The buzz of conversation and singing was a welcome sound as people filled Douglas Mennonite Church in Winnipeg for Mennonite Church Manitoba’s first in-person gathering in three years.
This year’s event hosted more than 150 people, including 111 delegates, on March 3 and 4. The theme was “Re-imagining church together.”
“It’s a focus befitting the current state of the world,” said Michael Pahl, MC Manitoba’s executive minister. “We’re in a time of upheaval and uncertainty.”
In conversations with church folks throughout the year, he said he heard repeatedly: “Our church has changed, our church is changing, and we’re not sure what this all means.”
As 2023 also marks 25 years since the creation of MC Manitoba’s vision, mission and values statement, congregations and the regional church are, or should be, asking, “Who are we as a church? What is God calling us to be and to do now, in this time and place?” according to Pahl.
The regional church expanded by two congregations, as delegates voted to accept Aberdeen Evangelical Mennonite Church into full membership and Saint Julian’s Table into affiliate membership. Both decisions were preceded by a sea of hands vying to second the motions of acceptance, and were followed by energetic applause. These congregations are the first additions to the regional church in many years.
Aberdeen is a small congregation in Winnipeg’s North End, which formed in 1957 and has been part of the Evangelical Mennonite Conference ever since. But the conference does not ordain women for ministry, and Aberdeen has had several female pastors.
“Our congregation wanted to be part of a conference that fully blesses and supports the involvement and leadership of women, and membership in MC Manitoba fulfils this desire,” said Teresa Enns Zehr, Aberdeen’s pastor. “As we make this transition, we hold on to our history and the legacy . . . but look forward to the future with anticipation and new energy.”
Saint Julian’s Table is an ecumenical congregation that meets via video conference and in person at St. James Anglican Church in Beausejour, Man. The small congregation that began in 2016 is part of the Anglican Diocese of Rupert’s Land, but has many participants with roots, and wounds, in MC Manitoba. Marcus Rempel, the congregation’s pastor, is ordained in the Mennonite church.
“For me personally, there’s a sense of homecoming,” said Rempel, who left his Mennonite congregation decades ago. “Joining the conference felt like having a marriage outside the family be treated as legitimate. I don’t have to choose between one family or another.”
Both congregations are excited for the opportunity to join working groups for causes about which they’re passionate, but haven’t had enough people or resources to run initiatives on their own.
Two congregations also decided to withdraw from MC Manitoba in the last year. River East Mennonite Church in Winnipeg officially ended its membership on July 1, 2022. Carman Mennonite Church has voted to leave the conference, which will take effect on Sept. 1 of this year.
“Their decision to break fellowship with the other congregations that make up MC Manitoba feels like a death in the family,” Pahl told Canadian Mennonite. “And we know, too, that it’s hard for many people in those congregations. We are always very aware of the personal, relational impact of these corporate decisions. We grieve every loss and we mourn with every person impacted by that loss.”
These changes were acknowledged during a time of lament and thanksgiving at the gathering’s opening worship service on March 3.
Jubilee Mennonite Church was also on the hearts and minds of many at the meeting, as the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba simultaneously held its annual assembly on March 4, and voted to revoke Jubilee’s membership because of Jubilee’s statement of LGBTQ+ inclusion. The Winnipeg congregation had been a member of both MC Manitoba and the MB denomination.
The MC Manitoba meeting included breakout groups on church buildings, camping ministry, finances, conflict in Israel-Palestine and climate action.
With respect to finances, after seeing notable surpluses in 2020 and 2021, 2022 ended with a deficit, largely as a result of shortfalls in camping ministry. But looking ahead to the coming year, camper numbers are already tracking higher, rentals are booked solid and the camp’s capital campaign is in the works. The delegates committed afresh to the 2023 budget.
Gathering 2023 marked the end of Gerald Gerbrandt’s time as moderator of MC Manitoba, after serving for five years in the position. The new moderator is Cheryl Braun, pastor of Glenlea Mennonite Church. “I am very much looking forward to connecting with, listening to and representing our diverse congregations, as we seek to nurture and grow the ministry of MC Manitoba,” she said.
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