In his welcoming comments to the 2010 Mennonite Church Alberta delegate sessions, Erwin Wiens, pastor of the host Trinity Mennonite Church, described the area church, made up of 16 congregations spread across the province, as a “patient on life support.”
But as the assembly progressed, it became apparent the patient was very much alive and sometimes kicking. The theme “Reclaiming Jesus, gladly wear the name,” was on nametags with “Jesus” in bold print. At first glance, it appeared all delegates were named Jesus, a vivid reminder of whom Christians are called to emulate.
Opening the business session, outgoing chair Walter Wiebe commended committees for their work. “They’ve been pushed very hard this year. They do the things that you as individuals can’t do,” Wiebe said.
Subsidies being reduced
Camp Valaqua presented a detailed 10-year plan for the continuation and growth of its programs, facilities and structures. Highlighting the detailed financials was a new subsidy plan. While the 2009 subsidy was $111,066, MC Alberta budgeted $100,000 for 2010 and will continue reducing it by $10,000 a year until it levels out at $50,000.
The change encourages Valaqua to increase programming and income, while allowing the area church to free up funds to pursue other initiatives. The immediate practical impact is an increase in summer camp and rental rates. Most week-long summer camps will go up by $50 per camper this summer.
A 2010 budget line cut Rosthern Junior College funding from $22,000 last year to $12,000.
Committee funding consistent
MC Alberta finances, while tight, are in good shape. Treasurer Lois Epp reported, “This year all committees received what they requested or slightly more. . . . This matches the activity levels expressed in the committee reports.”
Another notable change for 2010 is the introduction of new budget lines for external reserve funds. These lines will accept donations towards specific mission project initiatives.
The Congregational Leadership Committee, charged in 2009 with polling congregations to develop job functions and identify candidates for a conference youth ministry, came instead with an alternative suggestion. Based on its research, a “missional turn” was suggested as a greater need. The committee will continue to discuss this direction together with the pastors council. The council, made up of all MC Alberta pastors, intends to increase the frequency of its meetings, perhaps to once a month, in order to discern a missional church agenda for the province.
The Community Building Committee challenged delegates to foster a culture of call and encourage young people to attend Mennonite schools. Written suggestions on how schools and churches could better cooperate were collected.
Joanne De Jong, a member of Missions and Service Committee, got delegates enthused about three projects:
• An Anabaptist student community in Calgary;
• A possible church plant among refugees in North Edmonton; and
• An Anabaptist peace centre.
The members of the committee are all new in 2010, and De Jong noted that, although this was intimidating, they were encouraged to get moving, even with small projects. “It’s easier to steer a moving car than one that is standing still,” she said.
Towards the end of the sessions, a proposal to task Walter Wiebe, past chair of MC Alberta, as a “volunteer” to assist committees to achieve their goals, and to frame a discussion about the positives and negatives of establishing an executive director position, was met with some opposition. The opposition was not based primarily on the merits of the proposal, but more on the fact that it was sprung on the delegates just “20 minutes before the end,” as one delegate put it.
Questions from the floor focused on process and the suggestion that the executive committee was running ahead of the delegates.
“I thought the executive served the interests of the congregational delegates and not the other way around,” is the way another delegate framed it.
In the end, the proposal died for lack of support.
The executive committee decided to circulate the proposal in writing to the individual churches and postpone the decision regarding Wiebe until the 2011 assembly.
‘Don’t forget you are blessed’
In closing, keynote speaker Terry Schellenberg, external vice-president of Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, noted that it seems “you continue to feel the trauma of 2000,” the year when MC Alberta was in crisis regarding the issue of homosexuality and what to do about the differing views of member churches.
He ended on a positive note, though. “I think at times you forget you are blessed. You are doing a lot. . . . You are not perfect, but why should you be?” he said, urging the assembly to focus on Jesus Christ, their centre.