Congregational giving is up, so why are donations to area and national church bodies falling?
The steady increase in Mennonite congregational giving is worth celebrating. “We are one of the few denominations where giving has not dropped, and is slightly ahead of cost-of-living,” MC Canada general secretary Robert J. Suderman told delegates to the national assembly in Calgary, adding, “Other denominations drool over this.”
Conversely, Andrew Reesor-McDowell, moderator of MC Canada’s general board, told the delegate body that giving to the larger church has “long been on a downward trend. We are now preparing program cuts to deal with this.”
This downward trend in giving to national and area churches is worrisome. Decreased support limits outreach ministries and creates difficulties in defending MC Canada’s charitable status. Its capacity for international ministry in impoverished areas is reduced, and the link between the church and its ministries is diminished. The common identity that undergirds MC Canada is weakened, leading to fragmentation of the church, the leaders said.
After presenting these worries to assembly delegates, Suderman stated, “We ignore the strengthening of our church at our own peril. Our challenge is that the church will need to be strong at all levels as we enter the 21st century with a commitment to engage the world with the reconciling gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Without adequate donations, MC Canada has had to cut funding in its biggest sector—the Witness program—according to Reesor-McDowell. “The Witness program is having to make massive adjustments,” he said.
Because of this, MC Canada has not been able to fill positions that were once held by long-term Witness workers who have returned to Canada. Reesor-McDowell likened these workers to young trees on the verge of bearing fruit. “We risk pulling up these fruit trees. . . . They can’t get nurtured and they won’t bear fruit down the road,” he said.
Reesor-McDowell also thinks that congregations often flock to the more heart-melting, short-term aid projects. While they are important, he said, “MC Canada provides a basis and structure for this. . . . It is something that we cannot do as congregations, but something that the national church can do,” he said, asking delegates, “In light of these trends, what counsel or advice do you have for the general board?”
Respondents came forward from designated table groups as well as the floor. Several speakers encouraged more public sharing of what it is that area and national churches do.
Sharon Dirks from Niagara United Mennonite Church, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., said, “It is good to know that our denomination looks good to other denominations. Share that.”
Daryl Good of Breslau Mennonite Church, Ont., said, “[People] don’t see the work of the national church in their face every day. They see the needs of other countries in the news and their own needs. We need to have church pastors and other leaders providing education to members that is in their face.”
Pastor April Yamasaki of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, B.C., gently issued a challenge to all present to communicate with their congregations. “We need to communicate the ministries that we are doing together. Delegates have a role in education, too.”
With files from Deborah Froese of Mennonite Church Canada.