In the fall of 2010, congregations in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick expressed yearning for a stronger multi-lane bridge of connection with the wider church—namely Mennonite Church Canada and MC Eastern Canada. One year later, I am helping to build that bridge.
The role of church engagement minister may be new, but bridge-building dates back to the early church. Consider the Apostle Paul, who strove to connect the diverse congregations of his day.
Representing both MC Eastern Canada and MC Canada is not a one-way, one-lane bridge. The mission and vision of both bodies are complementary. Rather than resorting to blueprints like organizational charts or mission and vision statements to illustrate how this bridge works, I’ll use practical language: It’s all about fostering real relationships with real people.
I do this by bringing stories across the river. For example, to help people understand the work of MC Canada, I speak of Waterloo’s Palmer Becker, who has, in recent years, taken on several special assignments: teaching in Ethiopia, the Holy Land, Korea, China and Thailand. To describe how MC Eastern Canada mentors and supports new pastors, I talk about people who experienced the Transitioning into Ministry (TiM) program. The program has become so successful in Eastern Canada that it is being adapted for use across the country through a partnership with the national church.
Listening is just as important as storytelling. What do individuals and congregations need from the wider church? I’ve discovered that, while some highly value their connection to an overseas Witness worker, others are more focused on the support their pastors receive. Some congregations treasure learning opportunities offered through various annual events or the materials found in resource centres, while others place great value on local and international opportunities for their youths.
By sharing inspiring stories and listening to congregational needs, I act as an information bridge for both MC Eastern Canada and MC Canada, facilitating better traffic flow between all church bodies. In this way, we can find ways to ensure vibrant, healthy relationships that move beyond writing cheques.
My role also allows me to connect with the exciting work of our schools, camps and service partners—and their challenges. I think of it as something of an ambassadorship; my bridge crosses invisible, human-made borders.
And that’s what Paul did. As we know from his letters, he often shared about the faithful witness of one community with another. When writing to the Galatians, he shared stories from Antioch; when writing to the Philippians, he shared stories about Timothy’s missionary work; when writing to the Colossians, he shared stories about his work among pagans.
God’s work is vast and varied. I feel blessed to be a multi-lane, multi-directional bridge that shares stories with the power to inform, educate, rejuvenate, and perhaps inspire congregations and individuals to greater engagement with God’s great project in the world.
Brent Charette is MC Canada/MC Eastern Canada’s church engagement minister.