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General Board hears from Winnipeg pastors/leaders

   

November 17, 2003
-Dan Dyck

Winnipeg, Man.— Pastors and Mennonite Church Manitoba staff named challenges, opportunities, hope, and excitement about ministries and congregations in Manitoba over lunch with MC Canada’s General Board here on Nov 7.

Concerns raised included the need for increased communication with conferences, issues with wider church decision making processes, and ownership of conference programs by the average person in the pew.

Hermann Dueck, associate pastor at First Mennonite, noted the challenge that change brings. “I wonder sometimes if we haven’t left behind the average church member in the process of restructuring. Things were complicated as they were and it takes quite a bit to be informed, just how the whole structure works and functions. But then it comes back to the question: How do we inform the average church member? How do we create an interest?” Dueck asked.

Dueck’s comments contrasted the messages Erin Morash is picking up at her church. Morash is associate pastor at North Kildonan Mennonite in Winnipeg. She reported that interest in MC Canada is catching among her youth and young adult groups, perhaps by osmosis from concerned parents. The young people want to identify with being Mennonite and with being part of MC Canada, but at the same time want to know more about what that means. “My young adults especially identify with MC Canada, but they are very worried about its future - and hence their own,” she said. People from all perspectives are reading Canadian Mennonite “cover to cover”, asking for extra copies of news releases, and even having discussions with their parents and families around the dinner table, she noted.

Others said that delegates at assemblies want to be more involved, rather than having a sense that they are “rubber-stamping” decisions that have already been made by leaders. Planners of the 2004 assembly are working at a model that would allow table discussion groups to discern issues and resolutions to a greater degree than in the recent assemblies. During meetings, some area conference moderators and members at large recommended that the General Board executive restructure the assembly agenda so that more delegate discussion and involvement occurs.

There was also hope, excitement, and opportunity in the ways various churches are engaging ministries in their context.

Part-time pastor Dori Zerbe Cornelsen identified her congregation as an inner city church. She said when people ask how Hope Mennonite impacts the inner city, she responds that it’s more a question of, “How does the inner city impact us?”

It’s not unusual, she said, to have the homeless or substance abusers wander into a worship service seeking food or other help. For her congregation, she says that “Diversity is just assumed as part of normal human life, and that it’s part of the church too. That doesn’t mean it’s an ideal, but that the ideals are also diverse, and that faithful Christian behaviour is not necessarily always what we assumed it was… It’s not just a knee-deep, ‘Oh everything’s okay’ kind of a thing. It’s ‘There are faithful Christians all around us who do this differently. Let’s be open to that faithfulness, and the Spirit who works in diversity.’”

Diversity also extends to how various people define ministries that have had an assumed agreement on their meaning. Norm Voth, Director of Evangelism and Service for Mennonite Church Manitoba, noted the broad definition of the word “evangelism” that he has encountered in his congregational work. “One of the things that I’ve discovered in two years in this role is that there is a very broad definition of evangelism and there is a range in how people define that, and some of them are diametrically opposed to each other.”

Voth is particularly encouraged with the part of his work that connects him with “non-Caucasian” congregations in Manitoba. He and Manitoba Conference Minister John Klassen are helping to provide leadership training to congregations in the Winnipeg area that include Vietnamese, Chinese, Laotian, Hispanic, and Korean groups. They are using the Pastoral Distance Education study materials from Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary with assistance from Maurice Martin (on contract to MC Canada).

Voth said, “I think we caught a glimpse of eternity when we had our first multi-cultural leadership training event, where Maurice did some input in a plenary and very quickly would turn to the table groups and say, ‘Okay, now discuss this in your language’ and five language groups would process the information he had shared. It was encouraging and significant for us to see the kind of interest that there is. One of those churches has more than half of its members involved in leadership training.”

Klassen added that he sees a lot of passion in the constituency – a good sign that shows people care.