Brethren in Christ propose changing MWC’s name

May 16, 2016 by and

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Mennonite World Conference is considering a request to change its name to something more inclusive of its diverse members.

Women of the Brethren in Christ Church of Zimbabwe at the 2003 Mennonite World Conference assembly in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. — Paul Schrag/MWR

Women of the Brethren in Christ Church of Zimbabwe at the 2003 Mennonite World Conference assembly in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. — Paul Schrag/MWR

César García, MWC general secretary, said leaders of the Brethren in Christ Church in the U.S., a longtime member of MWC, sent the request to MWC early this year.

“This is not the first time this kind of discussion goes on,” García said. While the idea of changing MWC’s name had been raised in informal conversations, this was the first formal request in recent years.

The BIC letter did not suggest any specific name alternatives, García said.

Alan Robinson, national director for the BIC Church in the U.S., said the conversation began among the BIC leadership council while preparing for the MWC assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., in 2015.

“Some members of the council suggested that . . . it was not easy to communicate to our members of the Brethren in Christ Church why we’re attending Mennonite World Conference,” Robinson said. “We’re asking Breth­ren in Christ people to attend the conference of another church. That’s how it sounds to them.”

Additionally, he said, local news outlets repeatedly referred to the MWC assembly as a gathering of Mennonites.

“I thought to myself, ‘It’s not just Mennonites; there are others who are part of this gathering,’ ” Robinson said. “The term ‘Mennonite’ communicates a denominational identity. So why would we encourage our people to go to the conference meetings of another denomination? For clarity of communication, it was problematic.”

Robinson said BIC members familiar with MWC history would not have had those misunderstandings, but newer members had some confusion.

Possible timeline

At the annual MWC Executive Committee meeting in February, committee members decided to consider the BIC request. García said the MWC Faith and Life Commission now has the task to propose how a possible name change could be done.

The conversation is only in the beginning stages, but the Faith and Life Commission could pre­sent its proposal — and possibly suggestions for new names — at the 2017 Executive Committee meeting.

If approved, the proposal would be voted on at the 2018 meeting of the MWC General Council, which is composed of delegates from each member denomination and meets every three years. García said the General Council was scheduled to meet in April 2018 in Kenya.

But even prior to the BIC request, some name ideas were discussed.

“There have been some informal conversations about changing the name to ‘community’ or ‘communion’ ” García said. “ ‘Anabaptist World Community’ or ‘Anabaptist World Communion’ would be more accurate to what we are. However, there are many reasons why members want to keep the [current] name.”

García said MWC wanted to move forward with discussing the request.

“It pushed Mennonite World Conference to think about our identity,” he said.

History: The Brethren in Christ Church began in the 1770s in Pennsylvania with roots in the Anabaptist, Pietist and Wesleyan/holiness traditions. César García, Mennonite World Conference general secretary, said the denomination has historically been a strong supporter and involved member of MWC. It also participates in Mennonite Central Committee.

The BIC Church has been prominent in MWC in recent years, especially through its large presence in Zimbabwe. The 45,000-member BIC Church in Zimbabwe hosted the 2003 MWC assembly. BIC Bishop Danisa Ndlovu of Zimbabwe was president of MWC from 2009 to 2015.

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