Anderson: FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations


by Sara Anderson

Last November, a group of Christian settlers belonging to various denominations from the Haldimand Tract (and elsewhere in Southern Ontario) spent three days together with Indigenous folks from the Six Nations of the Grand River, with the goal of talking about “what’s next for the church and Indigenous communities.” While it was clear that everyone attending had vastly different levels of knowledge of some of the issues facing Indigenous communities in Canada today, the learning that we were able to accomplish through visits to the Mohawk Institute residential school in Brantford, participating in a traditional territorial welcome, and sharing meals and stories with each other, allowed us to come away with a sense that we had begun to build a relationship with some members of the Six Nations community. There continues to be interest in strengthening this relationship through further gatherings and retreats. This to me stands out as an example of how Christian settlers can begin to build long-term relationships with their Indigenous neighbours.

I would like to hear a more consistent call and commitment from Mennonite Church Canada for more education and relationship-building with Indigenous neighbours within area churches and various congregations. Some congregations are quite far along in this journey of reconciliation, while others are further behind. Continuing to identify this as a priority I think will be key to keep congregations aware of these issues and hopefully will inspire them to build relationships with their local Indigenous neighbours and other settler allies.

I’d also like to see Mennonite Church Canada promote more opportunities for liaising with other organizations (both Christian, settler, and Indigenous) who are already on this journey. Reconciliation in the Canadian context between Indigenous peoples and settlers almost requires an ecumenical attitude, and I would love to see Mennonite Church Canada encourage area churches and congregations to be aware of and engage with other groups who are working towards the same goal.

However, I would also have a word of caution for settlers. Too many times in Canadian history have Indigenous people heard commitments made, and then saw those commitments subsequently broken.  It may be a disservice to Indigenous peoples to give them voices in our churches without these strong and sustained commitments accompanied by continued learning and growing, in addition to our actions as allies. As a national church body, area conferences and congregations, we will need to think carefully about the long road ahead and what it would mean for us to commit ourselves to building these relationships through both easy and difficult times.

As for FDTF specifically, I worry that without a national vision for the Settler-Indigenous relations program in Mennonite Church Canada constantly being re-articulated and re-evaluated based on on-going relationships already cultivated within the program, some area conferences and congregations might never make settler-Indigenous relations a priority; or they may have wildly different and contradictory approaches to this relationship. The Indigenous Relations program is an important resource for area conferences and congregations across the country to access, and it is a resource based in cultivating relationships that have been years in the making. While it is important that area conferences and congregations build relationships with local Indigenous neighbours, if they are uncertain where to begin, the Mennonite Church Canada Indigenous Relations program is a proven resource that they can take advantage of.

Sara is a member of Ottawa Mennonite Church and works in the Indigenous Rights program at KAIROS Canada. She is a Master’s candidate in the School of Canadian Studies at Carleton Univerrsity. The above reflections are a summary of email correspondence between Sara and EVI. Click here to read the full transcript.

For more on FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations, see Moses Falco’s post from earlier this week.

Anderson: FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations

Falco: FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations

by Moses Falco

For 7 years, our church, Sterling Mennonite Fellowship, has been engaged in a partnership with Living Word Church in Cross Lake, northern Manitoba. Over those years, we have visited that community at least once a year to spend time there, build relationships and learn from one another. Going to Cross Lake is one of the highlights of my year because I encounter God in so many unexpected ways.

[All of us] need to have eyes to see and ears to hear. Not everything will make sense to us. Cultural and spiritual traditions are not always comfortable when they seem foreign. But if we create space to listen and learn, we will begin to see things in a new way. Traditionally, there has not been a lot of room to listen. We are quick to defend our history, or to say, “it wasn’t me.” Settlers don’t like to think of themselves as the problem. We need to rethink some of our stereotypes of Indigenous peoples and begin to see them as brothers and sisters. When we start to do that, our structures and processes will reflect that.

