‘Hear O people’

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At times, there seemed to be more questions than answers. But for those in attendance at the Mennonite Church Saskatchewan delegate sessions at the end of February, there was also a good feeling that people were in agreement.

“I was very pleased with how it went,” said moderator George Epp.

Gathering in the gym at Rosthern Junior College (RJC), delegates were greeted by a surprise announcement that the seven-year-old house church, Breath of Life, which had joined MC Saskatchewan three years ago, was closing. A celebration of its life together will be held in May.

Bringing God into the picture, Scripture was used extensively throughout the worship times to emphasize the theme, “Hear O people.”

“The hope was simply to provide occasion for participants to hear Scripture [in the context of ‘dusting off your Bibles’],” said Jerry Buhler, area church minister.

The focus of the Scriptures used was on hearing and listening: “Happy is the one who reads and happy those who listen to the words of this prophecy and heed what is written in it” (Revelation 1:3).

Jake Buhler from Osler Mennonite Church appreciated the emphasis on God’s Word. “The Bible was the centre of the conference, which was interesting,” he said. “There was intentional reading of the Bible throughout.”

Of the biblical content, “it wasn’t interpretation, it was application,” explained Elmer Regier, a member of MC Saskatchewan Ministries Commission.

RJC enrolment down

When the delegates broke up into groups to hear reports, there was some concern about low enrolment at RJC. Geraldine Balzar, the school’s board chair, spoke honestly about what the situation means for the college. The reasons are numerous, she said, noting that it reflects a similar trend across Canada in other faith-based schools. With fewer parents of youth attending church, it sets the stage for youth to disengage from the church community, she said.

She also spoke about solutions that the college was considering. One plan is to hire a development officer to build relationships with funding partners. Recruitment officer Val White talked about the many options to connect with youth in the wider community and spread the good news about the benefits of RJC.

“People are finding us on social media,” she said, believing that the non-churched community can discover the gem in RJC.

Erna Funk from Hague echoed those sentiments. “I want my grandchildren to come to RJC,” she said. “I am so concerned about your 74 students.”

Facing a ‘deficit’ reality

Reports from other MC Saskatchewan programs show that most are doing well. Prison ministry through the Person to Person (P2P) program, however, has suffered setbacks in the past year. Government funding was cut and supporters of P2P are concerned that the government is less interested in restorative justice as a way to help reform prisoners, said Ryan Siemens. “However, we move forward with hope,” he stated in his report.

Finance discussions included some strong statements by executive director Ken Warkentin in his short overview. “We are facing the realities of a deficit,” he said. “We can cover that out of the reserves, but they’re shrinking quickly.”

Comments from the floor seemed to minimize the importance of his report, although one delegate spoke about her concerns in supporting a budget that isn’t working.

“Who’s going to get up and say, ‘We have to cut this or that program,’ ” Warkentin wondered afterwards.

“Programs will have to be cut eventually,” said Epp. “We have to get to balanced budgets.”

Anabaptist perspective needed

Willard Metzger, MC Canada’s executive director, expressed his delight at the theme. He spoke excitedly about the far-reaching impact of national church programs.

“The Anabaptist perspective is needed in the world,” he said. “It’s not effortless; it requires sacrifice.” Metzger did not shy away from the realities of struggling for resources to be that kind of witness. “A dip in individual and corporate giving became evident in September. We’re constantly on the edge of our budget,” he acknowledged.

In response, Chad Doell, pastor of the Hoffnungsfelder Mennonite Churches, brought a sobering balance to all the talk about money. “There’s a crisis in our youth,” he said. “They’re waiting for our witness. Are we thinking more about ourselves keeping traditions and less about saving this generation?” he asked quietly.

As various issues came to the fore, it seemed important to listen to the Scripture being offered. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 3:22).

Craig Neufeld, as Jesus, tells the parable of the Sower and the Seed during one of the worship sessions at last month's annual delegate session. Organizers chose to use a lot of Scripture as one way of 'dusting off the Bible,' says Jerry Buhler, area church minister.

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