Our Closing Reflection

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by Emerging Voices Initiative

Emerging Voices Initiative is writing its final post.

Almost two years ago, we became involved in Mennonite Church Canada as Emerging Voices Initiative (EVI). We gathered as people committed to the well-being of the church, seeking ways to engage more deeply in the Future Directions Task Force and transition process. We never would have guessed that our work would take us to the place we are today.

As Mennonite Church Canada delegates have affirmed a new church structure, we have decided to formally discontinue Emerging Voices Initiative. When we began, we focused on the Future Directions Task Force’s final report, asking questions about the changing structure, and providing a forum for others to do so. We tried to listen closely and respond faithfully.

With the new structure affirmed, our chosen task has reached a fitting end. Instead of continuing as a group, we want our story to encourage young people to be heard in their own church settings. We hope the church will create and maintain space for young voices without the container of Emerging Voices Initiative.

We always felt conversations about change and transition needed to begin by considering the church’s calling. In all the discussions we have been part of, we have tried to keep our vision for the church at the centre. We pray that as the church transitions, we remain faithful to how Christ is calling us to be, in both words and actions. We hope for energy, honesty and compassion as we experiment with a new structure.

We owe thanks to many, especially to Mennonite Church Canada itself. Staff have been supportive of our work and patient with our questions. Last fall, we received generous funding from MC Canada to make our cross-country workshop tour possible.

Everyone who supported us, in any way, became part of our project. Delegates, congregants, pastors, professors, and more have responded to us with curiosity and enthusiasm. To all who participated, whether by adding a leaf to our tree of hope and lament at Assembly 2016 in Saskatoon, sending us a blog post, or simply being present, thank you.

Though EVI has come to a close, we are not leaving the church. We are all still here. We want to wrestle with questions of faithfulness and feasibility. We are committed to the future of the church. As the church is changing, we affirm what we wrote at the beginning:

We acknowledge that the church ultimately belongs to God and is a sign of God’s Kingdom. God is always working within and beyond the institutional church. We recognize that the world’s redemption is in God’s hands, and our actions and structures should reflect our best attempts to participate in God’s work, not control it. (A Vision for the Church)

From all of us at Emerging Voices Initiative, we’re glad to be church with you.

A few favourite moments.

This is our final post–it’s hard to know what to write down here! Of course, your comments are welcome. Our website will remain active as an archive of our work. Our contact page will also stay up for some time. Send us your questions, comments and shout-outs.

Thanks for visiting, reading and being part of our journey!

Our Closing Reflection

Tour Reflection: Institutions


by Anika Reynar

Can cultural, financial, and generational challenges really be addressed through a new structure?

During the EVI listening tour, this question was often repeated. It’s a question that continues to be asked implicitly in many of the Working Group reports, and was recently addressed by John. H Neufeld, in his article Constants in the context of change. In all of these places, I hear similar answers: Yes. We can imagine a new structure that will address some of the challenges we’re facing. But, no, a new structure is not and cannot be our end goal. It’s only a part of figuring out how to be the church together.

Throughout the transition process, a new structure has been posited as one way, if not the primary way, to respond to growing cultural challenges. By shifting resources from the National to the Regional Church, the hope, as expressed in A Proposal for Revitalizing MC Canada & Area Churches, is that the National church will function “as a place of connection, communion across the country, identity,” enabling us “to serve and worship God together more faithfully and effectively.”

This sounds good in principle. And yet, I want to linger for a moment with the word “effectively.” We want to move our church structure in the best and right direction. We want it to be effective. We desire to follow the calling of God’s Spirit in a time where we are challenged by trends that often seem to be beyond our control:

  • Individualism and a lack of commitment
  • Impatience with diversity
  • A shift to postmodernism (defined broadly by a distrust of objective certainties and absolute truths)
  • Technological fragmentation
  • Disillusionment with professionalized institutions

In light of these trends, what does our desire for an effective structure point to? What are we trying to accomplish? Let me test out an idea.

When faced with shifts that we feel are beyond our control, we try to find ways to be effective in the things we can exert control over, namely, the structure of the church. Yet, as we seek to take control of the direction of the church, our fears and anxieties about our lack of control over both the church, and the broader cultural trends surrounding us are also at play.

In the EVI listening tour, many people expressed a desire for control, and the feeling of lacking control over the direction the church is headed. These expressions might be split into two dominant and opposing postures: “Hanging on” and “Letting go.”

Those who are hanging on understand the National Church structure to be the best entity to mitigate individualism. Here, a desire was expressed that the National Church structure would continue to be the primary unifying body, functioning to:

  • Minimize further isolation and division between congregational groups
  • Maintain theological certainty
  • Hold together a common Mennonite/Anabaptist identity

Those who are letting go expressed a desire to release the “professionalized,” “hierarchized,” and “bureaucratic” national church institutions. In this posture, the increased focus on the congregation (rather than the National Church) comes with a sigh of relief, insofar as:

  • institutional and cultural identities can be held more loosely, recognizing, as one workshop participant stated, that “God is not bound by our structures.”
  • each congregation has the freedom to do as they choose, provided others are allowed to do the same.
  • Space is created for theological uncertainty.

Each of these postures carries its own dangers.

For those who are holding on, the desire for a stable Mennonite identity and an effective structure can quickly come at the cost of creativity and flexibility, and can effect the marginalization of those on the theological and geographical edges.

For those who are letting go, the temptation is to fall into a pattern of independence and toleration where each congregation lets the others do as they wish, seeking neither unification nor agreement. Here, the temptation is to avoid the differences that might make conversation worthwhile.

At the Mennonite Church Canada Special Assembly in October, these postures, as well as other postures, will be brought into the same space. As various perspectives intersect, I hope that each of us will be open enough to recognize that no one person has possession of truth. I hope that we will be humble enough to recognize that we’re not going to get the structure right. I hope that we are aware enough to recognize that whatever structure we choose, it is not going to solve the many challenges that we face in today’s time and age.

So where does this leave us?

I think it leaves us with the question that was appropriately posed by John H. Neufeld: “What is the core vision for the church which undergirds whatever structures we create and is foundational for the life of every congregation?”

I would suggest this: When we think about the core vision for the church, let’s remember that we all belong within the same story – the story of Jesus.

Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus taught his disciples to release all desires for power and control. Jesus continues to call us, the church, to form a new social body that is not enslaved to the powers, structures, and claims of the world, but rather is focused on the love of enemy, nonviolent resistance, repentance, servanthood, and so on.

This release of control, and commitment to the path of Jesus, is patient and vulnerable work. As we near the assembly in October, I hope that we will be wise enough to recognize, in the words of John Howard Yoder, that “the key to the obedience of God’s people is not their effectiveness but their patience.”

So let us be patient, seeking to listen deeply to the people who have already done incredible discernment work — the Transition team, the working groups, various congregations, members of EVI, and others – as well as to those voices who have yet to speak.

This piece continues our series of post-tour reflections. For the summary of themes covered, click here. Let us know what you think! Leave a comment below, or send a message.

Tour Reflection: Institutions

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.

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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.

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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