Longing for transformation

March 6, 2024 | Opinion | Volume 28 Issue 05
Will Braun | Editor
As light fades . . . . Photo by fdecomite/Flickr Creative Commons.

I recently attended the Mennonite Church Manitoba annual general meeting (AGM) in Winkler. I find those events both energizing and demoralizing, which is why I have attended only a few in my life.


You visit with good people, listen to inspiring words, weather the budget anxiety, then leave with the hollow feeling that key realities were not confronted.


I posit two such realities.


First, large chunks of our denomination are fading and we don’t have an effective plan to change course.


Second, the cultural and theological gap between the dwindling and vital churches is wide.


Exceptions exist, but allow some generalization based on my latest AGM experience (a full AGM report will appear in the next issue).


A resolution that will see MC Manitoba sign a letter calling on governments to implement a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty passed overwhelmingly. Two of 104 delegates quietly voted against it. There was zero discussion in the plenary session, though a breakout session included conversation.


A resounding victory, of sorts.


But one long-time MC Manitoba member told me privately that the passing of the resolution—which has no budget or action implications— made it look like we had “done something” when we had not.


Does that comment apply more broadly? 


The theme of the AGM was intercultural church. Input on the topic from Fanosie Legesse was deeply challenging on spiritual and practical levels. In a breakout session, a large delegation from the Vietnamese Mennonite Church in Winnipeg shared beautiful stories of faith, conversion and vitality (no mention of climate or the like).


I would have been fully geared up to conclude the day with an hour of planning around intercultural integration: practical ideas, next steps, commitments and prayer. Or two hours.


Instead, we adjourned at 3:30 p.m.


One organizer said experience shows that delegates leave if the sessions go later. Some have far to travel; some have Sunday responsibilities coming; some sat through sessions all day Friday.


Another person said an AGM should be “as boring as possible.” Groundwork is done in advance, and the AGM is a time to report, invoke Robert’s Rules and head home. Real work happens elsewhere.


But this is the one time a year we gather as a broader body. Let’s make it count. We need change.


I could imagine people huddled in one corner over lunch refining a resolution, Bibles open. Others using precious time to compare notes on newcomer integration. A group of youth pushing decision-makers for more youth nominees.


Yes, Godly work happens elsewhere, but the AGM felt like a troubling indicator of a general posture.


The seats at the Friday evening service were about half full. As I left the church, I saw the sign of the non-denominational church kitty-corner to the one that graciously hosted us. The sign was bold: “8:30, 10:00, 11:30.” They pack the place, in large part, with ex-Mennonites.


I plan to visit that church. From what I hear, it will be a big, theologically troubling show, but I’d sooner see if there is something to learn there than sit smugly in a declining church, watching the list of the deaths in the previous year utterly overwhelm the number of births, a fact my 16-year-old son—who seemed to be the only teenager in attendance that evening—noted.


He did like the music and certainly the reflection by Fanosie Legesse, who he later described to his brother as a “guy who really cares.”


The church is still God’s and people are being loved in and through our churches. But the overall reality is dim.


The point is not who is to blame for the current reality but who will make change. It’s up to all of us to really care—to do something about the fact that business as usual is not enough.



Much gratitude to Arli Klassen, whose final column appears on page 10. Arli’s amazing experience throughout the Anabaptist world has brought great value to her writing. Thanks!


Finally, to hear a healthy discussion among two vegans and a cattle rancher—hosted by a conflicted small farmer—tune in on March 20 at 7:30 p.m. CT. Register here.  

As light fades . . . . Photo by fdecomite/Flickr Creative Commons.

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For those who may want to form their own opinion of Mennonite Church Manitoba's Gathering, I encourage you to check out our Gathering 2024 page for reports and videos: https://mennochurch.mb.ca/article/15707-mcm-gathering-2024.

While we as MCM are well aware of our challenges, which exist across our regional churches and indeed across many denominations, neither the present nor the future of the church is nearly as bleak as Will Braun paints it here. And, in fact, all of his practical suggestions for getting down to the nitty-gritty—"I could imagine people huddled in one corner over lunch refining a resolution, Bibles open. Others using precious time to compare notes on newcomer integration. A group of youth pushing decision-makers for more youth nominees."—are happening all the time, throughout the year, facilitated by our regional church staff.

Again, see MCM's Gathering 2024 page, and then check out the other ways we as a regional church are in fact doing the work of the church—well beyond the important reporting, listening, learning, and final decisions that happen at an annual delegate session.

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