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Christian Service Ministries seeking hope


March 25, 2003
-by Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man.—The shut-down of MC Canada’s Christian Services Ministry (CSM) program leaves a good-sized pothole in the “across the street” portion of the national church’s “around the world” ministry.

That pothole is most keenly felt by youth and young adults who have found a good fit with programs such as Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS), Service Adventure, Group Venture, and Youth Venture.

But attempts are being made to find other ways and means of winding down the program less abruptly, and by seeking ways for a modified program to continue independent of MC Canada. MC Canada administrative support is slated to end on April 10.

It is hoped that some funding might become available to stretch out program wrap-up and seek other alternatives for the program. Since each unit is operated by a hosting congregation, each congregation can choose the best wrap-up option for them: close the unit, or find an alternate means of administrative support.

Even though voluntary service units are frequently seen as being self supporting, administrative support for MC Canada’s Christian Service Ministry program rang in at just over $231,000 last year. That figure paid for national and international promotion, events attendance, national recruitment, applicant screening, orientation, retreats, support of partnership structures with Germany and USA, insurance and VISA application assistance, and salaries for 1 full-time and 4 part-time staff.

In addition to 14 individuals who completed their terms last year, CSM placed 14 individuals in assignments in 2002: 5 from Germany; 5 from USA; 4 from Canada. In addition, there were 11 Canadians serving in the USA.

Unit leaders from across Canada met via phone conference call on March 20 to discuss alternatives for maintaining and/or winding down units in Montreal, Hamilton, Winnipeg, and Lethbridge. Units in Edmonton and Riverton (MB) are currently vacant. Congregations in Toronto (Danforth), Ottawa (Ottawa MC), and Calgary (Foothills MC) had been in the midst of preparing to host a unit when news of the cutback became available.

Participants strongly felt that missing supports in the area of processing insurance and visa issues would be most keenly felt at first.

Nancy Sawatsky is on the MVS unit coordinators team in Winnipeg. She has told her volunteers not to pack their bags — that they will find a way to have them finish their terms. A unit in Hamilton (supported by Welcome Inn Church and Hamilton Mennonite Church) will keep volunteers until the end of the year. The Montreal unit expressed deep regret over the loss of service and ministry their volunteers provide to their hosting agencies.

Ottawa, planning to open a unit this summer, expressed empathy with the units that would have to close, since they were still in the planning stages, their job will be easier, they said. Toronto had spent two years praying and envisioning a unit that was to become a reality this summer. For them it was a calling, and this is a “kick in the gut”, said Tim Reimer. They are prepared to move forward, but not alone. They have 4.5 volunteer positions solidified with local agencies and another 3 positions to be confirmed. “What will our partners think now when they drive by our church?” asked on of the participants. The idea and the process used to arrive at the decision to host a unit have become part of their identity. They asked, “Are there other funds from other areas available?”

Expressing profound regret, leaders reiterated that all of the cuts were painful, but not reversible. Every cut or reduced program is facing the same scenario as CSM. Leadership also considered the range of existing service opportunities available elsewhere (Mennonite Central Committee, through schools, etc.) that offered voluntary service opportunities.

Willard Metzger, chair of the Christian Witness Council, said, “Christian Service Ministry has always been recognized as a worthwhile ministry. This has never been in question. But as we looked at the broader Mennonite family, we saw that this option was also available outside of the framework of MC Canada. Mennonite Central Committee has service options and most of the schools have service learning options. This is not to minimize the value of Christian Service Ministry, but by the necessities of needing to implement deep reductions we were forced to eliminate and reduce many ministries we valued.”

As a founding father of the voluntary service in Canada, Dr. David Schroeder (well known and now retired theologian), presented a devotional. In his closing remarks he said, “It seems as though we are going through a testing process,” noting that the missional church is about aligning with God’s purposes. We want to carry forward with the vision, in spite of our current hardships, he added.