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Danforth Mennonite proceeds with MVS unit


May 21, 2003

Winnipeg, Man.—In an inspiring step of faith, Danforth Mennonite Church in Toronto is proceeding with its plans to open a Mennonite Voluntary Service (MVS) unit despite the elimination of the program by Mennonite Church Canada (see Canadian Mennonite, March 24, pages 12-15, 26; April 7, page 14)

The decision was made at a congregational meeting on April 30. The meeting was called for the express purpose of discerning the issue.

Dalton Jantzi, MVS committee chair said, “Our committee came to that meeting with our books open, with no foregone conclusions. There were no cheerleaders, no pushing of agendas.

“It was the kind of climate which set the tone for dialogue that was conducive to reaching a near consensus. My comment to Jim Wert, chair of our church council who walked us through this process was, ‘This has felt like decision-making at its best.’ It felt as though we were walking on sacred ground.”

The church treasurer presented the meeting with a budget picture of a unit with four occupant volunteers. The group also consulted with former members of the Hamilton MVS committee.

They carefully considered challenges of missing support services such as promotion, applicant screening, crises management, conflict resolution, ongoing administrative support, orientations, and retreats – all services formerly provided by MC Canada program staff. To overcome some of these obstacles they will place a greater emphasis on regional collaboration with other congregations who also host units (Hamilton and Montreal), or international collaboration (perhaps a connection to MVS USA). They also noted that there would be financial challenges with fewer than four volunteers.

Finally, participants asked themselves if they have the energy to start and sustain an MVS unit. In the end they decided that “Good ideas often generate as much or more energy than it requires to get them working,” said Marilyn Zehr, Danforth MVS committee member. “It is our hope and prayer that this will be the case.”

They have committed to making the unit work for two years: much of the preparation was completed, applicants were interested in coming to Toronto, and work placements had already been arranged. A two year commitment would allow time to see what new structures or administrative arrangements might result.

More than one person noted “… a sense of the work of the Spirit in this meeting in a way that has not been experienced quite like this in some time,” said Zehr. “We could honestly say that it seemed good to the Spirit and to us to continue with setting up a unit with recognition that even after our careful consideration there remain concerns and questions and so it is with a leap of faith that we continue.” One can't plan for exactly how God will work through this situation, she added.

One sign of hope appeared in the form of committee volunteers; a call for two more persons from the congregation resulted in four willing responses.

Many current members have experienced Mennonite voluntary service through MVS and Mennonite Central Committee. Zehr said, “We see it as an important investment in the young adults of the Mennonite Church. In the past many MVSers have become our current church leaders. The congregation is hoping and praying that this commitment will bring about a new spirit of life and energy in their congregation.

“We do not know what the new structure or umbrella for MVS will look like but many of us are quite confident that something new will evolve and ultimately will be necessary.”

Throughout the process one thing remained clear: Danforth is striving to enhance connections with their local community through the work placements MVSers will do and through the household and the lifestyle commitments the members of the household will make.

The discernment process and subsequent decision to proceed has clearly been a highlight for some members of Danforth. “We very much want things to work out. This venture has incredible potential. Whatever the scene looks like in two years, this process is one which I will forever value as we grow the church at Danforth.”