Throughout this year, readers may have noticed a regular item appearing in the print version of this magazine: historical photos and vignettes highlighting aspects of 100 years of ministry by Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). If you are a saver of old magazines, you might want to pull them out and glance through the Et Cetera section of each issue. There you will see some of the ways MCC has sought to make a difference in the world.
Born in the 1920s as a response to wartime disaster, MCC has rallied many in the wider North American community to serve “in the name of Christ.”
Recently I dipped into the book Mennonite Central Committee in Canada: A History, by Esther Epp-Tiessen. There are stories of food kitchens, refugee resettlement, and work in agriculture and water management. Volunteers at home sewed clothing, canned meat, packed Christmas bundles and relief kits; longer-term volunteers served in mental-health facilities and worked as school teachers and health educators. Committees lobbied the Canadian government for alternative-service options for conscientious objectors.
One of MCC’s strengths has been the ability to inspire different branches of the Anabaptist world to work together on a common cause. In Canada, these various groups functioned alongside each other for many years, with some amount of cooperation among themselves, and with the MCC office based in Akron, Pa.
Then came a crucial meeting in December 1963 that brought the disparate efforts together and officially created Mennonite Central Committee (Canada). The headline in Dec. 17, 1963, issue of The Canadian Mennonite reads, “Christian Brotherhood Gives Birth To A National Inter-Mennonite Committee.” (Yes, the photo shows six men sitting at a table.)
The article indicates that a number of attendees saw the three days of meetings as a “high-water mark in Canadian inter-Mennonite relations.”
Epp-Tiessen’s book tells stories from the years since then, as the new Canadian organization forged its identity and adapted to change. The book describes visions for ministry and some of the challenges MCC leaders faced over the years. (You can borrow or buy the book from CommonWord.ca.)
The year 2020 saw new challenges for MCC, with the limitations brought on by the novel coronavirus pandemic. Public meetings and fundraising had to move online, and thrift stores faced new regulations. Calls for assistance came from areas hit hard by the pandemic. Even the centennial celebrations themselves played out online.
At this celebration time, it is good to ponder how MCC has influenced the Anabaptist community and how we have helped to shape it. In the past 100 years, what have we learned about relief and development work? About making and building peace? How does the MCC “brand” express itself today? What are the visions for the future? What are the new calls to justice to which MCC must respond? Where and how might the Anabaptist community serve, “in the name of Christ,” in the next 100 years?
In this issue, you will read the final entry in the Third Way Family column. Christina Bartel Barkman is stepping away from regular writing because of new time commitments. She says, “I recently started working three days a week at a program for high-risk single moms, facilitating group support for women who have experienced intimate partner abuse and meeting with women one-on-one. I’ve been volunteering at this program for a couple years and it is a great fit for me.” Christina began writing her column in January 2019. Since then she has shared stories about her relationships with family, church and neighbours, writing with both insight and honesty. We thank her and wish her well in this new ministry.
This issue’s feature, “On babies and politics,” leads into the season of Advent, which begins on Nov. 29. In the coming weeks, Christians prepare to welcome the Christ Child, who is also the Lord of history, of the present and of the future. Traditionally, this has been a busy time for congregational life. Here is a shout-out to pastors, congregational leaders and other volunteers as you head into this season, especially this year, with the challenges of COVID-19. As you lead worship, prepare music, offer pastoral care and administer the details of a scattered congregation, may you also be gifted with time to rest, to connect with your loved ones, and to experience the Divine Presence.