Tour Reflection: Leadership


by Madeleine Wichert

What makes a good leader? A brainstorm on this question often yields an impressive list of ideals, qualities, and characteristics. Even if we feel that we ourselves don’t match up to our own standards of a leader, we hope there are some out there who do, and who we may look to and trust as our leaders. I think most of us know that we hold others to very high standards, especially when it comes to leadership. Those who are responsible should, many would argue, be held to higher standards of morality and conduct. In many ways, our brainstorm on what makes a good leader is important in discerning who will lead well. In other ways, this same list of aspirations and ideals can become a measuring stick which is put against people, and a rubric of evaluation by which we judge whether someone is passing or failing. How can we be good stewards of our language, the words we use and the expectations we convey regarding leadership? How can our language be a constructive rather than destructive tool in discussions of transition?

Throughout EVI’s work, and particularly our workshop tour, leadership was one of the themes which came up regularly. It was even in one of our guiding questions for discussion: “what do you want the leaders of Mennonite Church Canada to know?” A wealth of different thoughts, feelings, and perspectives emerged in the responses to this question. There was a concern and push for more youth leadership, which Katrina’s blog post talks about. There were comments about who is the future of the Church, explored in our tour summary reflection. Discussions of diversity came up, addressed by Anneli. And of course, there was much discussion around the formal structural leadership within Mennonite Church Canada, as it currently stands as well as visions and fears for the future. This element of the leadership question is usually what people are referring to when they talk about “our leaders,” and will be the focus of the rest of this post.

2017-01-15 09.53.51
Workshop participants in Lethbridge, AB.

This particular area of leadership bears the tension of many hopes, expectations, frustrations, disappointments, and trust. The language used in talking about “our leaders,” or, “the leadership of MC Canada” throughout our workshops certainly conveyed this tension, which I will attempt, in turn, to convey here. We heard—in every place we visited—a deep gratitude for the energy, care, and work of our leaders, often alongside a sense of frustration. We heard a desire for leaders who can make decisions and lead the way, and a desire for collective participation in those decisions so that they feel truly representative. We heard a hope for leaders who are grounded, as well as a need for leaders to be flexible and creative. We heard people’s comfort in having a designated official leadership, in tension with the call for shared responsibility within a priesthood of all believers. We heard the anticipation and hope people have for the potential of the Future Directions transition, and we heard a lot of fear. And we heard, quite often, the tension between the trust people have in our leaders, and a sense of mistrust and call for greater transparency. Overall, it seemed the answers to the question of what people want our leadership to know had more to do with what makes a good leader, and the kind of leaders the Church needs, than anything else.

I wonder whether an important question to be asking now is, “what do we expect of our leaders? What exactly is their role in this thing we call Church?” Perhaps this is an obvious question with self-evident answers, since I just spent the last three paragraphs talking about it. But you may recall that the feedback and themes I summarized were responses to a different question. I opened with the question, “What makes a good leader?” That’s a good question, not unrelated, but a slightly different perspective. Our language and discussions often seem to convey our expectations of who our leaders should be—the whole vast list of them—without actually addressing the question of what their (and our) roles are within the body of Christ.

Once we shift the angle and focus of the question, a new discussion emerges. At the centre of all the conflicting, important, fruitful, dialectic, and overwhelming expectations, what is the role of the Church’s leadership, whoever may fall into that category? At risk of over-simplification, I would like to propose, based on everything I’ve heard on tour and in conversations since then, that a leader’s role is this: relationship. Connecting with all the different “levels” or areas of Church, facilitating connections across the country, communication, transparency, humble and open listening, praying with and for each other, trust-building. Is it possible for much else to really be accomplished if there is not first the foundation of relationship from which to interact and work? (For another perspective on the conversation of relationship, have a look at Laura’s blog post.)

The above may sound like a rhetorical question. Taken as such, it certainly portrays my own biases, from which I write. For those with different biases, however, they are genuine questions. I hope we can all be open to listening to each other’s collective wisdom. I personally have come to understand the centrality of relationship- and trust-building to be true in many areas of leadership. If the leaders of a congregation are those with pastoral roles, with the primary role being relationship, then doesn’t it make sense for it to also be so on the national level? Through relationship, the work, challenge, and joy that it brings, all the tensions described earlier can somehow be held together.

I will close here by reiterating the immense gratitude there is for the leaders of our Church, national, regional, and congregational. You have answered a calling which not many would wish to take on. Please continue to work in the vulnerability of relationship. For the rest of us, may we remember to show our care as well as our expectations, in our words and actions, and remember that we are all the Church together.

This is the fifth in our in-depth tour reflection series. Click here for a summary of all the topics we’re exploring.

We love comments! Leave one here or send us a message.

Tour Reflection: Leadership

Tour Reflection: Neighbours


by Laura Carr-Pries

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbour as yourself.

I grew up hearing these words in Sunday school, in stories and songs, and memorizing this scripture passage.  These words carry what I have come to understand as a core piece of the Christian faith, and hold particular significance in the Mennonite tradition. With strong connections to non-violence, peacebuilding and service work, if makes sense that during our workshop tour, some stated that “the name Mennonite means to be a witness to everyone.”

