When I was called to serve on the Mennonite Church Canada General Board in 2006, church participation and financial giving were in slow decline. The looming threat of cutbacks further drained life from the overall system. In addition, signs of theological challenge were surfacing around matters of sexuality. These and other factors led to the General Board’s desire for our national church family to become more richly engaged in biblically grounded, communal discernment on matters important to the church.
At the same time, area and national church leaders began meeting to share mutual concerns about the long-term viability of existing ministries. Within a short time span, two task forces were formed: Being a Faithful Church (BFC), 2009-16, and Future Directions, 2012-16.
In a society where faster is better, pressing the pause button to tune into God’s presence isn’t easy. Navigating the path of discernment can be both vulnerable and exhilarating. For some, change threatens to tear down dearly held traditions. For others, it offers the possibility for renewal. Either way, we are uncomfortable sitting with uncertainty for a prolonged period.
But in the midst of that uncertainty, we have the clear navigational markers of our biblically based vision statement to guide us. It responds to God’s intentions for the church to be a sign, instrument, promise and foretaste of the coming kingdom of God. Through it, we affirm that we are led by “God, who 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.”
Scanning the 21st-century Canadian landscape, we are blessed by ethnically and culturally diverse congregational cells. Although language, history, worship styles, music, politics and even theology may reveal differing expressions among us, we are held together by the oneness of Christ. Empowered by a diversity of spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit—received for the common good (I Corinthians 12)—we can be attentive to areas where God is at work. When our context or understanding shifts, when programs and structures lose their vitality, we humbly seek courage to unclench our fingers and release them. This is an exciting transitional season in the life of the church, one that longs to engage everyone’s spiritual gifts.
The BFC6 document begins: “The calling of the church is to seek to understand the desires of God for our times and share this good news.” Both the Future Directions and BFC task forces have sought to engage our collective energy in this calling. As we anticipate the work of these task forces drawing to a close in 2016, it is deeply gratifying to see area church gatherings, congregations, small groups and individuals prayerfully wrestle with the challenging questions of our day. Trusting in the Holy Spirit’s guidance, we continue the journey together, seeking to be a faithful people.
Hilda Hildebrand is moderator of MC Canada’s General Board.