“Church life as we know it is changing,” Willard Metzger, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada, told delegates at the annual MC Manitoba meetings in Winnipeg last month. “Indicators suggest that the structures that served us so well in the past can no longer be sustained.”
Metzger provided a post-Christendom context for the 130 delegates representing 35 churches as they met to discern how to be a faithful church in the face of financial and structural uncertainties. “We are in a time of significant change,” he said, adding, “But this is not the time to express a grand new vision. This is the time for experimentation and giving ourselves some grace to keep trying.”
Serious financial questions face the delegate body. “What does it mean to be a faithful church when congregational giving to MC Manitoba is down 11.5 percent and MC Manitoba is left with a deficit of $32,299 in 2011?” asked board chair Hans Werner. “What does it mean when there is a growing trend in Mennonite churches that sees increased giving to individual congregations and specific projects, but less to area and national churches? . . . Our people are more generous than ever, and at a faster rate than the rate of inflation in the amount of giving to their own congregations and related organizations,” he noted, “but there is a steady decline in giving to area churches.”
At last fall’s MC Manitoba meeting, delegates approved a church giving budget of $670,000, which is nearly $22,000 less than the previous year, which had a shortfall of nearly $80,000.
Constitutional changes pass
Two constitutional changes were approved by the delegates, who acknowledged the need for some structural change and greater flexibility. Reducing the quorum requirement at MC Manitoba meetings and giving the board power to appoint committees for specific purposes give room for the board to respond with greater flexibility to needs as they arise.
Realizing that its camps are currently underutilized, changes are being considered to expand the scope of Camps with Meaning’s three facilities. Justin Zacharias, director of camping ministries, shared dreams of developing the camps into significant learning, teaching and training centres, as well as creating a mobile camp program and improving communication. “We need to do a better job of talking about our camps and inviting people in,” he said.
“The board has endorsed the proposal prepared by the Camp Planning Committee, which proposes significant change in setting the course for the future,” Werner told delegates. A package of information will be sent to each congregation. This will be followed by regional meetings in which the board will listen for feedback and concerns. The board will then make a decision as to whether the proposal can be brought to the delegate body or whether it requires more work.
Delegates express concerns
At a well-attended workshop the board listened to delegates’ concerns. “What is unique to us, to our camps?,” one asked. “What are the things that we can do by working together that we can’t do alone?” asked another.
“The time for tweaking is past,” said one delegate. “We need to make substantial changes in terms of the role for the area church.”
Important functions or roles of MC Manitoba were highlighted by delegates:
- Providing resources for congregations;
- Offering cluster groups that provide pastoral encouragement and support;
- Running camps that offer leadership training; and
- Linking churches together by sharing information and needs.
“There is a widening disparity between fairly large institutional-type churches and small organic groups who don’t have a lot of extra resources,” noted Werner.
“As we move into the context of the unknown, we can be confident in the presence and activity of God,” Metzger said in his concluding address. “This is a time of great transition and it requires an openness and willingness to hear the voice of the Spirit come from unexpected and surprising sources.”
“We are at the cusp of another Reformation-like shift,” Metzger said, noting similarities in today’s post-Christendom world to the situation 16th-century Anabaptists faced. “There is a growing call for change. There is a spiritual restlessness, political dissatisfaction, increasing demand for just distribution of wealth.”
Metzger sees an increasing attraction to Anabaptism across the country, with its focus on the life of Jesus and the call to radical discipleship. “Let’s live up to our historical responsibilities,” he urged delegates. “We need audacious Mennonite communities to forge a bold new direction.”
“This is an opportunity to disentangle the church,” he said. “Throw off that which has encumbered us. Maybe it will be easier to discern ‘Being the Faithful Church’ in this time of exile than being in the context of affluence and ease.”