In reflecting on Assembly 2016 in Saskatoon, one thing is certain: We are entering a period of uncertainty in the life of Mennonite Church Canada and its area churches. The most hopeful sign in this state of affairs is that the delegates had enough faith in our leaders to begin a new process with few specifics.
That says a lot about the strength of our communion, another shining example of one of our founding Anabaptist beliefs—that our particular brand is a “priesthood of believers” and not a hierarchy of top-down leaders who hold most of the authority. We can have this faith because we will all be an integral part of the outcomes.
Even though the shaping of a new union has been assigned to the moderators of the five area churches, there has been a call for a more diverse leadership—one that is less patriarchal in composition and includes younger adults, women and persons of non-European ethnicity. The appointment of a new moderator for MC Canada in this two-year interim, Calvin Quan, from Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, is a good start.
MC Canada will continue to play a role in the next two years, but will defer to a new emerging vision and structure, as a “transition coordinator” works with all of the entities involved. That person has yet to be hired. We should all pray that a person of deep faith, full of integrity and wisdom, as well as administrative skills, is found.
During this transition process, though, there will need to be some lighthouses that can shed light and give direction as we travel along what can be some foggy shorelines. As noted, we will need to stay true to the character of our collective faith expression and to the spiritual roots that have grounded us over the past 500 years. In simple terms, our Anabaptist identity should fundamentally stay intact even as the structure changes.
One of those lighthouses is Canadian Mennonite. As a 62-year-old national publication, we have been telling the stories of our faith consistently over the decades, even as the culture changes around us, even as we have developed our faith and expanded our witness in our country and around the globe.
During its 113-year history, MC Canada and its predecessor, the Conference of Mennonites in Canada, has served as the shaper and guardian of our Anabaptist/Mennonite identity. Even though our numbers have diminished, they have faithfully reminded us of who we are and what is our role as congregations and believers. They have done this through faith formation, our international witness, leadership training and stewardship education.
This contribution, this gift, should not be lost in the transition. It should be honoured for what it has done to give us new vision, to shape and enhance our spirituality, to see that our pastors and leaders are properly trained to meet the challenges our congregations face in the 21st century.
As its role diminishes over the next several years, there needs to be a keeper of our national identity, a place for national conversation and a forum for all of the “priests” to have a say. That’s why Canadian Mennonite is needed more than ever. Every two weeks, we tell the stories that reinforce our shared identity as a people.
These are more than just happy tales. Our five correspondents across the country seek out those stories that represent the best witness to our faith, the most unique expression of who we are. Our columnists and opinion writers give us insights at the forefront of Christian thought and practice. Our Milestones announcements help to keep the family together.
We not only foster dialogue, we monitor and sometimes temper the conversation. Right now the church seems captive—sometimes obsessed—with sexuality. While this topic requires a thorough airing, it is taking our attention away from other issues that ought to consume us more, such as finding our place in a post-Christian culture and extending hospitality beyond our enclaves to our neighbours.
With our independence from the church establishment, Canadian Mennonite can be its critic from time to time while still functioning as a partner in leadership circles. This is especially important as we forge the new structures that serve us.
For all of these reasons, Canadian Mennonite is a lighthouse during a time when the fog is settling in.