As a teenager, Betty Pries raised uneasy questions about church and the life of faith. Who is Jesus, really? What does it mean for Jesus to be called God’s son? What does it mean to be a Christian in a world of such diversity in faiths, beliefs, practices and lifestyles?
Those questions developed Pries’ ability to look at faith from a wide variety of standpoints and instilled a deep appreciation for the theological perspectives of others—skills that are foundational to the work she does today.
Pries is one of the founders and the executive director of Associates Resourcing the Church (ARC) Ministries, a consultancy service for churches and faith-based organizations. She also teaches conflict resolution and mediation at Conrad Grebel University College, and she served on Mennonite Church Canada’s Faith and Life Committee for nine years.
Pries will share her perspectives about meeting challenge and change as one of the keynote speakers for Mennonite Church Canada’s Assembly 2014, Wild Hope: Faith for an unknown season, in Winnipeg, July 3-6, 2014.
“Her work across denominational traditions gives her a solid perspective of the broad Christian horizon in Canada,” says Karen Martens Zimmerly, Mennonite Church Canada denominational minister, who also notes that Pries makes a habit of probing issues to consider deeper theological questions.
Through her work with ARC, Pries connects with congregations across the denominational landscape--congregations that face tough questions themselves. Sometimes their concerns are related to theology, but more often they are about conflict, fear of decline, and desire for renewal. Unfortunately, she says, some churches want quick fixes, seeking programs instead of engaging the possibility of spiritual renewal.
But renewal is not a function of programming.
“Everything I know about the spiritual journey is about being transformed again and again and again into greater maturity,” she says. “We can be very comfortable in our lives and perspectives, but it’s usually not until we suffer that we return to dependency on God. In this sense, decline becomes an opportunity for the church—an opportunity to rediscover our dependency on God.”
While most denominations are entering a time of change and don’t know what lies ahead, Mennonites are somewhat protected, Pries says, because they have always considered themselves to be on the fringes anyway. But for mainline churches, whose precepts once shaped the Canadian landscape politically and socially, the change is massive. “They were once at the centre of town hall and have now been relegated to the back.”
Everywhere she goes, Pries recognizes a deep yearning for meaning and purpose. She suggests the question should not be “How does the church survive?” but “How are we discovering God’s presence among us?”
In the face of challenge and change—and everyday life—Pries says, “The church is a place of tremendous opportunity for transformation and healing. That’s the gift of the church.”
Betty Pries, Brian Quan, Minister of English Ministries at Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, and David Driedger, Associate Minister at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg and a member of Mennonite Church Canada’s Formation Council, will be keynote speakers for Assembly 2014.
—Posted May 15, 2014
More about Assembly 2014:
Spiritual wrestling in an unknown season (keynote speaker David Driedger)
It takes three knocks to open a door (keynote speaker Brian Quan)
Let your hopes run wild! (general information)
Registration information (early registration deadline is May 15 and final cut-off date is June 15)
Calling all ‘wildly hopeful’ artists (art exhibit, deadline May 31)