“I am convinced more so now than ever before that every neighbourhood deserves a Jesus-centred, disciple-making peace presence.” Norm Dyck starts the 2022 Church Planting Resource from Mennonite Church Eastern Canada with that conviction.
Dyck’s words strike me in their contrast to the discourse of decline that hangs over parts of the church. Dyck, who serves as mission minister for MC Eastern Canada, is not wringing his hands over dwindling numbers or COVID impacts; he’s proclaiming a vision.
He’s not alone. I see tremendous energy within MC Canada and the wider Anabaptist world. This is not false optimism (I don’t do that). I’m not glossing over the stress faced by some church treasurers and by those congregations with far more octogenarians than youth. I’m just noting that I hear and feel two different narratives—one about keeping the doors open and another about bursting out of the doors on a mission.
Starting on page 4, we share more material from the Church Planting Resource. Michel Monette shares the story of the work he and his wife, Lyne Renaud, have been doing in Montreal for years. They are church planters, called by God to the gritty core of the city. Their sanctuary doubles as sleeping quarters for those who need it. In his position with MC Eastern Canada, Monette also connects with new churches in Montreal and Ottawa. He’s upbeat.
It’s almost as if he missed the memo about the North American church being semi-doomed. He’s blunt about challenges and hardships, but I find it refreshing to read the story of someone who seems to fully expect that the church will care for the needy (up close, in-person), proclaim forgiveness and bring new people into the fold.
I’m reading Radical Gratitude by Mary Jo Leddy, a retired theology professor who lives and works with refugees at Romero House in Toronto. Writing about faith groups seeking social transformation, she says groups often court failure “because they [are] not really convinced of their own ability to make any change.” A lack of belief leads groups to essentially plan for mediocrity, or worse. “Powerlessness corrupts,” Leddy writes.
There is a place for holy weakness, and I’m leery of success-based lines of thinking, but Leddy’s comments have me examining my own involvements past and present, and considering the nature of different church narratives. What are we talking toward? What are we planning for? What do we believe and expect? What do we fund, or not?
When I read Monette, or Dyck, or Colin McCartney—who wrote about prayer-centred, buildingless churches on the fringes (page 27 of the March 24 issue)—I want to be part of church.
I recall visiting Southridge Community Church in St. Catharines, Ont., in 2016. Tim Arnold, one of the pastors at the time, spoke about how the church had been inspired by a book that asked something like: If your church shut down, would people in the neighbourhood notice? They were not satisfied with their answer.
Southridge now runs a 40-bed facility “providing emergency shelter and transforming lives.” They also do fine work with seasonal agricultural workers, in addition to three other “anchor causes.” (Southridge is mentioned on page 18 in relation to its dismissal from the Mennonite Brethren conference.)
If all our church buildings burned down, and our memories of “church” got blurred, and we were left reading the New Testament and wondering how to be the people of God together, would we rebuild a model in which the centre-piece of church involved us sitting in neat rows inside facing one direction for an hour-and-a-half one morning a week?
I’m part of a congregation that meets for worship every other Sunday. I devote my other “church” time to collective efforts on Indigenous justice initiatives and the More-with-Less revival.
Right after Norm Dyck’s words about every neighbourhood deserving a Jesus-centred, disciple-making peace presence, he says the following. “I am also convinced of the truth and wisdom of Swiss theologian Emil Brunner, who wrote in 1931: ‘The church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no church; and where there is neither church nor mission, there is no faith.’”
May the fire of those Mennonites who burn with mission, spread among us all.
Finally, the Bible Missionary Church of Myanmar is a Mennonite church with plenty of belief and mission. It is also hurting, after a military attack brought death and destruction to a village that is home to numerous Mennonites. May God have mercy.
Will Braun welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.