Mennonite Church Canada is transitioning its Indigenous-Settler Relations (ISR) program to the five regional churches that make up its nationwide community of faith.
The decision comes out of Joint Council meetings held on April 9 and 10, during which the need for the program to have regionally based expression across MC Canada was affirmed.
“Since Mennonite Church Canada’s restructuring in 2017, our work has been to activate engagement with nationwide ministries within our regional churches and their congregations,” says Calvin Quan, MC Canada’s moderator. “The strong regional and congregational ISR efforts being developed across our regional churches mean we can now shift toward supporting these efforts rather than leading them.”
Due to the creation of a part-time associate executive minister position and a part-time climate action position at MC Canada, and the shift towards regional expression, the nationwide ISR position will be reduced to half-time.
The full-time ISR program director position ended on April 11. Steve Heinrichs, who has served in this role for 10-and-a-half years, will no longer continue in the position. He will remain for a short time to conclude current projects and help transition relationships with ecumenical and nationwide partners.
“I am incredibly grateful to Mennonite Church Canada for the opportunity to serve in this role,” says Heinrichs. “I have learned so much, and I pray that I have also shared and given much. Though my time in this office has ended, the work continues, and it’s never been more urgent. Indigenous peoples have called the church to paths of truth-telling, repair and reconciliation. I think we’ve made a difference. And with growing courage and risk, we can make an even greater difference.”
Moving forward, the ISR position at MC Canada will focus primarily on information sharing and collaboration between regional church Indigenous relations working groups. It will also facilitate resourcing on Indigenous justice issues and relationship-building with Indigenous communities in the regions.
Heinrichs has worked with each of these working groups, encouraging regional and local engagement with Indigenous justice issues and communities. He leaves behind a host of initiatives, campaigns and publications from his time with MC Canada.
Former MP Romeo Saganash acknowledged in a recent interview Heinrichs’s mobilization of the Mennonite church community around Bill C-262 and Bill C-15, which passed last June, ensuring that Canadian law is consistent with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
More recently, Heinrichs led MC Canada’s first community learning series on decolonization and decarbonization, at a time when the nationwide church recently answered calls to acknowledge and prioritize its response to the climate emergency.
“I’m grateful for Steve’s years of service to the nationwide church, in which he raised the profile of Indigenous-Settler Relations and has provided leadership not only within MC Canada but also through the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, in significant times for the journey of reconciliation,” says Leah Reesor-Keller, the executive minister of MC Eastern Canada. “Steve . . . has helped to set a strong foundation as we look to deepen our regional ISR work. I’m thankful for our MC Canada colleagues who are in ministry together with us as we seek God’s healing and hope for the world.”
Indigenous-Settler Relations has been a nationwide program priority for Mennonite Church Canada since 1959, when it was called Mennonite Pioneer Mission. In 1973, it became Native Ministries, then changed to Indigenous Relations in 2012, and ISR in 2017.
Read a more extensive article by Canadian Mennonite senior writer Will Braun on the MC Canada staffing changes at canadianmennonite.org/braun-isr-2022.