CMU’s experiment

Blending traditions reveals diversity's benefits

Oct 24, 2016 by

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A grand experiment took place in 2000. Schools from the Mennonite Brethren and Mennonite Church Canada denominations merged, creating Canadian Mennonite University in Winnipeg, Man.

In practice and geography, MBs and “MCs” have areas where they overlap and areas where there is distance. Sixteen years after CMU formed in a spirit of collaboration and willingness to understand each other, it is inspirational for the rest of us to take note of what professors there have to say.

The spring issue of CMU’s alumni magazine The Blazer featured comments from five professors from the MB tradition, and five from the MC tradition. Their reflections on working with each other and students from across the Anabaptist spectrum are instructive for Mennonites everywhere.

Professor Dan Epp-Tiessen grew up downplaying personal piety, understanding peace, justice and ethics as central to his faith.

“My MB colleagues enriched my understanding of Anabaptism to include the centrality of a warm, deep and personal relationship with Jesus, and the importance of sharing the good news of the Christian faith,” he says. “I’m reminded that the 16th-century Anabaptists first and foremost embodied this kind of faith in Jesus. My MB colleagues have shown me how personal commitments to follow Jesus are foundational to living lives of reconciliation, peace and justice.”

Professor Gordon Matties, with an MB background, had his appreciation for theology deepened by the MC tradition — “a deeper awareness that having a high view of the Bible and high view of Jesus are not enough.”

We need each other, and not to make one group feel superior. Professor Irma Fast Dueck has been enriched by walking with people holding differing perspectives. “I’ve learned to listen and to build relationships,” she says, “and not see those who view faith and life differently as a problem to fix but rather as an opportunity to learn from and journey alongside.”

CMU’s success — enrollment is up 2 percent — shows our differences can make us stronger when we work together. Rather than debate whether it’s best to dunk a Tim Horton’s doughnut or opt for baptismal sprinkles, CMU has found a way to savor different tastes and celebrate that people are still committed to enjoying doughnuts together.

It’s no surprise a university setting is host to the engagement of differing viewpoints. It’s part of the academic experience. Colleges typically lead their sponsoring denominations in openness to new ideas and concepts.

The turn-of-the-century experiment was forged in self-preservation. The journey forward has great potential for harvesting the fruits of collaboration.


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