The vision of the Future Directions Task Force puts an emphasis on Indigenous-Settler relations. This is good. It calls congregations of all levels to be engaged in this work and to work together for collective initiatives. When it comes down to it, most of the work happens at the local level, where congregations discern the ways in which they can build relationships with Indigenous communities. However, there is a large part of resourcing, connecting, and awareness building that happens on the national level through the offices of Mennonite Church Canada. I think it is vitally important for that work to continue, where the churches are reminded of the responsibilities and opportunities that are available to them. I think that the proposal of FDTF still makes room for that, but I think we need to be deliberate about making that happen. To simply forget about it in this restructuring would be a great loss.

Moses Falco is pastor at Sterling Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg, MB. These reflections are summarized from a longer email exchange between Moses and EVI. Click here to read the full version.

Update (June 25, 2016): For more on FDTF and Settler-Indigenous relations, see Sara Anderson’s reflections.

Falco: FDTF and Settler-Indigenous Relations

FDTF Addendum May 2016

EVI Logo

by Emerging Voices Initiative

We are excited to share this great development in the conversation. The Assembly 2016 Discernment Guide includes an addendum to the Future Directions Task Force final report, written by the Task Force. This addendum discusses many of the concerns that have come up in our conversations and on our blog.

On June 3, four of us (Peter, Katrina, Anika and Jonas) met with leaders from all Area Churches and MC Canada. We all agreed that this addendum should be shared beyond those who would receive the Discernment Guide.

You can download a copy of the Addendum (taken from the Discernment Guide) at the link below. Please read it, share it, and let us know your thoughts!

Download – FDTF Addendum May 2016


Don’t forget – Assembly 2016 is just over two weeks away! Please pray for all those who will travel to Saskatoon, and stay involved in the conversation even if you can’t attend.
FDTF Addendum May 2016

Regier: Response to FDTF

by Waldemar Regier (no photo available)

My Response to “Church and the FDTF”

I would like to make some observations regarding the FDTF conversations recently
published and being discussed. Let me identify my perspective. I have always been part of the “Mennonite” world; called to Jesus Christ in my early years, active in the fellowship of the Church throughout my youth, trained by the Church through CMBC and AMBS and Colgate Rochester Divinity School. I was ordained into pastoral ministry in 1964, just at the time of transition into the professional ministry in Canada. As a pastor, I participated fully in the larger fellowships of the Mennonite Church in North America, including numerous levels of integration decision-making meetings. I retired in 1999, having served four congregations during my tenure. I am currently a member of the Waterloo-Kitchener United Mennonite Church in Waterloo (pictured above).

I view the FDTF proposals as a swinging of the pendulum rather than an attempt to discover something new in structure and intent of the Church. What I observed over m
y tenure was high-energy participation in the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, as it was then called. Over the decades I observed an increased concentration of decision-making at conference by leadership, and a decrease of cross conference conversation and substantial debates over issues of life and mission. With this shift, delegates tended to feel less valued in attending and supporting the conference-wide mission. An increasingly bureaucratic system was being built up; less interest was placed in the local congregation’s well-being and vitality. Less money from the local congregations meant that more funds were sought from individuals, especially for larger national and international projects. From this point of view, a renewed focus on congregational life is certainly a healthy corrective.

However, the other side of the coin has to do with the vitality of a national fellowship in which decisions and mutual support constitutes part of what “church” is. The boat with two paddles is an image that comes to mind. In one way you could say that you can’t keep the family together if you don’t have meaningful family gatherings where things are debated, discussed, and learned in the framework of that meaningful context.
Although the rather defensive attempt by the study group to explain the “Myths and Realities” of the project, the very attempt at making a new proposal is suspect by virtue of its being initiated from the “National Church” from the beginning! (In my mind “Mennonite Church Canada” is still a misnomer since that is not a “church” in Mennonite ecclesiological understanding! It is still, for me a conference of congregations, not a church per se.) In my opinion, the loss of a meaningful national “fellowship” is precisely the reason a group like EVANA is waiting in the wings to usurp it. Unfortunately, this movement seems to have spiked on the issues of sexuality and the struggling attempts by the larger national body to find some common ground. A stronger congregational polity would, at this point, allow congregations to follow the leading of the Spirit as they were able. And a more loosely meaningful wider fellowship would allow congregations that freedom to be different while remaining in “fellowship”. In my opinion we are already five years too late in re-studying and revising the Confession of Faith in Mennonite Perspective. Church pastors are now using this tired document as a prescriptive statement of our faith, rather than a descriptive statement of our faith when it was written; and this now, on the issue of sexuality, not pacifism, evolution or any other issue raising its head currently.

