Two topics were front and centre when the board and staff of Mennonite Church Manitoba travelled the province in April for face-to-face conversations with congregations in seven regional meetings.
Being a Faithful Church
The aim of the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) dialogue was not to talk about the actual issues around human sexuality, but to give congregations an opportunity to talk with each other about how they are experiencing the process and learn from each other, explained Peter Rempel, area church board chair. Another purpose for bringing congregations together in the various regions was to share possibilities of how MC Manitoba might shape its ministries to best suit the needs of its congregations.
Of 48 congregations, more than 27 churches were represented.
“In the end, over 150 people participated, which exceeds what we usually have at the fall delegate assemblies,” said Ken Warkentin, area church executive director.
While many congregations have found the BFC process to be very helpful and positive, some found the documents difficult to understand, said Rempel.
“We learned most of the churches are dealing with the discussion in small groups, not at a congregational level, but many have addressed sexuality in sermons,” said Warkentin. “One of the other surprises for some people was the openness to talk about the issue of same-sex attraction, which would not have existed 20 years ago. We heard regularly that for many young people this is a non-issue.
“There is a recognition that we need to expand our understanding of the issue of sexuality, and include more biological and scientific evidence than limit our understanding to tradition. And we learned that there are many other topics than just homosexuality that fall under the rubric of human sexuality. Most frequently mentioned was co-habitation,” he said.
“We anticipate a window of opportunity to initiate changes in our structure,” said Warkentin, with significant changes happening in camping ministry and with Henry Kliewer retiring from his position as director of leadership ministries.
“As a board, we asked Ken to prepare a paper on the changing context of the church and test some options for what MC Manitoba’s priorities might be and some thoughts on its structures,” said Rempel.
This “state of the church” address was presented at each of the meetings and congregations were invited to respond. “We asked, ‘Does this reflect your congregation and, if so, how then should we organize the broader church to address these needs?’ ” said Warkentin.
What they heard from the congregations is still being reviewed by the board, but some things came through clearly. “We heard a desire to continue to be Mennonite,” Warkentin said. “There is a sense that youth and young adults are very deeply engaged in their faith, but not in congregational life in the way that we usually understand. There is also the reality of aging congregations and how this affects volunteerism and pastoral expectations. It appears that worship in many congregations has turned a corner and we are not having the same battles over style that we experienced in the past. There is a desire on the part of many congregations to be more directly engaged in missions on a local level, and less of a desire to send money abroad.”
Warkentin tested one option for structural change: “I proposed that we put energy into two areas: congregational health, which would include putting resources into pastoral and congregational leadership training and development; and second, missions, service and evangelism with an Anabaptist orientation that allows community to relate to community, individual to individual. I think it was probably premature to get an assessment of whether this was the direction to go.”
The board will review what it has heard and consider more specific ways that MC Manitoba might prioritize its ministries.
--Posted June 4, 2014