Engaging with our neighbours has been central for how the Mennonite church has understood itself and the Bible, but that doesn’t mean that we’ve figured out the best way to do this. Because of deep care for our neighbours, we ask questions about how to do this well, both locally and globally. Throughout the course of the tour, I heard people sharing a deep concern for what is happening in the Mennonite church regarding mission and service, particularly international witness. Continue reading “Tour Reflection: Neighbours”

Tour Reflection: Neighbours

Tour Reflection: Youth


by Katrina Woelk

In some ways, you’ve already heard my thoughts on this topic. In November 2016, I wrote a post about being intergenerational. Youth and young adult engagement is included in that. I still believe what I said back then. We are all the church right now. Youth and young adults are not just the future, but have to be understood as the church here and now (along with everyone else).

Because of this understanding, I think it’s somewhat dangerous to write a blog post about specific age demographic. It suggests that one age group is more important than another. However, the topic of engaging the “emerging generation” came up across the country, and in every single conversation. Because of this, we decided that we need to let everyone know what the rest of the country is thinking, and dive into understanding our youth and young adult demographic—the demographic that is already the church in a variety of different ways, and will continue to be. Continue reading “Tour Reflection: Youth”

Tour Reflection: Youth

Tour Reflection: Diversity


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.

Tell us what you think! Comment here, or send us a message.

Tour Reflection: Diversity

Tour Reflection: Hearing Each Other


by Jonas Cornelsen

Some things are so obvious they need to be said. Hearing each other well is essential for being church. This is a delicate theme, because we aren’t doing it well. The effects of distance—both geographical and theological—are being felt within and among our churches.

Reading the responses we collected on tour, and reflecting on my experience, I notice two major threads:

  • We feel strain in our relationships—we desire unity, but it’s hard work
  • We feel a disconnect between different “levels” of Mennonite Church Canada

I’ll start with relationships, and then suggest some connections with the idea of levels. Continue reading “Tour Reflection: Hearing Each Other”

Tour Reflection: Hearing Each Other

Witness Working Group: Feedback Wanted!

EVI Logo-Web BG

by Emerging Voices Initiative

The Witness Working Group for the Mennonite Church Canada transition process is well underway, and they need your help! Group member Claire Hanson has made a survey for youth and young adults to give their thoughts on the future of MC Canada’s Witness programs. If you fall into those categories (self-selected), please take a few minutes to fill it out!

CLICK HERE to find the survey (via SurveyMonkey).

This is not an EVI-specific effort, but in the spirit of growing conversation, we’re happy to share it!

EVI Home | Contact Us

Witness Working Group: Feedback Wanted!

Tour Reflection – A Litany

EVI Logo-Web BG

by Emerging Voices Initiative

During our workshop tour last fall and winter, one of the most meaningful parts of each event was reading a litany with everyone gathered. We developed this litany from a collection of hopes and laments that were written on paper leaves and pinned to a tree by attendees at Assembly 2016 last summer. When we shared this litany on tour, we encouraged participants to imagine the ‘we’ as not only those gathered in this room, but as people from across Mennonite Church Canada – we may have different concerns, but we all share a love for the church.

EVI members Tim Wenger and Esther Derksen add leaves to the tree at Assembly 2016.

The litany will help us focus the still-coming reflection posts based on the themes of our summary. The full text follows (bolded parts read by all):

Creator God,
In this place, we gather as your people.
We gather, in the presence of friends
Seeking to be the church together
We gather, aware of our divisions
recognizing that history and hurt still dis-member us.
We gather, aware of those who are absent
And remembering those who have come before us.

In this place, we carry our fears…
Our fear of difference
Our fear of Isolation
Our fear that silences our courage
Our fear of losing our love for each other
Our fear of the future
Together, we cry,
Lord, in your mercy, calm our fears.

In this place, we name our losses…
The loss of a broad national identity
The loss of a communal voice
The loss of congregations
The loss of trust in our leaders
Together, we cry,
Lord, in your mercy, hold our losses.

In this place, we acknowledge those who are hurting…
Those who feel excluded
Because of…
race or sexual orientation
family history or past experiences
belief or perspective.
Those who feel silenced (pause)
Together, we cry,
Lord, in your mercy, heal our wounds.

In this place, we affirm our faith that
God is moving, and is greater than our fears
Jesus is at the center of our church
The Holy Spirit is leading us
Together, we pray,
Lord, in your mercy, guide our path.

In this place, we long for a spirit of welcome
For a church that is
A home to the outcast
A place for the outnumbered
Joy for the oppressed
Love for the hated
Gentleness to the oppressor
And peace for the broken
Together, we pray,
Lord, in your mercy, encourage our hospitality.

In this place, we hope for a unified church
Where intergenerational bonds are strong
Where shared underlying values are recognized
Where friendships are formed amongst differences
Where young voices remind us that the church is a gift
Together, we pray,
Lord, in your mercy, gather your church

In this place, we join our voices. Together, we pray,
O God, who longs for reconciliation with us and among us,
We long for a re-membering,
A reformation of broken bodies,
Shattered relationships,
And scattered communities.
Enfold us in your embrace,
That we may return to the kind of wholeness we need.

O God, giver of joy,
We thank you for stories,
For voices joined in song,
For friends, family, and strangers
And for this community gathered here.
Enfold us in your embrace,
That we may always turn to You in gratitude.
Through your grace we pray, Amen.

This litany is free to use and modify with attribution to Emerging Voices Initiative, 2017.

We’re glad to be church with you! As always, you can comment here, or send us a message.

Tour Reflection – A Litany