As I think back on my seven years of leadership in Mennonite Church British Columbia, I am filled with thanksgiving and hope at what has transpired and what I have experienced. In these years we have experienced a rollercoaster ride of diverse opinions, misunderstandings, accusations and finger-pointing without dialogue, and also many attempts at understanding and cooperation mixed with a perseverance and trust that God will lead us through the wilderness.
We have arrived at a better and more peaceful place, and are hopeful and encouraged as we see God leading in the lives of so many in all of our churches. When the church and its members focus on issues that divide, instead of those that celebrate our unity, we all suffer and the whole body quickly feels the pain of division.
We have experienced individuals and churches on both extremes of the theological spectrum chastising the other side and claiming justification for their position, with little care for the well-being of the whole body of Christ. We live in an individualistic society where the “I” of the individual is also reflected in the “I” of the congregation, as opposed to the “we” of the community of congregations in our denomination.
We, as MC B.C., spent five years addressing this diversity. But with extensive listening and continuous discerning, we came together nearly unanimously in a unity celebration of covenanting together. This energizing exercise has led us into a time of mission and cooperation where we can focus on ministry instead of expending most of our energy at mending our differences. The Lord has blessed us and given us the courage and energy to focus on our mission and has showed us that when we are united in spirit, he will bless us in our missional tasks.
The task of living in unity is never finished, and will continue to be a growing challenge in the years to come. The church is always pressured to keep up with society, even though the biblical teaching of the past tells us that we need to hold on to the fundamental values as they have been expressed and discerned in our Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
I have never been one who does not want to look at change and new wisdom as long as we discern together with the well-being and the unity of the church as a central focus. In our desire to change we are often very closed-minded and not willing to listen to our Mennonite brothers and sisters in the rest of the world. It seems that our fellow Mennonites that we worshipped with in Paraguay last summer have been better able to adapt to change and have been more successful in focusing on the mission of the church than those of us in the developed North.
May God give us strength, wisdom and love to live in unity.
Gerd Bartel’s term as moderator of MC B.C. ended in April.