Tour Reflection: Neighbours

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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

Witness Working Group: Feedback Wanted!

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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!


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Witness Working Group: Feedback Wanted!

Gerbrandt: Can MC Canada Become a “We”?

 

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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”?

Open Letter to FDTF from Partner in Philippines

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by Regina Mondez


In response to  Mennonite Church Canada’s Future Directions Task Force Summary, I would like to offer some thoughts on the importance of longterm international ministry, as opposed to the FDTF’s statement favouring commitments of a few months to a year.

In the last five years, I have been involved with Mennonite Church Canada ministry in the Philippines. My first involvement was as a full-time staff with Peacebuilders Community, and then I moved to Manila and became part of PeaceChurch Philippines. In the last three and a half years with PeaceChurch, we have been journeying together as a community – learning, dreaming, and struggling to follow Jesus in this conflicted land.

I grew up within the Integrated Mennonite Church (IMC), which was established with the help of foreign missionaries. It was a product of several missionaries coming to the Philippines primarily for livelihood assistance, and biblical education. In the late ‘70s to early ‘80s, a lot of people were attracted to the Mennonite teachings, and many church leaders and pastors “converted” to the Mennonite faith. The different churches across the country were later organized into an “integrated” Mennonite church. For many years, the Mennonite churches in the Philippines received financial support from North American churches. Today, the IMC no longer receives any foreign financial support, and continues to survive through its local churches’ meagre sources of income.

Research and experience led me to realize that the experience of the current IMC (still on ‘survival’ mode after many years) was a product of foreign mission with good intentions, but not a lot of good relational investments. The few people that foreign missionaries initially came in contact with were fully trusted with huge funds and projects for the church and for scholarships, but only a few of those projects created a long-term impact.

In the past decades, there was (perhaps) millions of dollars poured from North American churches towards supporting the church in the Philippines, but I still wonder why the huge amounts of support  has not produced concrete, tangible results visible at present. If there was anything that surfaced, it is the “relationship” built through years of connection. Missionaries who spent little time in the Philippines are never forgotten by the people they interacted with, the same way the Filipinos are remembered for their hospitality and friendship.

But why is the IMC still experiencing challenges within its own leadership and survival? There were relationships built by foreign missionaries to Filipino leaders, and there were funds that supported their initiatives in the past, but what could have gone wrong? I believe it was the time invested in building relationships. Foreign missionaries came for short visits, saw that people needed food, education, housing, livelihood assistance, among others, and they went back home to raise money to be sent to the people they built relationships with. The problem is, the way those charitable actions impacted the Filipino thinking was different from the original intentions. To avoid “colonial” type of missions, they let the locals decide on what to do with the huge amounts of money and how to distribute it. SO here is the underlying issue: Filipinos are not good financial managers. Most Mennonite churches are composed of members who grew up on day-to-day survival mode. What they earn for the day, they spend for the day. They are not used to huge amounts of money entrusted in their hands. If they receive more money than usual, the culture is to share it with their relatives, friends, and neighbours by having a feast for lunch, and the following day they might go hungry again.

This aspect of Filipino mind set is only one of many other things that could be different from a North American perspective. I can try to write longer to explain it, or there are perhaps tons of books published about the Filipino psyche that could be a good source of information, but an outsider can only truly understand our culture, the way we think, and the way we feel, if you spend time “experiencing” our culture. “Experiencing” a culture could be done in a 3-6 month “field trip,” but if the church is concerned in “understanding” the local culture, real-life, day-to-day interaction, laughter, communion, and struggles are the best ways to experience a culture. It only happens after years of investing authentic relationships with people.

At PeaceChurch, we have community members that come from various economic classes. This does not become a barrier for us to interact and share and live together as a community, but one of the things we are learning is that we need to be financially accountable to each other as a community. There are people in the community who may always need assistance for their daily survival, and the rest of us could always provide that. But if we really love them and care about them, we can teach them how to manage their own resources, how to save, and how to spend wisely. That is exactly one of the things we are working towards now. Teaching one another to be financially responsible is more helpful than dumping a million dollars into our bank account, which could probably disappear in a few months if we do not know how to manage it. But we can never arrive at this realization together, if the missionaries were only here for a few months. It takes a long time to be able to unfold every single layer of mistrust, shame (which is a big part of our culture), and indifference.

As Mennonite Church Canada is now looking toward its future direction, particularly on international ministry, I hope the Filipino experience would be considered. Cross-cultural ministry can be ‘colonial’ only if you do not truly and fully understand the culture you are going into. It matters little how many people you build relationships with – there could be thousands, there could only be one. But what matters is how much time you spend understanding that culture. How much emotion, more than finances, you invested with the people around you, and how much trust and confidence you developed, that once you figure out which area we needed help with, you can confidently offer support without being ‘colonial,’ but merely being a representative of Jesus in our lives.


Regina Mondez is a Mennonite Church Canada Witness partner in the Philippines. We are grateful to have her voice in the conversation. This letter was received via Darnell Barkman and is published with the author’s permission.

Open Letter to FDTF from Partner in Philippines