Conflict within, uncertainties without. Perhaps it was because of these that planners of Mennonite Church Saskatchewan’s annual delegate sessions chose “Bound together, freed to serve” as their theme for the March 11 and 12, 2016, event.
Chains encircling a Bible provided a visual reminder of that theme as three speakers shared thoughts on Ephesians 4.
Ryan Siemens, Saskatchewan’s area church minister, said that Jesus’ disciples didn’t always agree with one another. “We are united as a body not because we agree with each other, but because of what God accomplished through the cross of Christ,” he said. “Through the cross of Christ we are bound, chained, imprisoned in the Lord.”
Cindy Wallace of Warman Mennonite echoed Siemens’s thoughts in her message to delegates. “I believe we grieve Christ when we tear his body limb from limb,” she said. “The goal is not to have no disagreements. It’s to disagree well, and to inspire those who observe us with the love we have, even as we disagree.”
Rose Graber of Grace Mennonite in Regina, agreed with Wallace. “We’re not going to agree about sexuality. Not in this generation,” she said. “If we spend our time fighting about who can be part of the body and who can’t, we take our eyes from Jesus. If we focus on Jesus, others will know we are Christians by our love.”
Delegates focussed on Jesus through: worship ably led by members of the host church, Osler Mennonite; as they heard reports and voted to accept a budget of just under $376,000; as they participated in workshops and learned more about the area church’s various ministries; and as they asked questions and expressed concerns about the recommendations of the Future Directions Task Force.
The Listening and Discernment Committee, also known as the Ad Hoc Committee on Same-sex Marriage, which was appointed following the 2015 annual delegate sessions, offered a workshop in which participants were guided through several listening exercises.
“True reflective listening doesn’t compromise one’s beliefs,” said committee member Cheryl Woelk. “It takes vulnerability and work, but it’s risk-free.” She invited participants to think about how the skills they were learning might be used in conversations about same-sex marriage.
Delegates’ listening skills were tested during the final business session, as Sam Dyck of Warman Mennonite presented a resolution on behalf of his congregation. The resolution asked that MC Saskatchewan member congregations be polled “in order to determine the level of support for affirming Article 19 [of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective], or for recommending a process of revision.” The article in question is entitled “Family, singleness and marriage.” Dyck said his congregation has lost members already and may well vote to leave MC Saskatchewan if it feels the delegate body doesn’t reflect what it believes.
Both Ted Janzen of Rosthern Mennonite and Darlene Martens of Aberdeen Mennonite said that voting in favour of the resolution would bring division to their congregations, rather than peace, but that voting against it would suggest that Warman Mennonite’s voice is unimportant. Since neither outcome would be acceptable, they said they would abstain from voting.
Peter Neufeldt moved to table the resolution. His motion was quickly, though not unanimously, passed. At this point, a number of delegates came forward to say they felt the tabling motion had been too hasty. Parliamentarian Peter Peters advised that if what delegates wanted to achieve was contrary to Robert’s Rules of Order, it was “okay” as long as the decision allowed them to achieve what they wanted to do. So delegates voted to “undo” the tabling motion, which was then amended to indicate that the resolution be tabled until the work of the Listening and Discernment Committee is completed. After a time of discussion, reflection and prayer, this motion was carried.
In response, Dyck thanked delegates for their patience in a difficult issue, and said, “We’ll be praying for you. I hope you’ll be praying for us.”
Pauline Steinmann, representing the Vision and Wholeness Committee, summarized the sessions this way: “We would be remiss if we didn’t acknowledge the air of tension and anxiety. We are anxious about losing the church we know. But in the midst of anxiety we also heard words of encouragement and hope. In the last session we heard that Robert’s Rules of Order don’t need to be what we are enslaved to. We are enslaved to Christ and that needs to take precedence.”
See more on Future Directions at bit.ly/future-directions-sask.
See reports of the annual meetings of other area churches:
MC B.C. considers call to missional engagement (Mennonite Church British Columbia)
MC Manitoba approves new vision, Future Directions recommendations (Mennonite Church Manitoba)
MC Alberta defers approval of Future Directions report (Mennonite Church Alberta)
Finding God in my neighbourhood (Mennonite Church Eastern Canada)