There has been a continued decrease in financial support for the so-called “national church.” This has been a problem for some time and is a symptom of something deeper going on. It is fine, and very necessary, to search for renewal in the church and if that comes, financial issues resolve themselves. Just watch how the EVANA budgets will flourish as our own global mission is forced into decline. But that success is not evidence of spiritual renewal as such, but is simply the taking up of the political space of something that was there before. Fortunately the EVANA group is honest enough, reluctantly, to admit that their whole project is precipitated on the “one man-one woman” definition of marriage in the Confession of Faith! Everything else seems not to be at issue. And that is where I find problematic the directions that are taking place.

Let me also add that the stronger regionalism has brought about the weakening of the national reality. I have had increasing sadness about the whole integration process in our region. I had always objected to the region named Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (which always implied a Mennonite Church Western Canada, didn’t it?). The concentration of area church programming and leadership trying to fill the broader mission will also eventually falter with eventual reduction of resources, as has happened in both Canada and the USA. The issue is, as the FDTF group rightly identifies, confusion of identities. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater has not been the solution here, in my opinion. Solutions might lie in the regular “gathering” of the Church nation-wide, if not to make decisions, then at least to worship and commune together like MWC, so that we can feel the fellowship. In addition to such fellowship, the Canadian Mennonite is the one major instrument that gives us a sense of identity across Canada. If we lose that too, we lose any meaningful identity of our Mennonite family across Canada.
-Waldemar Regier – May 2016

Waldemar retired from pastoral ministry in 1999 after serving four different congregations. He currently attends Waterloo-Kitchener United Mennonite Church. These reflections were submitted through our Contact Form, and published by the author’s permission.

Regier: Response to FDTF

Gerbrandt: Can MC Canada Become a “We”?




by Gerald Gerbrandt

One thing became very clear during the task force conversation:  in the imagination of most of us, Mennonite Church Canada (similarly, even if perhaps not to the same extent, the Area Churches) is an “it” or “they.”  Currently the larger denomination is experienced as an entity apart from, distinct from, the local congregation and its members.  We may affirm the services the denomination provides, or the programs it delivers, but these are “it” doing things for “us.” Having staff convey greetings from Mennonite Church Canada at congregations or regional assemblies reflects and only supports that impression.  It is not uncommon to view the denomination as competing with the local congregation for resources and attention.  Pastors easily feel that attending denominational assemblies is a responsibility or obligation, not a gathering of partners from which they benefit, or as times for strengthening local and larger identity, or local and larger mission.

How did we get here?  Did it begin in the 1970s as denominational leadership shifted from pastors to lay people?  Or did this trend already begin earlier with the hiring of staff, the adopting of budgets, and the growth of programs?  How much was it impacted by the dramatically increased professionalization of assemblies where budgets were no longer debated in detail or revised on the floor?  Did the merger of 2000 bringing formerly separate traditions, along with the creation of a new structure and new name, play a factor?

To reverse this trend will require diligent effort.  After all, we live in a time in which larger identities are weakened everywhere, and localism is prominent.  But the Christian church is called to be counter-cultural.  As kingdom cells, we must nurture an identity not simply shaped by the world around us.

