“We don’t all see things through the same lenses. We don’t all agree on every little or big thing, but we are loved by you, and we love.”
That prayerful acknowledgement of diversity and unity as God’s community by Vernelle Enns Penner opened Mennonite Church Canada’s Special Assembly 2017 on the evening of Oct. 13 at the Radisson Hotel in Winnipeg.
Throughout the weekend, segments of worship integrated with business discussions, nudging participants to consider what the Spirit is writing on their hearts (II Corinthians 3:1-6).
With structural changes on the table as a result of the multi-year Future Directions process, it could have been a contentious gathering, but the worshipful atmosphere and the sentiment of Enns Penner’s words carried a respectful tone into discussions. A specially produced video encouraged the church to dream, to remember all there is to celebrate and to thank God for these good things. It acknowledged that not all hopes for MC Canada materialized as people dreamed them; that time is required for lament and healing; and that the church is composed of people in relationship and community, not buildings, programs or structures.
Remembering that is key to implementing new organizational principles for MC Canada: Covenant New.
Song, prayer and reflection were woven between business sessions that discussed bylaws, a covenant and operating agreements, International Witness and finances. These pauses for worship offered continual, gentle reminders that the church is diverse, it is loved by God in its diversity, and that those gathered do God’s work through that diversity.
A new song, “May Your Spirit Give Life,” was written specifically for the event by Phil Campbell-Enns, a member of the worship committee and pastor of Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg.
Walter Wiebe of Morden (Man.) Mennonite Church thought the approach to worship helped create a positive experience. “There’s a lot of energy from the worship leaders and the singing has been marvellous, and I really appreciate that,” he said. “So I think that sets the tone for business discussions as well. We sing together, then we can talk together better, too.”
“We wanted it to feel like we were gathering to discern, but also to worship together, to sing together, to be together,” said Moses Falco, a member of the worship planning team.
Participants of Special Assembly 2017 sing during one of the worship segments of the event. (Video by Donna Schulz)
“Covenant New,” the theme of Special Assembly 2017, emphasized the importance of growing congregational ability to nurture and equip faith, engage in worship and become stronger centres of mission. To illustrate examples of “Covenant New,” the five regional churches each shared a story depicting how congregations are living into the new reality while exploring the question, “What is the Spirit writing on our hearts?” After each story, a representative from another regional church prayed for the storyteller’s region.
“I really love the stories followed by prayers that we’ve had, because I think they embody the change that we’re doing here,” said Lydia Cruttwell, pastor of First United Mennonite Church in Vancouver and one of the storytellers. “It allows us to see what it looks like to support one another.”
Wiebe concurred. “One of the things that has really added to [worship] has been the stories. We really need more of that kind of thing,” he said.
The final worship service on Oct. 15 took place at the Metropolitan Theatre in Winnipeg, with the same spirit of earlier worship, and included a sermon by Willard Metzger, MC Canada’s executive minister (formerly executive director). He delved into the text of II Corinthians 3:1-6, stressing the importance of trusting God to guide the church and to intervene should it go astray. He introduced six youths attending the assembly, and each of them offered a glimpse of their dreams for the future.
Ken Warkentin, Mennonite Church Manitoba’s executive director, offered a prayer for the nationwide church (formerly the national church) before communion was served to those gathered.
For more reports on Special Assembly 2017 visit here.