Mennonite Church Canada mulling future path

Assembly to consider proposal to eliminate national office, shift focus to regions, congregations

Jun 29, 2016 by and

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Sustaining Mennonite Church Canada’s ministry in the face of diminishing finances and a changing church landscape will be a main topic when Mennonite Church Canada holds its biennial assembly July 6-10 in Saskatoon, Sask.

Among the main items for discussion will be the final report by the Future Directions Task Force. The FDTF, commissioned in 2013, focused on two questions:

– What is God’s Spirit calling us to in the 21st century? and

– What are the best ways — in terms of programs, structures and strategies — for the church to thrive and grow?

With declining donations to the national church body, finances have been a major concern in rethinking the structure of MC Canada. A budget shortfall of $300,000 resulted in the sudden layoff of five national office staff members last November — partly a result of the task force’s recommendation for a simpler, more integrated organizational structure.

The MC Canada General Board is asking delegates to approve in principle the directions proposed by the task force and “collaborate with the five area churches (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Eastern Canada) in developing a more integrated nationwide church body.”

Programs and structures

Engaging with 235 congregations in the five area churches (the equivalent of area conferences in the U.S.), the FDTF has worked at discerning how MC Canada can continue its ministry and exploring whether and how current programs and structures may need to be modified.

A proposed model for restructuring MC Canada eliminates the national office. A new entity for supporting and equipping would be created and led by the area churches.

Greater ownership would be placed on congregations as the foundational unit of the church. National staff would be significantly reduced and program councils phased out.

The FDTF final report points to broader principles rather than outlining specific structures. A transition team would recommend structure and staffing in the restructured body and would listen to further input from constituents.

The FDTF report came out at the end of 2015. The five area churches met, discussed and voted on it at their annual sessions. Delegates from Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and British Columbia each voted overwhelmingly to approve the recommendations.

Mennonite Church Alberta did not officially approve the report. Delegates voted to accept it but added: “In light of the number of significant concerns that have been expressed, we are not ready at this point to approve the report and all of the directions and details proposed.”

Delegates in all the area churches raised questions about the proposed restructuring, including:

– What does it mean to approve the FDTF report in principle without having more details on funding, communication and education?

– How would communal vision and Mennonite identity be maintained in a more regionally based church, especially in areas of educational and worship material?

– How will theological discernment and accountability happen?

International effects

One recommendation that generated much discussion in all the area churches is a major change in how MC Canada would sustain international mission partnerships.

The FDTF recommendation includes moving the global Witness program to a focus on short-term ministry: “We envision a shift toward more local and domestic witness/service, and toward more collaborative, shorter-term international assignments in response to invitations from global partners.”

As the FDTF explains: “The proposal is that congregations would be members of a regional body only, with the regional bodies covenanting together on nationwide and international missions, as well as common program strategies and support services.

“The new structure invites congregations to engage more closely with the work of the larger church, and for the larger church to engage more closely with congregations.”

In response, all 24 MC Canada Witness workers around the world sent a letter to the task force and MC Canada, noting they had not been consulted on the changes.

Further, they questioned the value of shorter-term relationships in overseas settings: “Short-term assignments, although they might be formative for the one who is sent, can be a drain on relationships and partnerships in the host culture.”

In the letter, Witness workers said they felt that the proposals regarding international engagement were short-sighted and “will perpetuate precisely the practices of colonialism and violence that we do not want to perpetuate.”

Local-national divide

An open letter on the FDTF report by a group of nine younger pastors from each of the five area churches in Canadian Mennonite stated: “We sense a growing divide between the local congregation and our national church.”

The pastors questioned whether all voices in the church had been heard and whether adequate time had been allotted to consider all the FDTF recommendations: “We confess some uneasiness and an inability to clearly see the vision and processes of our national body. We call for greater care, attention and clarity to be given to these questions.”

MC Canada’s General Board has considered the “robust conversation” surrounding the report and the core concerns raised and has addressed some of those concerns in an addendum.

“We believe it points to directions that will strengthen our identity and capacity as an Anabaptist Mennonite church in Canada to be a healthy, spiritually vital part of the worldwide body of Christ at this time in history,” the board said.

These and other questions will be discussed July 8 at the assembly, with a vote on the FDTF report the next day. If the delegate body votes “yes,” MC Canada and area church leaders anticipate a transition time of up to two years to implement the restructuring.

Comments Policy

Mennonite World Review invites readers’ comments on articles. To promote constructive dialogue, editors select the comments that appear, just as we do with letters to the editor in print. These decisions are final. Writers must sign their first and last names; anonymous comments are not accepted. Comments do not appear until approved and are posted during business hours. Comments may be reproduced in print, and may be edited if selected for print.

About Me

advertisement advertisement