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

Advent According to the Gospel of Mni Winconi: A Reflection on the Future of Mennonite Church Canada


by David Driedger

I confess that increasingly I can only understand the Gospel story, to the extent that I can understand it all, as the story of the Indigenous people that surround me. My ability to hear, let alone speak, good news is entangled in the church’s past ‘mission’ and present impact on Indigenous communities in Canada. For this reason I believe that moving into the future with any integrity means naming a commitment to ongoing relations with our Indigenous neighbours, traditional and Christian.

Inasmuch as this commitment is to the ongoing work of confession and repentance for past abuses it also means attentiveness and willingness to hear the good news as it emerges from their present actions. What follows is a testimony offered for the Future Direction of Mennonite Church Canada (both the interim council and the congregations invested in our future) in the belief that the blessing of our denomination is tied to the blessings present and possible for the Indigenous people with whom we share this land.

This commitment to hearing the good news of the Indigenous of Turtle Island has culminated in the resistance at Standing Rock particularly as the Advent season begins. The elders and water protectors at Standing Rock have declared a spiritual act of resistance in protection of the land and the waters. The events surrounding these acts have an uncanny resonance with Advent.

Advent begins with apocalyptic imagery. We listen to the prophets with images of longing that offer resistance to the overwhelming powers of the present. This longing is transformed into hope of something that can break through these seemingly unstoppable powers.

Oh come, oh come Immanuel and ransom captive Israel.

“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.” – Mark 13:24-25

Within those visions the nations and wealth of the world will stream to God’s holy mountain in which the people will gather that they might learn war no more.

In days to come the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be raised above the hills; all the nations shall stream to it.

Many peoples shall come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. – Isaiah 2:2-4

And the nations have come to Standing Rock, the nations of the world represented by various tribes, religions, cultures, and causes (with military veterans being the latest to join putting down their guns with a commitment to ‘fight’ in the nonviolent ways led by the water protectors). The prophets say that the wealth of nations will flow to this mountain in that time as well, and it has with millions in monetary support as well as gifts of various sorts coming in; these gifts offered in honour of this vision for peace (Isaiah 66:12).

Advent is marked by signs. At Bethlehem they followed a star and to Standing Rock they have followed a river and the Black Snake (from the Sacred Stone website: When we refer to the pipeline as a black snake, we are referencing an old Lakota prophecy that speaks of a black snake [zuzeca sape] crossing the land, bringing with it destruction and devastation).  This is an important reminder that in the Ancient Near East the stars were political symbols, and a shift or sign in the heavens reflected a shift in the powers of the earth. And so at Standing Rock the political, the natural, and the spiritual have converged in signs and wonders.

Around the world we watched as a buffalo herd came to show strength and support to the water protectors. We watched as the US empire doubled down in its power electing Donald Trump who heralded the ‘good old days’ of law and order (for white people). As Adrian Jacobs tweeted,

The eagle spoke concerning Trump.
sparrow spoke concerning Bernie.
buffalo spoke concerning #NoDAPL.
The colonizers did not listen.

The signs were given.

And then we heard news of the birth of a child.

mni-wiconiWe heard good news. A woman with child came to the camp to be counted among her people. There was no room for her but she came to make room, to make a supportive space for other women there. She gave birth alone to which she later testified that the spirits of her ancestors surrounding her; this cloud of women calling her blessed. And she has named her child Mni Winconi, Water is Life.

I do not claim anything profound or original in these observations only to say that if ever I have felt the weight and presence of signs and wonders it is now. If ever I have got a sense of what it means to have the privilege of overhearing the Gospel, even at a distance, it is now. It is hopeful, deeply hopeful. With word of the pipeline now halted and under review we should hear resounding in our ears the words of Mary’s song,

Creator has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly; 
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.

But as much as it is hopeful it is frightful because the Gospel is clear about the how the powers of this world will respond. As Adrian Jacobs reminded me, there are many ‘Rachels’ who will no doubt continue to weep (Jer 31:15 // Matt 2:18) in the events to come perhaps at Standing Rock or in other Indigenous communities.

It is with the testimony at Standing Rock, the witnesses of Idle No More and the countless communities of resistance and resurgence (I think of Meet me at the Bell Tower and Bear Clan Patrol here in Winnipeg) that the Mennonite Church needs to continue to attend to; to pray for ears to hear and eyes to see. The work of Mennonite Church Canada will no doubt be more than our work of Indigenous Relations, but somehow I simply cannot imagine that it will be less; I believe that our faithfulness to the Gospel depends on it.

David Driedger is Associate Minister of First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, MB. His web presence can be found at

Advent According to the Gospel of Mni Winconi: A Reflection on the Future of Mennonite Church Canada

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