Mennonite World Conference considers name change

Mar 6, 2017 by and

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Conversation about changing the name of Mennonite World Conference has moved beyond the Executive Committee.

At meetings the week after the Feb. 12 MWC Renewal 2027 event in Augsburg, Germany, the committee approved a document from the Faith and Life Commission outlining a discernment process on a potential name change.

MWC Executive Committee member Paul Phinehas of India shares while member Agus Setianto of Indonesia looks on. — Wilhelm Unger/MWC

MWC Executive Committee member Paul Phinehas of India shares while member Agus Setianto of Indonesia looks on. — Wilhelm Unger/MWC

John D. Roth of Goshen, Ind., secretary for the Faith and Life Commission, said although the Executive Committee has been considering the idea for a year, the conversation was still in its early stages.

“Our early conversations made it clear how complex it is to change a well-established name,” Roth said.

The commission’s document, which will guide MWC regional representatives in facilitating conversations with denominational leaders, takes a particular look at the terms “Mennonite,” “Anabaptist” and “Conference” to explore their meanings in English as well as how they translate to other languages.

For example, the term “Communion” is suggested as an alternative to “Conference,” because a conference suggests a meeting after which participants “depart to pursue their own priorities until the next gathering,” while a communion suggests “a body committed to relationships of sacrificial love, accountability and mutual aid (koinonia) for the purpose of fellowship, worship, service and mission,” according to the document.

“In English, the word ‘communion’ suggests an ecclesial body,” Roth said. “And for some time, Mennonite World Conference has called itself ‘a communion of Anabaptist-related churches.’ ”

But when “communion” is translated to Spanish, Dutch or German, it refers to the Lord’s Supper.

“So what might seem like a theologically rich term in English — if ‘communion’ would emerge as a new alternative to ‘conference,’ it would take a great deal of energy to explain what is meant,” Roth said.

According to the document, suggestions are to retain the current name or choose a name such as “Anabaptist World Conference/Communion/Community/Alliance” or “Anabaptist Believers Conference/Communion/Community/Alliance.”

The term “Anabaptist” is suggested as an alternative to “Mennonite” that is more inclusive of MWC’s current members who do not use the Mennonite name. “Believers” is suggested to go beyond any cultural or ethnic identities that might be associated with “Anabaptist” while underscoring the theological identity of believers baptism.

BIC request

In early 2016, leaders of the Brethren in Christ Church sent a letter to MWC requesting consideration of a name change. After the 2015 MWC assembly in Harrisburg, Pa., BIC leaders observed that many of their newer members who did know about BIC’s long history with MWC were confused by the terms “Mennonite” and “Conference,” thinking they were being asked to attend an event of a church other than their own.

The request from the BIC did not suggest any alternative names.

In February 2016, the Executive Committee tasked the Faith and Life Commission with formulating a process for considering the idea. The commission members drafted a document that was approved by the Executive Committee.

Over the next year, the regional representatives will collect responses from denominational leaders to discuss at the 2018 General Council meeting.

Additional conversations may take place after the 2018 General Council meeting. The intention is for a proposal to go to the General Council for a vote in 2021.

“Names carry meanings in some contexts and cultures that aren’t necessarily shared as you move into different settings,” Roth said. “It’s a process that will move slowly and may even result in a decision to keep our current name.”

MWC leaders deliberate, welcome, celebrate
Mennonite World Conference

AUGSBURG, Germany — The Mennonite World Conference Executive Committee last month welcomed new members, met with Catholics and Lutherans and offered the MWC general secretary another six-year term.

Before and after the Feb. 12 opening of Renewal 2027 — a 10-year series of events commemorating the 500th anniversary of Anabaptism — the Executive Committee, four commissions, Young AnaBaptists committee and MWC staff gathered for fellowship and decision-making.

Multiyear trilateral dialogues, in which MWC engaged with the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Pontifical Council on Christian Unity, also held their final meeting in Germany during this time.
Official MWC church membership totaled 105 national churches and one international association after the committee processed membership updates.

The Australia Conference of Evangelical Mennonites, Convención de Iglesias Evangélicas Menonitas del Noreste de México and the British Conference of Mennonites, United Kingdom, were moved to inactive or closed status.

The committee welcomed the Hmong 7th District of the Church of Christ in Thailand, Convenção Brasileira das Igrejas Evangélicas Irmãos Menonitas and Convención de Iglesias Evangélicas Menonitas de Puerto Rico as full members.

It welcomed the following national churches as associate members (due to their size): Uganda Mennonite Church, Mennonitische Freikirche Österreich and Associação dos Irmãos Menonitas de Portugal.

The Executive Committee recommended a proposal to the General Council to start a discernment process on a potential name change for MWC.

John Roth of the Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism presented on the Global Anabaptist Project. Published in English as “Global Anabaptist Profile: Belief and Practice in 24 Mennonite World Conference Churches,” the report will also be translated into Spanish, French and three additional languages.

Leader’s new term

The committee unanimously requested general secretary César García accept a second six-year term, beginning in 2018, and he did.

“MWC wants to hire a ‘wool-making, milk-producing, egg-laying pig that can be eaten’,” said MWC president Nelson Kraybill, quoting a German proverb. “Despite the large assignment, César works hard, has vision for MWC and is effective in a broad range of tasks and roles.”

The Peace Commission accepted Jeremiah Choi Wing Kau of China-Hong Kong to replace Namshik Chon of South Korea. The Young AnaBaptists welcomed Oscar Suarez of Colombia.

“When 70 followers of Jesus from around the world meet at a historic center of 16th-century Anabaptism, the past and future of the church meet in life-giving ways,” Kraybill said.

“. . . It was a particular joy to fellowship with Catholic and Lutheran representatives who were part of the recent trilateral dialogue on baptism.”


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  • Conrad Ermle

    Here we go again. Soon the name “Mennonite” will be dropped by everybody except the conservative Mennonites. Then again, maybe that the way it should be. They are the closest to what Menno Simons taught. – Conrad Ermle

  • Ken Fellenbaum

    My suggestion is “Anabaptist World Fellowship”. Or, “World Anabaptist Fellowship”. Groups who aren’t Mennonites but are Anabaptist in theology would probably prefer “Anabaptist”.

  • Rainer Moeller

    “But when “communion” is translated to Spanish, Dutch or German, it refers to the Lord’s Supper.”

    From a German point of view, this is no problem. “Kommunion” as a synonym for Lord’s Supper is practically only used by Catholics; but just Catholic clerical latin uses “communio” as well for “community”. When other churches call themselves “communion” this is regularly translated as “Gemeinschaft” (community) and the same will be done in the case of Mennonites.

    But as I’ve come from the Quakers I liked the term “conference” which reminds to me the Quakerish “meeting” – a sober description of what one does instead of exaggerating what one wants to be.

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