Delegates have spoken

July 20, 2016 | Viewpoints | Volume 20 Issue 15
Willard Metzger |

In a much-anticipated assembly, delegates have clearly spoken on behalf of Mennonite Church Canada. After an eight-year Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process, delegates approved the BFC7 recommendation with an 85 percent majority. This is clear affirmation for seeking a way forward together in responding to committed same-sex relationships.

Delegates affirmed that the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective still reflects our common understanding of faith and practice. At the same time, delegates affirmed the need to respectfully acknowledge that prayerful discernment has led some congregations and individuals to embrace committed same-sex relationships in a way that is not reflected in the Confession of Faith. In addition, delegates affirmed the need to create space in order to see if these congregations and individuals reflect a nudging of the Spirit.

This is a strong vote for continuing to hold one another together as a national community of faith in ongoing discernment. It was not a vote to allow congregations to do as they see fit. Rather, it was a vote for us, as a national family, to create space across the country for congregations to be able to express their differences with our Confession of Faith. Area churches will determine how that space is best reflected in their regions. A strategy will also be developed so that we will continue to listen to each other as a national community.

After significant conversation, delegates also affirmed the Future Directions’ “final report and addendum” with a 94 percent majority. This will result in area churches covenanting together for national priorities. A new transition team will be created to guide the next steps of discernment, feedback and approvals. Working groups will be developed to attend to the future structure of various program and ministry priorities. After further testing and approval by delegates, a new staff and ministry structure will be initiated no later than July 2018.

This strong affirmation reflects a commitment to a robust national Mennonite/Anabaptist identity that is nurtured by area churches as they strengthen their congregations. While there is still lots of work required, delegates understood the need to imagine new ways of relating together as a national church family.

While the delegates held significant differences of opinion, I was proud of the overall respectful way in which they expressed their convictions. The desire to name a “brave space” for the BFC conversation attempted to recognize that the debate itself is wounding to the testimony of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters.

It is clear to me that our family of faith is passionate about serving God and others. Young adults and seniors together are as excited about the future of the church as they are about the past success of the church. This passionate engagement is an encouraging and inspiring gift.

These strong affirmations are not void of concerns. But the overwhelming sentiment is clear: We are ready to trust God in the next part of our journey together. And for this, I praise God!

Willard Metzger is Mennonite Church Canada’s executive director.

More about the discussions at Assembly 2016:

Hope through lament and loss (overview)
Decision roundup: Assembly 2016
‘We are all responsible for what happens next’ (Future Directions)
Delegates vote to allow space for differences (Being a Faithful Church)
Action seeks solution for Israelis and Palestinians (Israel-Palestine resolution)

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I'm glad you mentioned the "brave space" incident. It was raised in reaction to concern that some of the dialogue on the delegate floor was dangerous, especially to LGBTQ members and their supporters at the Assembly. It was suggested that as an alternative to a "safe space," which the Church can never be, a "brave space" be sought out instead. But I was confused. I watched the video of this brief presentation several times, and I'm still confused. I don't get why the Church cannot be a safe place. And although I understand that bravery is necessary when addressing 500+ assembled church folks, especially if you are a repressed minority voice, I don't see how "brave space" can replace a safe space. To me, the presentation sounded like, "Suck it up, kids. This is life." I may have misunderstood the presentation, but as I said, it confused me and continues to confuse me.

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