On the weekend of Oct. 13 to 15, Mennonite church delegates and others took part in Special Assembly 2017 in Winnipeg. More than 400 of us gathered from across the country to consider the direction we, as Mennonite Church Canada, should take in the years to come.
We were 292 congregational delegates from 128 congregations, 33 delegates from the five regional churches, and 13 youth, five of whom were delegates. There were MC Canada staff members and staff from the regional churches, and representatives from church organizations. Thirty-one official volunteers gave practical help, and many others volunteered behind the scenes to help pull off this intense weekend.
This assembly was the culmination of a process that began with the Future Directions Task Force and eventually came to be called Covenant New. Faced with changing realities both within our congregations and institutions, and in the larger society, delegates considered—and approved—new structures for being church together.
In the midst of conversations about the new, we did some things just like at any other traditional Mennonite gathering. We made connections with friends and relatives from far away, whether waving across a packed meeting room, hugging in the hallways or sharing a meal. The schedule was packed, as usual, but this time it was extra tight. We relished the congregational singing of old and new songs led by gifted worship leaders. We expressed our love for the church and for its well-being. We recommitted ourselves to continue seeking God’s direction for our life together.
Oh, we had to wrap our brains around some new things too. There was new terminology to catch onto. (See page 16.) We saw new numbers in the proposed financial plan, and heard about different ways of collecting and forwarding the money. We tried to imagine how these new procedures would work.
We were invited to worship and to hear stories of God’s faithfulness in new opportunities. As we considered the business of bylaws and financial plans, we were reminded of God’s love and were invited to reflect on the question, “What is the Spirit writing on our hearts?” We prayed for each other’s emerging ministries.
The plan delegates approved includes increased expectations of the regional churches. So we wondered: Will they be up to the task? How will new vision develop at the congregational level for the work of Witness? How will we fund those dreams for engaging in mission internationally and at home? How will communication happen in the new structure?
We were confronted with the risks of a new venture. We faced the possibility of saying goodbye to long-cherished programs and people. And we received permission to lament.
Contained in the Covenant New document is something with continuity to the old. In the mid-1990s, when North American “Old” Mennonites and General Conference Mennonites were exploring how to re-organize church structures, they considered what God’s call might be for them at that time. Out of their deliberations emerged the 132-word statement called Vision: Healing and Hope. It expressed, in simple terms, our vision for participating in God’s reign together. The first paragraph reads: “God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.”
That 22-year-old statement continues to sustain the work of MC Canada and our sister church in the U.S. As a result of the decisions made at Special Assembly 2017, the moderators of the five regional churches signed a Covenant document that spells out some ways we, as a church, intend to live out healing and hope. (This vision document is found on pages 24-25 of the Discernment Guide at futuredirectionsmc.ca/documents.)
It’s time to reclaim this “old” vision as a direction to aim towards, even as we lament—or maybe even celebrate—old things that are disappearing, and, as we see new ways emerge, of how we will function as a church.
It’s also time to challenge ourselves, as individuals, congregations and institutions, to embrace God’s new work in our midst. We want to continue to grow into flourishing, nourishing communities that reflect God’s healing and hope to the world.
The refrain from Phil Campbell-Enns’s specially composed theme song expresses our prayer: “May your Spirit reveal / may our witness magnify / may your Spirit renew / so your church may be inspired / may your Spirit give life.”