Dear MB Church
If you wrote a letter to your denomination or area conference, what would you say?
That’s the question Carol Penner asked herself recently. In her case, it was about the Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
Penner, pastor at Lendrum Mennonite Brethren Church in Edmonton, Alta., felt there wasn’t enough room in the MB Conference for people to share their thoughts and concerns. The denominational periodical Mennonite Brethren Herald lacked a wide range of voices, as did provincial and national meetings.
So she decided to start a blog. Titled “Dear MB Church,” it’s a place for her and others to share their thoughts with the conference on issues that don’t seem to get an airing in official spaces.
“I believe that the church makes the wisest decisions when all the voices in the church are given a hearing,” said Penner about why she started the blog. “I think vigorous debate with a variety of viewpoints is essential for discerning the will of God. I don’t think that right now there are many places for that vigorous debate to take place in the MB conference.”
For Penner, who will leave Lendrum this summer to become a professor of practical theology at Conrad Grebel College in Waterloo, Ont., a blog seemed the best way to create a space for this discussion.
“It’s a public forum where people can share their ideas,” she said, noting that it also is a way for people to be accountable for what they write. “It’s a way to get people thinking about the church.”
A blog is also easier to read than an email string, as happened last year when CCMBC leadership unilaterally decided to stop publishing the Herald.
Penner was included in an email list of about 40 people who raised questions about the decision — and who may have helped contribute to the decision being reversed. As she read the emails, she wondered: Why couldn’t more people read those conversations?
To date, she has posted about 10 letters. One asks why the conference is adamant about requiring churches and leaders to stand by the Confession of Faith when it comes to sexual orientation but not about the articles about Love and Nonresistance and Good Stewardship of the earth.
In other letters she writes about her experience of being a female pastor in a male-dominated conference, about threatening comments she’s heard toward churches and individuals who aren’t seen to be supportive of the “team,” and why people in other denominations are sometimes spoken of as if they aren’t real Christians.
Not all the letters are critical. In one, “What I love about the MB Church,” she says: “One of the things that I love about the MB church is that it is not culturally bound to Mennonitism. From the very beginning of the MB tradition there has been an openness to learning and growing and cooperating with other denominational traditions.”
All of her letters end “Love, Carol Penner.”
She has invited others to write their own letters and post them on the blog. To date, three others have done so.
“I started this blog because as a follower of Jesus it’s my responsibility to be an active member of the body of Christ,” Penner said. “I love the church, and I believe that critical thinking about what we are doing is essential.”
So: If you were to do something similar, what would you say?
Find her blog at DearMBchurch.ca.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.
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