A season of Jubilee

From Our Leaders

August 17, 2022 | Opinion | Volume 26 Issue 17
Melanie Neufeld | Mennonite Church Manitoba
Ontario pastor Kara Carter speaks at Gathering 2022. (Photo by Ruth Bergen Braun)

“Called to proclaim good news to the poor . . . release to the captives . . . sight to the blind . . . freedom for the oppressed . . . and the time of the Lord’s favour” (Luke 4:18-19).

Practices of Jubilee are particularly relevant today when we consider this new season of being church.

Similarly, Kara Carter, a speaker at Mennonite Church Canada’s recent Gathering, called this a season of unravelling and reweaving. Jubilee practices include a time of rest, restoration, liberation and redistribution, so that all might have enough and live together in just peace.

Many of us have an acute need for rest, so let’s start here. Step back from the anxiety and urgency of all the messages of the day. Let us declare a season of reflection and listening to our Creator, noticing the movement of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and let us be reminded of Jesus’ call to ministry.

Our congregational vision and mission may need tweaking as we re-imagine our identity as a body. Glen Guyton, the executive director of MC U.S.A., called MC Canada leaders to simplify all that we are doing, at the Spiritual Leaders Day event before the Gathering began. This simplification could mean reflecting on our church property, collective wealth, and where we spend our time, as well as discerning opportunities for re-distribution.

Recently, MC Manitoba decided to give away surplus funds and redistribute them to congregational projects supporting their local community. In discerning what God has set before us, congregations in Manitoba have a renewed vision for supporting refugees, starting a food pantry, opening a welcome centre, distributing emergency funds, opening up their space for community activities, or putting up a basketball court as a way to get to know their neighbours. Let us pray that an outpouring of joy may result as congregations take a risk and step into new relationships with their community.

John Boopalan, another speaker at the Gathering, reminded MC Canada that the good news is for all of humanity, especially “bodies who unequally bear the weight of the world” when impacted by systems of cruelty and indifference. As people of privilege, we are being called into right relationship with our neighbours and our earth. With so much justice work that we could step toward, let us again listen and see what God is setting before us in our communities.

At Seattle Mennonite Church, where I recently completed a 15-year term, our small congregation stepped into a ministry of radical hospitality with people on the margins that led to unexpected blessings. Our flexibility in opening our building, and sharing resources, time and space with people rejected and isolated in our neighbourhood, enabled transformation to change the lives of many people as well as a whole community. Instead of resuscitating what once was pre-pandemic, let us look for resurrection and see where new life is sparking in our communities.

Melanie Neufeld now enjoys connecting with congregations in her new role with MC Manitoba as director of mission engagement.

More Gathering 2022 coverage:
Gathering 2022: MC Canada invited to declare and embody the gospel
A focus on rest and renewal
‘Do you hear what I hear?’
In This Together aims to widen the circle of inclusion
Editorial: ‘We Declare’ and beyond

Read more From Our Leaders columns:
Diversity in our unity: Belonging to each other in the body of Christ
Thoughtful and prayerful changeovers in ministry
Receiving a life-giving word
At work with God on climate change
When the ‘grey’ is not holy

Ontario pastor Kara Carter speaks at Gathering 2022. (Photo by Ruth Bergen Braun)

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It is unfortunate when the Year of Jubilee is relegated to "give away surplus funds and redistribute them to congregational projects in their local community" as indicated is happening in MC Manitoba. This is hardly a ringing endorsement of "returning the land" to its rightful owners that we have come to understand as integral to practicing the Year of the Jubilee as perhaps intended by that great God of justice, Yahweh in the instructions to Moses in Leviticus.

The Lord knows Mennonites in Manitoba are sitting on a passel of Treaty 1 land, approximately 25 townships in the East and West Reserves, upon which they proceeded to build empire, at least that was the situation post 1874 in Manitoba.

The Lord also knows and most Mennonites as well, that the Treaties were signed by First Nations groups as "sharing" Treaties, not land ownership and property rights agreements. I suppose the Lord also knows that very little, if any, of Treaty 1 land has ever been returned to First Nations by Mennonites in Manitoba. Yet ... we continue to speak in the language of "the Year of the Jubilee," construing it to meet the conscientiousness of the day at whatever conference or Gathering we happen to be at.

I suppose much to the chagrin of Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount, the Year of the Jubilee has been watered down and parsed into something unrecognizable some 2000+ years later. But ... justice is justice, and the First Nations Land Back movement might very well be the prophetic voice needing to be heard by Mennonite congregations everywhere. God works in mysterious ways.

A great call to action, Peter! I agree to the deepening of our Jubilee practices. I pray for faithful discernment as we understand our experience of wealth and privilege and learn to let go.

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