It may be helpful to remind ourselves of the larger picture, and of who we are.  I begin with three convictions:

  • That the Christian church is first and foremost the world-wide body of Christ. Indeed, this is the most important reference of the word “church,” and as such the church is a seamless garment transcending all geographic and denominational divisions.  Anything less is only part of the church.  Our tendency to speak of Anabaptist distinctives works against appreciating this conviction.
  • That the local gathering of Christians (not any particular form of the congregation—much greater diversity is needed here) is the foundational unit within the larger church. This is where real people worship together, fellowship together, and witness to others.  The congregation, however it may be formed is the flesh and blood, or cells of the organic whole, out of which the worldwide church and denomination is formed.
  • That Mennonite Church Canada (with its Area Churches, programs, congregations, members) is a critical middle level between congregation and the world-wide church. Although an imperfect body, it remains the primary vehicle by which congregations participate in, dialogue with, benefit from, and contribute to the larger church.  It serves as the passageway between the individual congregation and the larger church with resources, wisdom and identity flowing both ways.

Local gatherings of Christians, as well as the church as the world-wide body of Christ, are enduring “givens” already present in New Testament times.  In contrast, Mennonite Church Canada as an organization, even taking into consideration its predecessor bodies, has existed for less than two centuries.  Despite this contingent nature, I believe for today it is the best way for our congregations to participate in the larger body of Christ, and of nurturing biblical convictions important within Anabaptism.  And further, that in the face of contemporary pressures towards localism, building up that middle level must be a priority for us.

To say that is not a defense of the status quo, nor an argument for greater centralized programing.  In fact, it requires that we change the way we work together so that the middle level becomes more critical in shaping our identity and mission, so that it truly inspires, resources, and holds congregations accountable as part of the larger body of Christ.

But this will only be achieved if the national body is experienced not as distant from the congregation, not as an “it” but a “we.”  It will require greater congregational participation in that larger church, not less.  The proposal that congregations become responsible for the national agenda and body via their Area Churches may not be the only way to structure this.  But it is a way of building up from the congregation, rather than from the top down.  “We” are Mennonite Church Canada—the members of the congregation, the congregation in its local activities and mission, the Area Churches as they relate to congregations and work together in national identity building and programs.

Critical in this reimagined model are the local congregational leaders, especially pastors.  The conferences preceding Mennonite Church Canada all began as gatherings of congregational leaders, lay ministers, who experienced these gatherings as life-giving.  Here they reflected on their theology, they challenged each other’s understandings, they fellowshipped together, they held each other accountable, and over time, they became persuaded that the mission of God would be furthered by programs undertaken by the congregations working together. One might even say they began as “we” working together, and evolved into “it” doing it for us.  The programs did not drive the identity but developed out of it.

The proposal to develop a Congregation of Ministerial Leadership is one concrete suggestion for fostering that congregational ownership of the larger body.  Retired pastors, theologians and other church leaders might well be included, but its core should be congregational leaders.  The proposal does not tie this entity as integrally to the rest of the structure as it might, but that may also be one of its strengths. Its focus then can be on asking larger questions, not administering major programs, with potentially a new “Faith and Life Committee” developing out of it.  Alongside it is the suggestion that congregations broaden their leadership beyond paid pastors to include lay or non-paid ministers.  This would then be a significant body of congregational leaders which over time has the potential to shape our larger identity.

Obviously this one proposal alone cannot carry all the weight of fostering a greater “we.”  Other aspects of the task force report are critical as well.  A national program in pastoral leadership development, along with a national vision and strategy for higher education are necessary, and consistent with an understanding of congregations as the building blocks of the whole.  Consistent, integrated communication with congregations, with a common look and branding will help.  A significant program (e.g., international witness) in and around which congregations can participate and rally also is important. Regular gatherings for study, worship and fellowship are needed.

Moving from the denomination as an “it” to a “we” will not happen overnight.  But it is a crucial step in nurturing a greater sense of identity in and with the larger church, the body of Christ, with a significant presence and witness in our society.

Gerald Gerbrandt is President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus at Canadian Mennonite Unviersity, and a member of the Future Directions Task Force. The views expressed above are not on behalf of the Task Force. We are grateful for Gerald’s second contribution to our blog-see also: Reflecting on the FDTF Report.

Gerbrandt: Can MC Canada Become a “We”?