This six-part series draws on Kara Carter’s PhD studies, for which she conducted five focus groups with Mennonite Church Eastern Canada pastors.
Advent celebrates the coming of light, the light of love that “darkness cannot extinguish” (John 1:5).
This light shines in our congregations amidst real and present challenges as well as fruitful and life-giving ministry opportunities.
Creative worship is inspired by the Spirit of God; community gardens are the rich soil of building friendships; the hungry are fed without starving the earth; lives are transformed; and collaborative relationships with community partners draw the circle of God’s light of love wide.
Where do Mennonite Church Canada congregations identify divine light shimmering with hope in their midst?
When the ground beneath our feet feels like it has shifted, and narratives of scarcity, fear and despair abound, stories of hope serve as a powerful counter-narrative and reminder of God’s faithful presence.
An MC Eastern Canada pastor commented that one thing he has heard with a sense of hope is shared from the older people in the congregation. Seniors have “seen a lot of change over the years.” Hope is connected to the lived experience of adapting amidst a changing ministry and cultural context over decades.
Another pastor said, “We really do believe that we will have enough leadership to do things. We really do believe there will always be a new Christian [education] coordinator.”
The pastor of an urban congregation surmised her congregation is hopeful, saying, “We’re in a season of having lots more kids than the congregation remembers having.” While this is not the full story of what the congregation wants to be, this present reality gives people hope that the church might be here after they’re gone.
Yet another pastor noted hope in their congregation, saying, “There is a realization that the future of the church is going to be different.”
God’s people are living into hope!
A new Canadian pastor commented that many global south congregations across Canada and the United States have problems with leadership. Within his context, however, unity and humble hearts abound, serving as a bright beacon of hope.
Hope is transformative not just for personal lives but for institutions as well. Pastors E and T have a close collegial relationship. The two meet regularly with a group of new Canadian pastors.
In response to concerns related to the lack of support for resettling East African refugees, T arranged a gathering of pastoral colleagues with a staff person from the denomination’s international relief institution. The purpose of the meeting was to hear from the staff person about why the relief institution was not sponsoring East African refugees.
It made no sense to the new Canadian churches. While many refugees were being sponsored, why not their own literal brothers and sisters living in refugee camps?
T was excited to share, “That has changed. The relief agency changed its philosophy and policy regarding sponsorship, as did a local refugee committee.”
Subsequently, dozens of friends and family have been sponsored.
The willingness to listen to one another, work together and seek understanding bears witness to the Spirit’s power unleashed in grassroots conversations leading to institutional change.
Congregations are facing the disorientation of ministry in uncharted territory. Structures that have been part of the church for decades are not working for us. The church that pastors have been trained to lead no longer exists.
While congregations are passionate about new initiatives, creative programming and experimentation, notably absent from conversation was the impulse to try harder to “fix present challenges.”
Congregations are listening for God, adapting, responding, experimenting and learning. Joy abounds as congregations try new things.
Unanchored pews in historic sanctuaries create flexible and multi-purpose space. Some congregations have included a children’s activity centre, puzzle tables, or knitting needles, wool and patterns for worshippers. Intergenerational Christian education and more has emerged.
God the Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer is actively authoring a grace-filled and redemptive story among God’s people.
During Advent, we learn that God is the source of all hope. May we be attentive to the hope-filled stories and relationships within our communities, revealing the illuminating, disrupting, disturbing and inspiring presence of Divine Hope.
Kara Carter is a pastor in Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.
Read the previous instalments of God's Story, Our Story:
Part V: Risking relationship
Part IV: Telling, re-telling, re-storying
Part III: Who owns your church building?
Part II: Telling and re-telling who we are
Part I: God’s story, our story