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|Charlotte 2005 to be a “family reunion” with between sister denominations|
Charlotte 2005 to be a “family reunion” with between sister denominations
Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Church
USA joint release
Charlotte, N.C .— Charlotte 2005 is a much-awaited “family reunion,” since it will be the first time that Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA have met together since the transformation in 2002 of the former General Conference Mennonite Church and the former Mennonite Church.
The former denominations were bi-national and the two new denominations were formed along national lines. The two former churches held their last joint gathering in St. Louis, Mo., in 1999, so it’s time to connect again but in a brand new way, said Charlotte 2005 adult and youth planning committee members.
“This is the first-ever event in which the two new denominations have met together, and so that’s really exciting,” said Pam Peters-Pries, executive secretary of support services for Mennonite Church Canada. “We made commitments to each other at St. Louis ’99 about meeting together, and I think it’s really important that we honour those commitments.
“Even though each denomination has its own structures and concerns, we still share a lot of history and shared ministries with Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary and Mennonite Publishing Network. … The best way to keep these relationships alive is at a shared assembly.”
Ron Byler, associate executive director for Mennonite Church USA agreed that the assembly is a good channel for maintaining relationships. “We look forward to renewing relationships and celebrating our common foundation found in the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective and the Vision, Healing and Hope statement we share,” he said. The delegates are likely to focus on these documents at their joint delegate session, he said.
Honouring commitments, strengthening relationships
Honouring commitments to stay connected will strengthen the relationships that those commitments represent, said Craig Friesen, pastor of Rosthern (Sask.) Mennonite Church. “A big part of assemblies are the relationships we’ve established over the years with people, such as all the friends I made at AMBS,” he said. “I look forward to reconnecting and worshipping with all the people that I don’t have the opportunity to see very often in other settings.”
Mildred Roth, of New Hamburg, Ont., said she hopes Charlotte 2005 will be a backdrop for giving people a bigger perspective of the Mennonite Church throughout North America.
“I hope many Canadians will come to this assembly to experience what the Mennonite Church means beyond their context,” she said. “It can serve as a good family reunion does. All people, no matter where they are from, can [come] together to foster good relationships and to be on equal footing with each other. I also look forward to the joint worship. There’s just nothing like singing and praying with hundreds of other Mennonites.”
Sharing ideas across the border
The joint planning process also helps the two churches to share ideas that have worked within each group to build up the entire North American Mennonite family. Canadian planning committee members said their use of table groups for the first time during the summer assembly in Winkler, Man., was a huge success. The Canadians gleaned the idea from Mennonite Church USA, which has used table groups in the last two biennial assembly delegate sessions and other settings.
“The use of table groups went over extremely well,” Peters-Pries said. “Participants were very excited about the way smaller tables help people really talk together face-to-face.”
During planning sessions in early fall, she shared the idea of a faith family festival that Mennonite Church Canada hosted in Winkler. Planners are using that idea to help them develop a carnival-festival one afternoon. “What Mennonite Church Canada did with this idea has a lot of appeal,” said Jorge Vallejos, director of Convention Planning for Mennonite Church USA. “We want to do something intergenerational that draws in people of all ages.”
Two churches, one Spirit
Charlotte 2005 also has the potential to strengthen bonds between people of many different backgrounds, as unity with the Spirit of God can build bridges across national and theological boundaries, Vallejos said.
“Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA constituencies represent the entire theological spectrum, with some people calling themselves ‘conservative’ and others are not,” he said. “But people all along the spectrum can embrace the focus of Charlotte. Our group work in planning this joint assembly is very rich. That is a very good sign and shows that God is involved.”