Time for the family to ‘pony up’

July 5, 2011 | Editorial | Number 14
Dick Benner | Editor/Publisher

Although the thousand delegates and locals attending the annual assembly of Mennonite Church Canada represent only 3 percent of our 32,000 members, the event has the feel and dynamic of a family reunion.

The much “meeting and greeting,” that yearly renewal of ties of Mennonite church cousins, is the social underpinning that gives self-identity and a sense of purpose and vision to the discussion and actions of a people defining its faith and practice in the changing culture of the 21st century.

As one looks over the crowds assembled, it is striking to note how “white” and “grey” they are, a demographic not a little concerning. That’s why it is a little puzzling that, under a new austerity program brought on by a shortfall of funds, the administrative staff of this denominational family has discontinued the staff positions of Multicultural Ministries, held by Samson Lo, and Youth Ministries, held by Anna Rehan.

Multicultural Ministries represents the growing edge of the denomination where, in MC Eastern Canada alone, 10 new “emerging congregations” over the past decade have helped stem the decline of the denomination. The same can be noted for the West Coast. It seems as if this national ministry calls for more resourcing and staff, not less, as the attrition rate of members within the older, more established congregations increases.

Likewise, the transitioning to a contract position for Youth Ministries seems questionable when leadership development of the younger members of the family is needed to stem the exodus of the younger generation, who, for a variety of reasons, seems to feel some alienation from, and stagnation in, the more established congregations. This might be an unfair perception on their part, but if our young people don’t stick around, or feel some ownership, the reasons won’t really matter. They will be gone.

Granted, taking a $415,000 hit in contributions toward a $5 million budget is serious enough, and needs the undivided attention of MC Canada’s financial managers. They are acting responsibly in fashioning a smaller staff and structure to carry out their mission. It hasn’t been easy for them to give the pink slip to dedicated staff members who have given heart and soul to their work.

It undoubtedly has affected staff morale in MC Canada’s offices. “Repositioning ourselves as a smaller structure [after 11 years of optimistic growth] has been painful,” general secretary Willard Metzger told me in preparation for assembly. “Working on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada is a calling and a passion for individuals. Letting go of this passion and these gifts from an employment relationship is a loss.”

Metzger and his staff need our prayers for grace in this time of grief and loss. It must feel like a death in the family. They need several extra hugs to get them through this.

They also need our constructive counsel, which Metzger seems open to receiving. “We still need to engage in further dialogue with our partners to determine the best way that we can provide support for our multi-ethnic/cultural reality,” he said while making final preparations for assembly.

If, in that dialogue, delegates want MC Canada to change its cutback priorities and re-fund these ministries, their congregations should put their money where their mouths are. Specific costs should be a part of the conversation, with delegates pledging to go back and ask their congregations to increase their denominational giving to these specific ministries.

Doing so might even change the dynamic of overall financial support for MC Canada. Donors, faced with multiple opportunities offered too often with strong-arm, sophisticated marketing tactics, respond when the needs are presented with dramatic specifics, rather than generalities to an overall mission.

We are not suggesting that MC Canada emulate “strong-arm” marketing to motivate the Mennonite family, but it might be advised to take opportunities—such as the urgency of maintaining multicultural and youth ministries—to be very specific in presenting needs and asking for support.

After all, we are all in this together as a Mennonite family. When ministries like these have to be curtailed, the family system is weakened—not strengthened—in its mission and purpose.

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