I believe it is important that we are called to belong to a faith community that is beyond our own congregation. My main question today is: “How do we belong, how do we connect with the people in our Anabaptist church (regional, nationwide, international) beyond our congregation?
In previous decades, we learned about and developed relationships with people beyond our own congregation in very centralized ways. We attended regional, nationwide and international conferences in person, where we learned to know people from “out there.” We listened to reports and sermons by visiting church leaders and missionaries, who visited our local congregations and told us stories about the exciting things happening “out there.”
Today, we live in a world where our people, particularly younger adults, are more sceptical about what is perceived to be centralized and institutional communication. Long ago, we were a small-enough community that one might personally know the various church leaders, and trust them.
Then we grew much bigger and we developed proper systems and more professional staff, and there seems to be less trust in our systems and our leaders.
We seem to be returning to a time when people trust the people who they know personally, while centralized communication systems are trusted less than communication by the people you know personally. I wonder how this changes our church world.
Our Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers are supported through relational funding mechanisms, fostering strong direct relationships with some individuals and congregations. It is harder for less-connected Witness workers to be well funded.
Some congregations have direct relationships with other congregations around the world, sharing music videos, prayer times and sermons with each other online. I loved seeing the Facebook post last week of a church choir in Zambia that shared its music with a congregation in Pennsylvania for Sunday morning worship.
I participated in the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Online Prayer Hour last weekend. We had interpreters to help in five different languages, and we spent time in breakout rooms praying together for the personal and political, and for our churches.
There are three Anabaptist conferences (synods) in Indonesia, none of which were started by a Mennonite church in North America, whereas the Dutch Mennonite church has strong relationships in Indonesia. How do we Canadian Mennonites develop relationships that are not tied to our historical mission activity?
Direct relationships are becoming an important way of connecting with Anabaptists beyond our congregation. When people use these relationships to connect their congregation with Anabaptist brothers and sisters somewhere else in Canada or around the world, all congregational life is enriched, and our experience of God deepens and grows.
When there are no informal direct communication channels, it is the communication tools of our larger church bodies that help us to learn about and support those among our Anabaptist family who are more marginalized or isolated.
Let us continue to trust those more centralized communication channels along with the vast network of direct relationships, which all work together so that we feel more connected into the whole of our Anabaptist body.
Arli Klassen connects informally and formally in Kitchener, Ont., MC Eastern Canada, MC Canada, and MWC.