Do you remember those family car trips? In the front seat, Mom and Dad are navigating, driving and planning for the next pit stop. In the back seats, kids are staking out their individual spaces, trying to stave off boredom and bickering. Everyone is looking forward to the adventure ahead. Someone calls out the question, “Are we there yet?”
In March 2013, Canadian Mennonite ran the first article introducing a new nationwide process called Future Directions. It was the beginning of an adventure towards life in a changing reality.
Dealing with decreasing church membership and reduced donations, the structures of Mennonite Church Canada faced serious challenges. Two questions were central: “What is God’s Spirit calling us to in the 21st century? What are the best ways (programs, structures, strategies) for the church to thrive and grow?”
The Future Directions process engaged people across MC Canada in conversations about where our church body was heading. Consultations happened, reports were written and many people offered opinions.
Like any other voyage, this trip toward the future has included planning and navigating, both enthusiasm and lack of interest, and, yes, some bickering. Small gatherings happened across the country, and the larger delegate body discussed proposals at the 2014 and 2016 assemblies. A final vote happened at the Special Assembly in October 2017. That resulted in a new structure that moved many responsibilities from the head office in Winnipeg to the former area churches, now named regional churches.
An emphasis early on was the affirmation, “The congregation is the foundational unit and expression of God’s work in the world.” Out of that grew the conclusion: “The key to remaining faithful and effective as a larger body in our changing world is revitalizing the life of [the church’s] foundational unit, the congregation” (Future Directions Task Force Supplement to Final Report, Oct. 23, 2015).
This trip has included significant bumps in the road. Staff members serving at the nationwide level lost their jobs as programs were cut. Workers in the International Witness program faced a new funding model, one that relies more on donors “out there,” as opposed to guaranteed support from a central office. Staff and volunteers of regional churches are being asked to do more facilitating and implementing of efforts for their respective areas. Responsibility for cultivating donors has increased at the regional level. We’re all learning about new ways of communicating across geography.
Sometimes the vision for the trip hasn’t been very clear. Who’s driving this car and where are we going? Grieving, fear, confusion and indifference have all been part of the mix, along with reminders that God is still Lord of the church.
It has now been 17 months since the decision to re-structure. Regional churches have experienced a complete fiscal year in this new reality and are finding ways to foster reflection around the vision moving forward. In this issue, you will find reports on the annual delegate gatherings of Mennonite Church Manitoba and MC B.C. Also, you’ll find a report on the 51 responses to an informal Future Directions survey our senior writer conducted.
We’re not there yet, on this trip toward the future. Still ahead: the church has serious work to do in addressing racism in our midst. Given differences in theological perspectives, we need to keep fine-tuning ways of having meaningful conversation that propels us forward. When our churches deal with diminishing numbers, it’s not clear that we will be able to meet the financial needs our dreams call for.
I’m encouraged by small signs: congregations and regional staff are praying for each other and learning to work together, and regional efforts are inspiring members to consider their calling as a revitalized church. An upcoming consultation will foster conversation about the purpose of the church in today’s society.
As individuals and as larger church body, we’re on a journey, learning how to be faithful disciples in the 21st century. The adventure continues.
Each year the Canadian Mennonite fundraising dinner helps us to connect with readers and supporters in one area of the country. This year we invite you to our 48th dinner, on April 6, 6:30 p.m., at Mennonite Heritage Village in Steinbach, Man. There will be delicious food, entertainment by the Accent Women’s Ensemble, and the opportunity to talk to CM staff and board members. Tickets are free, but reservations are required. Donation baskets will be available. To reserve your seat, email firstname.lastname@example.org with “CM April 6 dinner” in the subject line, or call 1-800-378-2524, extension 221. We hope to see you there!