If you have been paying attention to what the regional churches are up to recently, you may have noticed a common question and a common longing. A question expressed at both regional and nationwide levels: What is God calling Mennonite Church Canada to do, as a church? And the longing: We desire to go deeper in our relationship with God and with our neighbours both inside and outside the church walls.
It makes sense to tie the question and the longing together. How can we in the church embark on a larger communal direction without being in touch with the heart and mind of God? And how can we give a focus to our work together without listening attentively to the person in the pew beside us and the person across the street?
Members of MC Canada now have two years of living into the new structure for the nationwide and regional churches. This has required us to learn some new ways of doing things and has demanded fresh discernment about the direction for our collective body. Leaders at the regional and nationwide levels are inviting us to consider our vision, our spiritual groundedness and our relationships.
At a consultation on mission in March of this year, Doug Klassen, now MC Canada’s executive minister, emphasized that our calling arises because of a deep connectedness with God. He stressed that new strategies, structures or styles of worship will not bring about the revitalization of the church, but that transformation will come from a deepened spiritual life.
At the April annual gathering of MC Eastern Canada, speaker and author April Yamasaki spoke on the theme, “Deepening our relationship with God” and began with the question, “What does it mean for us to be friends with God?” She pointed to Psalm 27 to show aspects of this relationship, including lament, surrender, waiting, confidence and joy.
MC Alberta is in the midst of “Vision 20/20,” a process designed to help members live into deeper relationships with God and each other. “Living into a new structure and hope for the church is not easy or convenient,” says a report by Tim Wiebe-Neufeld, the regional church’s executive minister, and June Miller, communications coordinator. But members of the regional church are being encouraged and equipped to do “prayerful listening for God’s voice as [they] discern what it means to be the church in the 21st century.”
“Refresh Refocus Renew” is the aim of MC Saskatchewan’s three-year process, as members seek to deepen their walk with Christ, with each other and with their neighbours. Executive minister Ryan Siemens reflects: “Christ calls us to love one another, as we are, simply because Jesus loved us first. The grace of God, as revealed to us through the person of Jesus Christ, is the divine reality into which we are invited to live together, warts and all. And in deepening our walk with each other as imperfect people, the divine reality of God’s grace is made known to each other and the watching world.”
At the annual delegate session of MC Manitoba, in March, guest speak Sara Wenger Shenk called listeners to become rooted and grounded in God instead of being blown by the wind. In this fractured world, “we are going deeper into the love of God,” she said. MC Manitoba’s “Mission, Values, Constitution” statement says in part, the regional church “is a covenant community. . . . Our commitment is to be together and to grow closer in love without insisting on uniformity. . . . God’s message of love motivates us to nurture and care for others and each other.”
One of the activities at this year’s MC British Columbia annual meeting was a workshop to practise listening. As participants considered the pain caused by privilege and prejudice, Pastor Darnell Barkman challenged them, “What can we do to make Mennonite Church British Columbia more like Jesus?” We must listen to each other and become more like Christ, he said. “We, as disciples of Jesus, are transforming our reflexes to be Christlike so that our actions reflect his actions in body, mind and spirit. This is the fruitful life of a mature disciple.”
May God guide the church as together we continue seeking a shape for our vision and as we grow deeper into divine love and love of neighbour.