A tale of two speakers

May 8, 2013 | Viewpoints
Aiden Enns |

Two church leaders came to my city last month: one was big, the other small. They both said things I found inspiring. But in the end, which one would I like to follow? I want to listen to the one who is big, but follow the one who is small.

Willard Metzger, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada, came to our church and gave a sermon. As I sat down to listen to his message, I regretted I didn’t bring a pencil, for I wanted to jot down all the things with which I disagreed so I could grill him in the discussion period following the service.

At first, he was very smooth. He knew that our congregation was progressive and social-justice-oriented, so he acknowledged and welcomed a diversity of congregations. That was good public relations.

Then he became human. I saw he was reading from a ruffled manuscript. Only a half-dozen pages, but they made a stack an inch high. Did he drop them in a puddle? Was his work space messy like mine? As he spoke about the shepherd seeking the black sheep, holding the gate open wide for those who are different, I was listening.

Soon came the passion. I was caught off guard, I didn’t have a chance to object. I got excited about his message, even proud to be on his team. “He’s actually not as bad as I thought,” I thought. “Shucks, how am I going to grill him in the study hour?”

Mark Van Steenwyk, the leader of a house church in Minneapolis, Minn., came to Winnipeg to lead some sessions on Christian discipleship for people involved in an inner-city house-church ministry: Little Flowers, a project within MC Manitoba. I had met him once at a convention, but knew him better as a contributor to a website called www.jesusradicals.com. He’s the co-host of The Iconocast radio program that interviews politically active figures such as Cornel West, Mary Jo Leddy and John Dear.

Mark and I cooked a meal together, pizzas on flattened pita shells. He fried the onions and mushrooms, I prepared the sauce and cheese. This was a bonding time for me and him, and the local brew helped with the chuckles. I would have been embarrassed to make a simple meal like this with Willard; he was fancy, we were down to earth. He carried middle-class ostentation; Mark exuded lower-class solidarity, staying with billets in a poor neighbourhood, taking the bus around town, singing karaoke with the locals.

Mark’s church is called the Mennonite Worker, named after the Catholic Worker Movement that started in the 1930s. Its mission statement says the church is “committed to following Jesus’ way of simplicity (seeking a sustainable life with a healthy relationship to possessions), hospitality (inviting friends and strangers to share life together), prayer (being rooted in life-giving spiritual rhythms), peace (breaking our addiction to power as we get in the way of violence and injustice), and resistance (naming and challenging oppression wherever we find it as we seek to embody an alternative).” Moreover, this is what it is doing.

One leader, Willard, talked about the need for Mennonites to downscale. The other leader, Mark, was already practising voluntary poverty. I wanted to listen to one, but follow the other.

I conclude that the majority of MC Canada members must want a leader like Willard, one who can offer strong words and affirmation for good intentions. I want more. I want to follow many small leaders, probably younger and maybe naïve, to show us how to forsake wealth, pursue peace and practise radical hospitality in the name of Jesus.

Aiden Enns is co-editor of Geez magazine. He is a member of Hope Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, and can be reached at aiden@geezmagazine.org.

Share this page: Twitter Instagram


Great piece, Aiden. My only push back (and it is minor) is that Willard isn't "fancy". He'd have enjoyed the pizza making pita party with the best of them. For what it is worth.

Add new comment

Canadian Mennonite invites comments and encourages constructive discussion about our content. Actual full names (first and last) are required. Comments are moderated and may be edited. They will not appear online until approved and will be posted during business hours. Some comments may be reproduced in print.