Widening our circle

May 4, 2016 | Editorial | Volume 20 Issue 10

The draw to our Anabaptist/Mennonite theology just keeps happening.

First, it was Stuart Murray, the British-born Baptist who, with many in his network, found a “home” in the Anabaptist fold. He has set up the Anabaptist Network to make a centre for seekers in many communions in the United Kingdom. (See more about Murray’s vision: “Holding out hope for the post-Christendom church.”)

Now comes the Anglican Church of Canada wanting to establish a five-year dialogue with Mennonite Church Canada, the proposal to be presented at Assembly 2016 in July. Acknowledging their fall from “privilege” and their historical association with “empire” in this post-Christendom era, Anglicans are seeking dialogue with Mennonites, who they see as a communion that has existed for 500 years as a “church on the margins.”

They are especially attracted to our tradition’s “particular commitment to peace, justice and nonviolence, which puts [the Mennonite church] at odds with the predominant culture, yet it remains a faithful and vibrant expression of the Christian faith.”

Anglicans talk of this theological tenet as a “gift” their communion can receive from Mennonites as they learn to move beyond being a church of the empire. They are hoping the gift exchange is mutual, saying, “It would be for the Mennonites to discern which gifts Anglicanism may have to offer their tradition.” One area to explore would be the rich liturgical and sacramental life of Anglican Christianity at a time when many Mennonites are seeking to reclaim a deeper understanding of these aspects.”

The association would not be new. We already share ecumenical relationships as fellow members of the Canadian Council of Churches and Kairos, the latter through Mennonite Central Committee.

The Anglican overture has been positively received by MC Canada’s executive director, Willard Metzger.

On the ground level, this coming together has already been happening, as was playfully portrayed in a recent “On faith” column by John Longhurst. He began his April 17 column with an old joke: “What is the fastest-growing Mennonite church in Winnipeg? Answer: St. Margaret’s Anglican.”

Going on to explain this new phenomenon, Longhurst quotes from an interview with Anglican Archbishop Bruce Myers in the Anglican Journal, who says that “all sorts of people happily migrate between St. Margaret’s and st. benedict’s table (sic), adding that this creates all sorts of interesting questions for ecumenism.”

Longhurst goes on to quote Andrew Dyck, associate professor of ministry at Canadian Mennonite University, to explain this attraction to Anglicanism because of its provision of a “richness around the mystery of God, something that is neglected in Mennonite and evangelical worship.”

So Anglicans like our peace theology and practice, and some of us like their liturgy. Longhurst thinks this combination of two important dynamics of faith could be a “model for the country.”

Just as inspiring can be the news coming out of a recent Vatican conference on justice and peace, which rejected the Catholic’s long-held teachings on the “just war” theory and asks the church to reconsider Jesus’ teaching on nonviolence. Conferees called for Pope Francis to consider writing an encyclical or some other “major teaching document,” reorienting the Catholic Church’s teachings on violence.

Miracles never cease. The same church leaders who persecuted our early Anabaptist forbears for this “heresy,” among other resistant teachings, have now come full circle to our longstanding belief of nonviolence and non-participation in all wars. We humbly rejoice in this change of heart and also pray that the very compassionate Pope Francis will follow through with new official documents.

While the argument for a “just war” is to stop unjust violent aggressors, those attending the conference posed the dilemma that “as long as we keep saying we do it with military force, we will not invest the creative energy, the deep thinking, the financial and human resources in creating or identifying the alternatives that actually would make a difference.”

What a coming of full circle of the sisters and brothers to one of the basic tenets of our Anabaptist faith!

Our numbers are small, but our Anabaptist theology fits our post-Christendom world like never before. Will we see these new opportunities for faith-sharing as a gift to struggling faith partners and a gift to ourselves in enriching our own worship and mission? Or will we hesitate over differences that really don’t matter?

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