At our annual Mennonite Church Manitoba delegates meeting in Winnipeg in March, I concluded my time as a member of the regional church board. I served on this board as a rep from the southern area of Manitoba for six years (two full terms).
I joined the board in the middle of a pretty intense churchwide discussion about the future of our camping ministry. The board had made a proposal to close and sell one of our three area church (now regional church) camps, and the responses were not favourable. At my first delegates meeting as a board member the delegates spoke loud and clear and rejected the board’s proposal.
This was a hard time to be involved in leadership. Finances were not what they had been, neither were camper or staffing numbers, and some changes were needed. So when the first camping ministry proposal was rejected we, as a board, had to spend some time re-grouping and asking some hard questions. We had to evaluate our role as leaders, we had to assess the dynamics of our situation, and we had to carefully process the heartfelt responses from our delegates and congregations.
It took the board a few years before we brought another proposal regarding camping ministry to the delegates. And this time the delegates were much more receptive. We had spent time listening to their concerns and also being more transparent about our issues. Selling one of our camp properties was nobody’s first choice, but when we focussed on the ministry that we were doing and our goal of keeping that going, downsizing our properties seemed more acceptable.
This issue continued in some way throughout most of my time on the board and, though it was tiring at times, I am glad for the experience. I learned a lot about leading together as a board, trusting the delegates to make the right decision and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
When we were first re-grouping as a board our conversations together were very important. We were each other’s support systems. We shared our discouragements with one another and had to discern together how we would move forward. We had to decide whether we would stay in a space of rejection or whether we would hear the decision by the delegates as a leading by the Holy Spirit.
I am grateful that we found a way to trust that God’s Spirit was leading us. Without that sense of trust in God we would not have been able to see our way through another discussion. And without that sense of trust in each other, and in our delegate body, we would not have been able to constructively move forward.
It is my hope and prayer that as MC Manitoba and the other regional churches move forward, they may continue to find ways to trust one another, and seek after and trust that God’s Spirit is leading them.
Virginia Gerbrandt Richert is associate pastor of Bergthaler Mennonite Church of Altona, Man.