I like to attend congregational business meetings. Yes, that includes reading my congregation’s annual report booklet. Although I’ve never been a delegate at a churchwide conference, I do like to attend them—or even livestream them. Are you a church nerd too?
This is the season when regional churches gather delegates to participate in their annual business sessions. (In case you’re not a church nerd, “regional church” is the current term for what Canadian Mennonites used to call conferences or area churches). Our last issue carried a report of the Mennonite Church B.C. gathering, and you’ll find two more regional church reports—Manitoba and Saskatchewan—on pages 14 and 16 in this issue.
At annual meetings—for congregations or broader groups—we look back and consider the highlights of our life in the past year. We hear reports on significant activities our group has accomplished and we make decisions about efforts for the coming year. Financial reports help us see how our collective offerings are used in ministry.
I believe these “business sessions” of the church are a vital part of being church together, along with our regular worship, our service projects and our church fun times. So why do these meetings matter—to church nerds and others?
An ideal annual meeting invites us to consider how we see God was at work in our midst over the past year. It reminds us to celebrate God’s faithfulness, manifested as we went about our tasks and assignments.
By reading and hearing the annual reports we can catch a glimpse of this community’s vision, how the group sees itself involved in God’s mission in the world. If I were a newcomer in a congregation, I would ask for a copy of the annual report; I would attend the next annual meeting. These would help me decide whether this is a community I want to join.
An annual meeting provides us with the opportunity to celebrate the work of the dedicated volunteers and staff who helped our church accomplish its goals. Gathered, we can encourage each other toward ongoing faithfulness, and we can take seriously a call for us, as individuals, to be involved in the work of the church. (Wouldn’t that make the nominations committee happy!?)
Although some people tune out during financial reports, they point to the priorities—spoken or unspoken—to which the group is committed. How did our church allocate its money over the past year? Which projects did our church support? Where did we cut our giving? Why? The proposed budget charts a path for the coming year. It is also an invitation to you and your household: How might you set goals for your own financial giving to the community efforts? (Now the finance committee is cheering!)
Church business meetings should be more than about dry reports. There should be opportunity for questions, suggestions and challenges. In the context of these meetings, we can learn how to have public conversation, to listen and speak respectfully when we don’t agree. We can learn how to make decisions as a group, even when opinions vary and goals clash.
You may have other thoughts on annual meetings—of congregations, charities and larger church bodies. We’d love to hear about your experiences. Drop us a line.
By the way, Canadian Mennonite Publishing Service (CMPS) is conducting its annual meeting on April 28, at 4 p.m., at Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary. CMPS is the non-profit corporation that publishes Canadian Mennonite. The meeting is public, but voting is limited to CMPS members (individuals who donated at least $25 in 2017 and who register by April 20). You are welcome to attend.
Introducing Ross W. Muir, Managing Editor
Ross has taken a circuitous spiritual path to reach the Mennonite world. He was baptized as an infant in the United Church, raised as a Fellowship Baptist, and worshipped in Nazarene, Convention Baptist, Alliance and independent evangelical congregations, before moving to Kitchener-Waterloo in 2005 to take on the role of managing editor of this magazine and then joining First Mennonite in Kitchener with his wife Diane later that year. When he's not editing the content of CM, he can be found reading, listening to blues and jazz, or watching art house movies.