I’m more and more dismayed by the regionalizing trajectory we seem to be on. From national and international politics to neighbourhoods and churches, it feels like we are contracting our boundaries rather than expanding.
To be honest, it’s not so bad working in a silo. In fact, there are advantages. One can have real relationships in a tight geographical region, and understanding a limited scope keeps a helpful focus to one’s work. But I’ve been given two interesting gifts that have helped open the door to broader thinking again.
1. The recent changes to our Canadian denominational structure have been very difficult in many respects, but, for the first time in more than 15 years of working for Mennonite Church Manitoba, I have peers outside Manitoba I am required to work with. This has been an incredible gift. Most of the national communications staff are gone, and regional communicators are expected to work together on national agenda. We meet bi-weekly via internet web conference in order to discuss national matters to be shared with the churches. Guess what? We don’t all agree on how our region should be represented, and there is so much work to be done to make this system a good one. But we are a team, committed to doing what we can. After several months of working together, I look forward to meeting with this group and hearing what is happening in our partner regions.
2. As one of the 13-member Mennonite Worship and Song Committee creating the new hymnal for our denomination in the U.S. and Canada, I am being stretched further. There are heart songs for our eastern American Mennonite siblings that I have never sung in my life. They know “I owe the Lord a morning song” as well as I know “Gott ist die Liebe.” (Spoiler alert: Good chance they’ll both be in the new book.) If we were making a Manitoba book only, it would look entirely different and be okay, but this binational work is energizing and will definitely yield a much better product.
I have been recently struck by the gift the Apostle Paul gave us through his insight into the different churches he visited and the way he spoke about the saints and elders in Jerusalem. He didn’t always agree with them, but I sense a spirit of respect and generosity. He understood the need for individual congregations to be in relationship beyond themselves.
My faith is enlarged and encouraged by being part of the broader church. I know not everyone has the chance to join national or binational committees, but I’d encourage us all to do what we can to expand our horizons rather than shrink them. There is blessing in this.
Darryl Neustaedter Barg is associate director of communications at Mennonite Church Manitoba, media production coordinator at Canadian Mennonite University and a member of the Mennonite Worship and Song Committee.