Mennonite histories ‘are not that different’
The editor is to be thanked for wading into the Future Directions Task Force report. That analysis raises a number of issues that warrant more discussion.
One of my concerns has been that the process seems hurried. Perhaps after the lengthy Being a Faithful Church procedure we are in no mood to enter another protracted process. Still, I think we may regret doing a rush job. There are too many “directions” at stake here.
I want to point out a kind of disappointment I felt in the Feb. 1 editorial that has to do with the composition of the Task Force and the polity issue the editor ties into that. When we consider that some 4,000 members of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada are from the Dutch-North German background, the three-out-of-nine mix is pretty fair, by my calculations. I have spoken to several leaders about this matter, and none so far have felt good about raising this. One mentioned, “I thought we were past that.” If not, then it is a theological, and not a demographic, issue. The account of the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 could help us with our theology here.
On the polity issue around congregational autonomy and authority of leadership, I would say that our histories are not that different. Prior to the 1960s, pastors/leading ministers were not authorized to perform baptisms, nor serve communion, in the then Conference of Mennonites in Canada. We had an aeltester (bishop/elder) empowered to do this via a second ordination. These aeltesters commonly were in charge of a cluster of congregations, usually in contiguous geographical areas. Congregational autonomy as understood today was not the norm then, as a number of these aeltesters exercised considerable authority.
Bill Block, Winnipeg
Reader concerned camper not wearing a life jacket
I’m assuming that the photograph on the front cover of your Feb. 29 issue was taken at one of our church camps. If this is the case, I am alarmed that the staffer is wearing a life jacket while the camper is not!
Barry Bergen, Leamington Ont.
Scholar provides ‘stellar example’ of biblical interpretation
Re: “What is ‘good’ and ‘acceptable’?” Feb. 15, page 4.
I heartily commend Darrin W. Snyder Belousek for his contribution to the issue of marriage. It is a stellar example of responsible interpretation of the biblical witness on this question. It totally avoids the misleading proof-texting on both the liberal and conservative sides of the issue.
At the same time, he takes all the texts in question seriously, not ignoring them nor allowing them to stand alone, but linking them with others to produce biblical answers to contested questions.
I applaud Canadian Mennonite for making this excellent model of biblical interpretation available to its readers. Perhaps it can help, not in producing uniformity of thought, but unity in the commitment not to shatter the already fragile community of faith. The history of the church, including the Mennonite church, has many cases of church schism over ethical and theological issues. Those who leave because they are convinced they have God’s mind soon find themselves in new controversies, resulting in yet more schisms.
I believe that Belousek’s careful, non-judgmental interpretation can help us all to stay together, “so that the world may believe.”
Walter Klaassen, Saskatoon
Let’s not ‘add another lane’ to salvation
Re: The Being a Faithful Church process.
Over the last years, as I look at our church history, there is one thought that really concerns me: “Let’s add another lane.”
In our part of Canada, we are adding extra lanes to highways to ease congestion and make travelling easier. In our supermarkets, they will add more lanes at the checkouts when there is congestion. All adding of lanes is to facilitate the movement of people and make life easier.
This mentality of “adding another lane to facilitate life” is taking more and more hold in the church of Jesus. And Jesus certainly was aware of our tendencies. He said to his followers: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
Clearly there is only one lane when it comes to entering the life eternal. I suppose any additional lanes will bypass the gate. What are we doing about it? What will our delegates at the July convention in Saskatoon do about it?
Isaak Eitzen, St. Catharines, Ont.
Isaak Eitzen is a member of St. Catharines United Mennonite Church.
Money is not the root cause of church restructuring proposal
Re: “MC B.C. considers call to missional engagement,” March 14, page 18.
I was sufficiently encouraged by our gathering for worship and decision-making during the 2016 Mennonite Church B.C. conference. The motion to accept the Future Directions Task Force’s recommendations passed with 89 percent in favour.
A few brief conversations at the conference confirmed for me that no one is so naïve as to buy into the notion that this shortfall in donations of a rather small sum of money to MC Canada is the real impetus for this restructuring. It’s a large red herring, to be sure, and maybe many may feel that it’s better for us to nibble away at the edges, rather than continue to devour each other.
It’s also sobering that it takes a shortage of money for us to start looking at what is going on. And for the record, our household has been re-directing money.
I accept that the heart of this potential restructuring is meant to strengthen the local church, which happens simultaneously with the strengthening of the local Christian. Betty Pries’s challenge to us sets the stage for this strengthening: “How can I nurture a spirit of reconciliation in my life?”
The Bible talks about iron sharpening iron. I learned how to sharpen drill bits when I served my apprenticeship. Respect for a metal’s properties is critical, since grinding it too hard, or too much, causes overheating and the loss of its ability to hold a sharp edge, rendering it useless.
One could also say that it’s a kind of warped sense of humor that our God has, in that it’s the people with whom our lives cross paths that cause us difficulty, but they can actually become the people who help us to mature.
George W. Goertzen, New Westminster, B.C.
A cynical response to the Future Directions Task Force
Re: The Future Directions Task Force.
Sometimes, grown-up eyes are the worst. While being a grown-up can be okay sometimes, lately I have found myself wishing that Mennonite Church Canada could find some childlike joy and lose its grown-up cynicism.
And I am talking, of course, about the work of the Future Directions Task Force.
But since when have we been a people who focus on the faults of others? Since when have we been a church that intentionally focusses on shortcomings and what’s missing, instead of what we have and where it can take us? Since when have we decided that, as a church, we are grown up enough to have all the answers and have no need for the eyes of a child? This is not the response of the church, this is not the response Christ calls us to.
As we all consider the work of the Future Directions Task Force and the shape we hope our beloved church will take in the coming years, my hope and prayer is three-fold:
- That we can all continue searching for ways to understand the Task Force’s final report for ourselves, not accepting the summary or biases of others, but seeking for ourselves the foundation the report is aiming to give us.
- That we can accept joyfully what we have and not spend time lingering in fear for what is missing.
- That we come to Assembly 2016 willing to set our grown-up eyes aside and be willing to consider the opportunities the final report gives us.
Kirsten Hamm-Epp, Saskatoon
Kirsten Hamm-Epp is MC Saskatchewan’s area church youth minister.