The most overheard phrase at the 2023 Mennonite Church Alberta annual delegate sessions in Pincher Creek was, “It’s so good to be together again!”
After three years of video meetings, the joy of the gathered church at Springridge Mennonite in Pincher Creek on March 17-18 was palpable. The smell of coffee, the crowd’s babble punctuated by laughter, and colourful displays of related organizations warmed the space, reminding all those present of the importance of the larger church for fellowship, support and mission.
Keynote speaker Joe Heikman, pastor of Wildwood Mennonite Church in Saskatoon, spoke on the theme of “Hope and trust in a time of transition.” He acknowledged darkness in the world, and in the life cycle of the church, as the reality of both the tomb and the womb. Christians are not immune to the difficulties of either kind of darkness. The church is coming out of COVID, dealing with losses and feeling anxious about the future, he said, encouraging those gathered to lean into those feelings, and to trust God who raised Christ from the tomb.
This message of hope and trust threaded its way through the committee reports as both difficulties and strengths were highlighted.
For the second year in a row, delegates passed a deficit budget. In 2022, the planned deficit of $79,000 was exceeded due to higher-than-expected costs, inflation, computer system improvements and an increased need for camper-fee assistance. The biggest surprise, however, was that the usual $30,000 from the Canada Summer Jobs Program for camp staff was not granted. The federal government offered no explanation.
While MC Alberta expenses had exceeded the budget by $20,000 at the end of 2022, income also exceeded expectations. Congregational giving was up by $10,700, and individual donations to Camp Valaqua and for the International Witness program were significant. All told, the deficit was only $7,500.
A proposed deficit budget of $49,000 was passed, for 2023, with only one vote against.
Finance chair Wayne Janz, explained that two years of surpluses during COVID, and healthy reserves, mean that the regional church is in good financial shape. The executive committee looks toward a balanced budget for either 2024 or 2025.
Janz is finished his term as finance chair, having served three consecutive two-year terms, and graciously staying on for an extra year. The position is currently vacant despite protracted efforts by the nominating committee.
Camp Valaqua returned to near-normal programming in 2022, and gratefully welcomed the efforts of more than 60 volunteers. Staffing shortages, however, meant that overall summer camper capacity had to be limited. The shortage highlighted the need to raise wages for summer employees by a minimum of five percent. This was approved by delegates. Facility rentals and camper registrations for 2023 are strong.
In his report, camp director Jon Olfert wrote, “There is clearly significant enthusiasm for our camp and its impactful programs.”
Despite having only 12 member churches, MC Alberta’s contribution to the work of International Witness is significant. Albertans Tom and Christine Poovong are supporting churches in Thailand, and Werner and Joanne De Jong, also Albertans, are teaching at Meserete Kristos Seminary in Ethiopia.
Doug Klassen, MC Canada’s executive minister, spoke about his recent visit to Thailand, enthusiastically commenting on the vibrant faith and growth in the global church. As the church in Canada struggles with shrinking membership, he said, “[Christians abroad] are willing to hold the lantern for us in our struggle.”
Locally, the regional church provides support for pastors, congregations and intercultural bridge-building work in Edmonton. Financial aid, in the form of a loan to Holyrood Mennonite Church and a grant to the Bethel International Church Edmonton Oromo Congregation support transitional leadership as these congregations work to discern their future directions.
In a powerful moment near the end of the assembly, Rueben Tut, pastor of Edmonton South Sudanese Mennonite Church, shared the deep pain he and his congregation feel for the people of South Sudan and the terrible situations they hear about from their loved ones there. Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, MC Alberta’s executive minister, stood with Tut and led in prayer for the South Sudanese Mennonite Church and the people struggling in Sudan.
Tut and others from his church also sang at the March 19 worship service, which included prayers for peace in South Sudan.
In line with the Springridge tradition of abundant potlucks, the service was followed by a hearty meal.
Prayer for South Sudan
The Edmonton South Sudanese Mennonite Church is a community of Nuer-speaking newcomers who joined MC Alberta because they wanted to be a church that “helps people and believes in peace.” At the recent Annual Delegate Sessions their pastor, Reuben Tut, shared deeply about the suffering of friends and family members in South Sudan. Half the population is facing extreme hunger after years of civil war. Together, the delegate gathering prayed for food, peace and relief.
—Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, MC Alberta executive minister
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