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Round table discussion results: Winkler 2005
Nov 5, 2004
Winnipeg, Man. — The Round Table Discussion Results from Winkler 2004 have been recorded, categorized, analyzed, interpreted, digested, and graphed.
Delegates at this year’s annual assembly gathered around tables for an hour and a half each day and discussed a total of five questions. Each table group – fifty tables of delegates and a varying number of non-delegates – submitted summary statements for each of the topics.
The results provide indicators of how delegates representing the wider church community have responded to these issues and questions. But leaders caution that these indicators are only suggestive of patterns and are not scientifically accurate reflections of how the community as a whole might feel or think. The challenge for leaders will be to offer meaningful responses to the varying ways delegates answered the questions.
Dan Nighswander, Mennonite Church Canada general secretary, said, “The information we gleaned is helpful. We have a good reading on what leaders in the churches are thinking and how their reading of scripture and of their congregational life speaks to some of the ‘big questions’ that we face together.”
A vigorous discussion of the purpose of the national church body pointed to a preference for one of three proposed purpose statements that was presented. But delegates also called for substantial revision, which has been done by an assigned group and reported to the General Board at its meeting November 11-13. Further steps will be taken and a final recommendation will be presented at the next assembly.
On the national church’s role in determining questions of theology, ethics, polity and practice, delegates responded with a strong preference (almost half of the table groups) for the denomination to provide pro-active guidance, direction, resources for congregations. About one in eight table groups voiced a preference for “a strong voice, including authority to close discussion and settle disputes.” A large number of responses favoured other possibilities: over one-third wanted help in facilitating discussions; a quarter of the groups said the national church should “not mandate or dictate,” while others said that listening to congregations and area conferences was important. The General Board is preparing a recommendation for next year’s assembly that will implement the delegates’ counsel.
On the question of: homosexuality and your church: what is happening in the congregations represented by your table group? almost half of the congregations represented reported that they were addressing the issue, while one quarter said their congregations were doing “nothing obvious” in addressing the question. Slightly less than one out of five respondents indicated their churches were “Leaning toward condemnation of homosexual practice.” Less than one in ten expressed a desire to walk with homosexuals in their congregation who declare themselves.
A strong preference for proactive guidance was again revealed when delegates responded to the question: How could MC Canada (delegates, board, staff, others) be helpful to your congregations on the homosexual issue? More than one third were in favour of the national church providing resources and teaching, and almost as many were in favour of the denomination facilitating dialogue. On the other hand, almost one in five wanted MC Canada to ‘Take decisive action,’ with many of those calling for an end to what they perceived as unfruitful dialogue.
When table groups discussed whether Mennonite Church Canada should hold annual or biennial assemblies, there was a strong preference for annual gatherings. The reports include 237 comments about the disadvantages of biennial assemblies, and 121 about the advantages of annual assemblies. On the other side (and often from the same tables), there were 110 comments about the advantages of biennial assemblies and 66 about the disadvantages of annual assemblies Based on this response, the Support Services Council has recommended to the General Board that MC Canada continue with the pattern of holding annual assemblies.
While the delegates did vote on (and passed) a resolution to join both the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) and the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC), the feedback from table groups prior to the motion is insightful. The comments identify what concerns and anxieties people have, and these are being brought forward in the subsequent conversations with CCC and EFC leaders.
Henry Krause, Mennonite Church Canada Moderator, suggests that the way delegates grappled with the issues at Winkler 2004 is part of what makes Mennonite Church Canada unique. “I am grateful for the way we are able to continue dealing with difficult issues, despite the fact that we grow weary. Stronger churches with depth of character often grow out of sustained struggle,” he said.