MC Canada executive minister visits Saskatchewan

Event highlights need for ongoing dialogue between nationwide and regional church; urban and rural congregations

March 8, 2023 | News | Volume 27 Issue 5
Emily Summach | Saskatchewan Correspondent
Doug Klassen shows no fear despite Mark Bigland-Pritchard’s mallet swinging. Bigland-Pritchard shared an object lesson to talk about the ‘theological pillars’ of the Climate Emergency Response Team’s mission. (Photo by Emily Summach)

In an effort to strengthen communication and relationships between the nationwide and regional churches, Doug Klassen, Mennonite Church Canada’s executive minister, paid a visit to Saskatchewan last month.

He came, he said, “because I was invited. Ryan Siemens [MC Saskatchewan’s former executive minister] felt it was really important to have in-person visits and face-to-face meetings between myself and regional churches. The pandemic really kept me from doing those important visits, so now I’m making good on my commitments to connect with the regional churches, and the global church, too.”

Nearly 50 people attended the event, which featured updates on the ministries of MC Canada by Klassen, as well as updates from various MC Saskatchewan ministry commissions. Special emphasis was placed on open question-and-answer sessions to facilitate further dialogue.

One of the difficulties brought on by the 2017 restructuring of MC Canada was determining the best way to share the agenda and vision of the nationwide church with the regional churches. The new model asks the regional leadership to “carry a lot of the freight” of communicating with their congregations, Klassen noted. He shared a video presentation which offered updates from Klassen, CommonWord, and the International Witness, Indigenous Relations and Climate Action ministries.

The ministries of Saskatchewan’s regional church were also on display, as representatives from the pastoral leadership and Indigenous Relations commissions, and the newly formed Climate Emergency Response Team reported. Leaders spoke about the recent work their groups had undertaken, as well as some of their plans for the future, and then opened the floor for questions and discussion.

Eric Olfert and Phyllis Goertz, of the Walking the Path Indigenous Relations Committee, shared about the plan to make the new documentary, Custodians, available to MC Saskatchewan congregations as well as a new initiative to highlight the Saskatchewan government’s recent sales of Crown Land.

Ike Epp, a representative from Fields of Hope/Hoffnungsfelder Mennonite Church in Glenbush, shared the impact that rural crime has on local perceptions of Indigenous communities, and how deeply prejudices can run.

Kevin Koop, pastor of Carrot River Mennonite Church, wanted to know how MC Canada and MC Saskatchewan decide which issues to advocate for. He noted this has been a live question for Mennonite denominations in recent history.

Klassen replied that MC Canada has been considering this same question: “Where does our responsibility as a denomination overlap with Mennonite Central Committee? Where do we decide to advocate?”

The climate emergency team made its first official presentation to the regional church constituency. Leaders Mark Bigland-Pritchard and Len Rempel shared a lively object lesson on the theological foundations for their work as well as the team’s five mandates. Their presentation was met with some skepticism, highlighting some of the potential fault lines between urban and rural churches.

Said Epp: “This message is going to be hard to swallow with the rural church. The rural church is dying, and that is consuming our energy. Are we, all of us, prepared to make the changes that [the team] is calling for?”

The discussion served as a reminder of the diversity that is found within Saskatchewan congregations.

Kirsten Hamm-Epp, MC Saskatchewan’s regional church minister, said: “We are a very diverse body here in Saskatchewan! All of our groups, and the MC Saskatchewan office staff need to recognize that what we put out there has to engage everyone. Events like the one we’re having today are important to challenge ourselves, and how good it is to hear and connect with all the diverse people that make up our churches. Let’s hold that on to that; these days are so good and important.”

In the final session, Klassen answered questions about the health of the regional churches in light of the three regional church executive minister vacancies in Ontario, British Columbia* and Saskatchewan. He responded that MC Canada is considering how much “freight” was passed on to regional executive ministers in the restructuring and how the nationwide branch can better support the regional church staff.

In spite of these challenges, Klassen affirmed that his recent visits with members of the global Anabaptist church showed him that the future of the church in Canada is hyper-local. The global church can teach us that all things are in, and addressed in, local churches, he said. The change comes in and through the local congregation, which is anchored in the households or neighbourhoods.” 

* MC B.C. has since filled its executive ministerial position. 

Do you have a story idea about Mennonites in Saskatchewan? Send it to Emily Summach at

Doug Klassen shows no fear despite Mark Bigland-Pritchard’s mallet swinging. Bigland-Pritchard shared an object lesson to talk about the ‘theological pillars’ of the Climate Emergency Response Team’s mission. (Photo by Emily Summach)

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