation.

There are still good reasons to critique the idea that congregations ought to be the foundation of the church. Robert J. Suderman’s suggestion that “structures are teachers” is a solid argument. My concern is that when discussing the concept, instead of embracing the ambiguity as a necessary part of constructive planning we have become afraid of it. It seems to me that when we express concerns about ‘individualism’ or ‘localism’ we are concerned about what other people—the hypothetical or real individualists or localists—will do to ‘our’ church. We then view the FDTF process as a clearly defined path to a grim future, and not as a potential guidebook that will allow both congregations and the broader church to adapt to changing circumstances, their specific contexts and the inevitable unforeseen circumstances of any shifts in the way we do church.

Of course, we can use any idea or viewpoint as a guide, and some will undoubtedly produce better results than others. But just as we have to be careful to avoid making too many assumptions about where a congregation-centred approach (if I may call the FDTF’s conception that) would take us, we should also be careful about what exactly that looks like, and if and how that is prevailing in the church. Undoubtedly many MC Canada congregations are conducting their own mission work, as many always have, but no one (at least as far as I’m aware) is suggesting that MCC be dismantled in favour of congregational aid and development efforts. Both of these are possible interpretations of the concept if we ignore the fact that MCC exists outside of the FDTF structure. The ambiguity should accommodate the diversity of contexts and perspectives within the church, but should be clear in what unites us as a national church. Additionally, what may be true and wise today may no longer relevant tomorrow: until a few years ago, it was extremely financially prudent to seek employment in the energy sector, yet that is no longer the case today. We should also be careful about conceiving alternatives: the current model may be financially unsustainable, but critiques of the new model are not necessarily calls to preserve the old one. Either way, we must take risks; doing nothing, after all, is a risk in itself.

Ultimately, it is important that when we discuss the future of the church, we do so in a way that is conscious of our lack of foresight, and without assuming that some known or unknown other will ruin the church because of a choice of one vision over the other, or even one structure over the other. We need to recognize that our plans are always fallible and be prepared for the unanticipated; we need to understand that factors beyond anyone’s control will have an enormous effect on the church, as they always have and always will, and that some will be positive and others negative, but many will be mixed blessings. We should not be afraid of ambiguity; to commit to a specific long-term vision would be dangerous. We need to make some sort of decision about where we are going to take the church, but in doing do we should be aware that there is much that is beyond our control, and that any path we take is not and should not be irreversible. But most importantly, we need to recognize that no policy statement, no structures or institutions, no regional politics, no threat of uncomfortable change or dilution of meaning can or should separate us from both the love of Christ and the love we have for each other.

Sam Dyck is an avid year-round cyclist, studies politics at the University of Winnipeg, and is a member of Hope Mennonite Church. He shared his reflections with us via our online contact form, with permission to publish.

Dyck: On Structures and Unknowns

Our Answer: New Questions


by Jonas Cornelsen

Note: This post is a shameless promotion of our new Discussion Questions document. To skip the story and go straight to the document, just follow the link!

The question I have been asked most frequently about EVI is this: how are you getting others involved?

Today, we have an answer. We have designed a series of discussion questions for church groups across the country to pick up, discuss and respond to. Some of these questions are ones we’ve discussed in our own meetings. Others are FDTF-specific questions that we believe need broader input.

We hope that any group with a common interest in the church – youth groups, seniors groups, potluck groups, Bible study groups, small groups, or other groups – will discuss these questions and write a summary of that discussion to be posted right here on the blog. Our corner of the web will ideally become a gathering space for groups to compare notes, and for all to get a better sense of just how many people are excited to talk about the future of the church.

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Notes from one of the breakout groups at Hope MC, Sunday, April 17.

On Sunday, April 17, Kathleen Bergen, Laura Carr-Pries, Erin Froese and I were privileged to lead an Adult Education session at Hope Mennonite Church (Winnipeg) based on an earlier draft of these questions. My favourite part of that workshop was the way people from different generations (e.g. my dad) clustered in small groups and talked to each other about what church has meant to them in different parts of their lives. While no group was able to get through all the questions in a short period of time (there are a lot!), I saw those conversations as very encouraging and life-giving.

Moments like this give us a chance to remember and re-imagine what church means to us. We invite you to take that chance, in part by taking up our Discussion Questions.

Please submit your responses to any EVI member you know, or through our contact form (fun fact: those responses go straight to me). We look forward to hearing from many of you!

Jonas continues to manage EVI’s online presence, and usually writes these posts himself because it’s the fastest way to post new content on the fly. He hopes to get better at working in advance so that this blog can feature a wider variety of EVI authors.

Our Answer: New Questions