by Anneli Loepp Thiessen
Diversity. The “D” word. Something we want, but don’t know how to achieve. Something we talk about to assure ourselves we are sensitive to differences. Something we would do anything for. Well, almost anything.
Throughout our EVI tour, diversity came up frequently. We heard questions such as: “How can we be more diverse?” “What can we do to make ourselves more welcoming?” We heard laments that the attendees at our events were mostly of European descent. We heard laments that the Interim Council was predominantly males.
Diversity came up a lot.
While we heard disappointment and fear in our discussions on diversity, we also heard stories of hope. We heard about churches that offered “how-to” nights in their communities. We heard about churches that successfully incorporated a second language into their services. We heard about churches that were so committed to gender balance that it became a number one priority in creating church structures. We heard about churches that created meaningful connections with their local community centres.
In a time when we are already in so much transition, it can be difficult to think about all the other ways that our church might be called to transition. In making our Mennonite church more accessible to our neighbours, some suggested that we have to make a very intentional move to give something up. Some wondered if we need to stop asking who an individual’s grandparents are. Others wondered if we need to stop singing songs with words that are foreign even to fluent English speakers. It was suggested that larger portions of budget need to be given to outreach initiatives.
These changes come with huge amounts of sacrifice. They mean holding our traditions more loosely and daring to venture outside our walls.
When Laura Carr-Pries and I were in Waterloo for the EVI tour in November, we had the chance to sit down with Brian Bauman (MCEC’s Mission Minister) and discuss some of his insight on the topic. Brian observes that relationships are the key to establishing connections with our neighbours. While this may seem obvious, it struck me as somewhat revolutionary when he shared the insight with us.
Establishing relationships with strangers can be intimidating, but I believe it has the potential to be incredibly rewarding.
As we look at questions of diversity in the gender of our leadership structures, what strikes me is that even today, when so much more equality has been achieved than in previous decades, it takes a very intentional effort to achieve gender diversity. This goes for inequalities of both genders. It is clear that there is gender imbalance in the Interim Council for Mennonite Church Canada. But there are also areas within our church that men are clearly the minority, like nursery helpers in many congregations.
As much as I wish I had the solution to creating more diverse congregations, I don’t. What I did learn throughout our tour is that becoming a more diverse church needs to be an intentional effort on our part. We need to go out of our way to build relationships. We need to keep seeking out gender balance, not taking “no” for an answer. We need to restructure our systems to accommodate different ethnicities and genders.
Are we up for it? Conversations throughout our tour would suggest that yes, we are. So let’s take this time to continue to collaborate, brainstorm, and partner together to share the church we love so deeply with everyone.
This is the second post in our series of in-depth tour reflections. Click here to find the list of other themes that we’re exploring.
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