In opening comments at Mennonite Church Alberta’s first of three Vision 2020 gatherings, Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, the regional church’s executive minister, asked people in the crowd to stand if they had left their place of birth in search of new life and opportunities. A few stood, and the crowd was aware that this is the situation for many in MC Alberta’s newer churches, including the Sudanese, Oromo and Chin congregations.
When those whose parents or grandparents had come to Canada for the same reasons were asked to stand, almost no one was left sitting in the pews. It was a striking visual example of turbulence, discovery and renewal in the recent history of the people of the regional church.
As society experiences rapid change and the need to adapt and respond to it, so does the church. On Nov. 16-17, 2018, delegates from the 13 MC Alberta congregations gathered at Calgary’s Foothills Mennonite Church to reflect on what is changing and how MC Alberta is being called into a process of renewal.
Vision 2020 is a four-phase process designed to aid the regional church in understanding its current context, in focussing questions and listening for God’s direction, and in welcoming spiritual renewal and practical changes in the life of the church.
Betty Pries, co-founder of Credence & Co., led the gathering through Phase 2 of the process; Phase 1 involved a survey of the regional church’s perceived strengths, realities and values. The gathering was a time to reflect on the current social context and the situation of congregations, and, in a context of worship, asking the question of how might MC Alberta be open to listening and surrendering to God’s call.
In recent visits to the newest churches, Wiebe-Neufeld and Brenda Tiessen-Wiens, chair of MC Alberta, asked what challenges they face. Answers, including how to encourage regular attendance, generous giving, and sharing the Anabaptist vision of the gospel, were not unique to new congregations, but showed how different cultural groups in the regional church struggle with the same issues of being the church today. Social media, consumerism, overwhelming world issues and time pressures are endemic.
Pries reassured the gathering that the “grand narrative” cycle of awe and wonder, suffering and submission, and transformation, is a natural part of being the church, and is also the narrative of the Bible. In recognizing this cycle, Pries said: “The hardest part is where we release ourselves into a place of listening for and hearing God. . . How are we nurturing the spiritual discipline of trust in our congregations?. . . Do we truly believe God loves us?” she asked.
After hearing survey results that indicated both hope and anxiety about the future of the regional church, delegates discussed and voiced questions about the future. These included:
- “How do we practise unity in our diversity?”
- “Being in communion with each other, especially when we disagree, is a profound message in a divided world. Is this our witness?”
- “How do we become attuned to the longing of our times?”
- “What is the gift MC Alberta brings to our congregations and the broader church?”
- How do we open ourselves to the movement of the Spirit within us?”
- “What do we need to release and what needs to be taken ahold of?”
The next step in the process is for individuals and congregations to engage in prayer. Pries cautioned the gathering several times not to expect answers to come to them during prayer, but to use prayer as a time of preparation so that God can be heard in the everyday places where life is lived. Prayer, she said, “ploughs the fields of our hearts so that we begin to see the burning bush moments and hear the whispering of how God is calling MC Alberta.”
“Discerning God’s call,” the third phase, will be hosted at Bergthal Mennonite Church near Didsbury from March 15 to 16, 2019, in tandem with the MC Alberta annual assembly. Phase Four, called “Incarnating God’s call,” will take place next fall, when the participants will hear of the outcomes, key lessons, opportu-nities and action plans that will guide MC Alberta into 2020 and beyond.