Once again news headlines are about how the church has failed.
News about residential schools fill our newsfeeds, schools generally run by churches and funded by the government, with decades of separating families and leaving wounds of trauma for seven generations.
Mennonites want to know, “Were we involved?” (See 2010 CM article online at https://bit.ly/3gjm2uL.)
That is part of the question, but the bigger issue for all of us is that the church, the broader church, is not only complicit but a lead actor.
On the other hand, news about sexual misconduct cases by leaders also fill our hearts with pain, whether in the church or beyond. They demonstrate abuses of power that are far from our Anabaptist understanding of leadership.
The institution-builders of the last century left long-lasting harm to our broader society and to the church. It is easy to start thinking of the church as a harmful and hopeless institution, and I know many people who do.
I believe it is our time for lament and repentance for the harms done by the church. We have much work to do, hopeful work.
I also still believe that the church is a compelling movement of the Holy Spirit, transforming our lives through the community that is the church, and transforming society. I continue to hope in the church, as a movement of the Spirit.
Faithful church-goers are generous, particularly with people in need. The Canadians who volunteer with, and contribute the largest proportion of their wealth to charitable organizations, are church-goers, according to a recent report by the Canadian Council of Christian Charities.
Churches are also strong advocates addressing systemic issues beyond the generosity of individuals, families and their communities: Racism. Sexism. Colonialism. Climate change. This work is important.
As Anabaptists, we use many images of the church:
- Menno Simons emphasized a Pure Church, a church without spot or wrinkle, with an emphasis on holy living.
- For the last 100 years or more, Mennonites have been known as one of the Historic Peace Churches, with an emphasis on non-resistance.
- In the 1960s, Harold Bender talked about the Church as the People of God, the Body of Christ and the Community of the Holy Spirit.
- The idea of Missional Church has moved in and out of favour, emphasizing that the church’s mission is to serve beyond itself.
- As Mennonites, we are so congregational that we barely understand Church as Communion beyond our own congregations.
- Messy Church is another newer way to think about gathering together in ways that are less structured and more intergenerational.
- We are being called into Intercultural Church, where we learn to need each other across cultures, in order to better understand the depth and breadth of God’s love, and to be a witness that the Spirit is indeed unifying us as one body.
As Mennonites in Canada, these are a few of our favourite things: peace and justice, healing and hope, ministry of reconciliation.
I wonder which of those images or phrases about the church work for you? Which image or phrase are we, together as one body, moving towards? What is God calling us to become?
I long for the church to be known as people of love. “Faith, hope and love abide, and the greatest of these is love.”
Arli Klassen is a member of First Mennonite Church, Kitchener, Ont., and serves on the executive councils of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada and MC Canada.