Taking a hard look at how to prioritize activities in the face of change proved central to council discussions at Mennonite Church Canada’s spring leadership assembly at First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, last month.
Christian Witness Council
At a plenary session following council meetings on March 9, Christian Witness Council chair Rudy Dirks noted that the council is still recovering from the loss of Witness staff last year resulting from retirement and budget cuts. In addition, a decline in funding to MC Canada has resulted in a reduced focus for Witness over the last several years.
“What do we do about that?” Dirks asked. “Keep things on paper and say, ‘Someday maybe,’ or is there another option?”
While MC Canada is still able to staff International Ministries and Native Ministry, programs for evangelism and church planting, multicultural ministries, peace and justice advocacy and education, are no longer funded.
Dirks recognized their continuing importance and noted that council members are still committed to them. “We have strong convictions that we are the keepers of the flame,” he said. “We can’t fund and staff the other programs, but we want to think outside the box and do something with them.”
He said that Witness Council and staff will continue to think creatively about how to participate and network with area churches and ministry partners that may already have inroads in those areas.
Christian Formation Council
Formation executive minister Dave Bergen shared highlights of Christian Formation Council discussions with staff following the assembly, listing the primary issues that the council will tackle in the coming year: nurturing a culture for “thick faith,” leadership development and worship.
Worship was a new addition to the list of priorities. “It’s one of the key ways in which our congregations and members are shaped in their understanding of faith,” Bergen said. “Worship is the vehicle by which some of these other priorities are expressed.”
The council devoted significant energy to exploring ways that Canadian Mennonite University’s book store could work more closely with MC Canada’s Resource Centre. The two entities have been exploring possibilities for providing a more integrated approach to serving congregations and individuals. “There is excitement for this endeavour, but there are also many practical implications that need close attention,” he said.
Church Engagement Council
This year’s assembly was only the second time the relatively new Church Engagement Council, established in 2010, met together as a complete entity with resource development staff in place.
Daniel Horne, director of partnership development, and Brent Charette, who serves both MC Canada and MC Eastern Canada as church engagement minister in a jointly funded position, joined Church Engagement ministries last year.
The council reviewed a fundraising strategy in addition to other agenda items.
“We have developed a conservative development strategy with a $150,000 increase in our fundraising target over last year,” Horne said. “Fundraising should be something we all take part in. We’re planning to develop funds with Witness and Formation, fundraising that is specific to their ministries.”
He reported that he is also working with the Mennonite Foundation of Canada, Mennonite Church Canada’s partner in estate planning, to strengthen legacy giving. A large wealth transfer from the current generation to the next is anticipated in the next couple of decades, said Horne, who hopes that this generosity can build a financially healthier church in the future.
Several members of the council noted that the highlight of their meetings was a presentation by communications staff of the work undertaken over the past six months, and a glimpse of what is yet to come, including a preview of the first in a series of planned “Mennonites Everywhere” videos (see story on back page). The series, intended for distribution via YouTube, will challenge Mennonite stereotypes by depicting “non-cradle” Mennonites who have chosen a Mennonite church.
“The objective is to show that you don’t need to have a certain kind of surname or enjoy certain cultural foods to be part of a Mennonite church,” communications director Dan Dyck told council members. “We have diversity in our congregations across Canada, but we could be doing much better,” he said, adding that in many regions being Mennonite still has strong cultural associations.