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Mobilizing the church for a common good

   

Dec 7, 2004
-by Dan Dyck, with Karin Fehderau, from reports

Winnipeg, Man. — In a 160th convocation anniversary address at Knox College, TV journalist Brain Stewart said, “…there is no alliance more determined and dogged in action than church workers, ordained and lay members, when mobilized for a common good.”

Stewart goes on to describe the Christian church as “the Front Line” of committed humanity. “I've never reached a war zone, or famine group or crisis anywhere where some church organization was not there long before me...sturdy, remarkable souls usually too kind to ask ‘what took you so long.’”

Mobilizing a people for “a common good” takes on many forms; a critical key is the organization of a people – organization and leadership that most often takes place behind the scenes and away from the eye of the TV cameras.

So it is in Mennonite Church Canada. From Nov. 11-13, the General Board met at Cornerstone Mennonite Church in Saskatoon to discern and decide on issues that will eventually manifest themselves on the front lines. Here are some of the highlights.

Global Gift Sharing

Board members committed most of a day to work on a Mennonite World Conference (MWC) initiative that asks churches on each continent to discern the gifts they have to share with the rest of the world. The issue is timely: North Americans represent 88% of the MWC family’s estimated wealth, but only 26% of its members. But the gifts extend far beyond monetary resources.

While churches in some developing nations have reportedly found it challenging to think about what they can offer, MC Canada representatives created lists of what can be shared and what is already shared. Several expressed surprise that in MC Canada already has at least 36 formal partnerships with other church organizations for the purposes of mission – most of which are in 42 countries beyond Canada.


The Global Gift Sharing exercise generated a detailed list of what MC Canada has to offer the global church. In broad terms these included teaching resources, partnerships, advocacy and solidarity, hospitality, ethnic diversity awareness, tradition of service, peace and justice perspectives, wealth, and conflict mediation and reconciliation skills.

The day ended with conversations about church-to-church partnerships, where it became clear that the best use of energy will be focused on building up those relationships that already exist, and in adjusting how MC Canada relates to churches that are maturing.

Sven Eriksson, denominational minister, said, “The general value of the whole session [from my perspective] was in putting the General Board work into the bigger context, getting them to think about the implications of what they do.”

Five Year Review, Purpose of the Church

Leaders know that regularly reviewing ministries, structures, and purpose are the heartbeat of a dynamic and flexible organization. What started out quietly in a church basement 30, 20, or even 10 years ago deserves to be recognized, revisited, and adjusted as needed.

So too MC Canada structures. Following through on a 1999 commitment to re-evaluate structures and staffing in five years, the General Board heard a report from management consultant Aldred Neufeldt (First MC, Calgary) that affirmed the current balance of program, support and administrative staff. Since assuming responsibilities for ministries after the merger of Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church in 2002, MC Canada’s budget has grown by about 135%. The number of program staff has increased proportionately while retaining the same level of executive staffing compared to pre-MC Canada days.

Less clear was a discussion on developing a new purpose statement for the national church. Board members considered proposals on purpose statements from an ad hoc group, and wrestled with whether such a statement should serve the country-wide community of congregations or a more institutional purpose. The Vision: Healing & Hope statement has been widely embraced by congregations already. What additional statements do we need to guide our shared ministry? The ad hoc group will continue to polish their proposal for presentation to the delegates at Assembly 2005.

Finances

General Board members briefly reviewed financial updates that continue to project a year-end donation shortfall of about $120,000. More time was devoted to discussions on long range funding issues.

It’s been two years since MC Canada established four program priorities to help define a new direction for the organization. In the light of those guiding principles, MC Canada moderator Henry Krause asked an important series of questions. Should we spend more inside or outside of Canada? work globally or nationally? provide resources to our congregations or work on behalf of our congregations on ministries beyond ourselves?

Sue Steiner, chair of Christian Formation Council, focused the issues by simply asking “What do churches need from us?” Another board member clarified the issue further by asking, “Do churches need us to provide them with resources to help their programs or do they need us to do what they can’t do by themselves?” So far the councils and staff have been attempting to balance both.

To put these questions into long range financial perspective, MC Canada will spent 18 months on a process expected to culminate at the 2006 assembly to help understand trends about how people want to participate in funding the church into the future. “It’s clear that people want to give generously. Some want to support a unified budget, others [want to support the church] on a case-by-case basis. [And] there is anxiety among the older generation who founded institutions that are no longer capturing the imagination of the next generation,” said Dan Nighswander, general secretary.

To help board members dream, Krause posed a hypothetical question: “What would we do with an extra $100,000?”

Given the options of investing in new programs or helping churches get on board with existing ministries, some board members’ reflected their desire to stay closely connected to local congregations.

After debating possibilities, the Board was ready to tackle the immediate issue—what to do if revenue is less than projected this year. Fiscal policies require that projected budgets fall within actual revenue of the previous year, which means that if revenue is less than expected by the end of the budget year, councils must plan to reduce spending by 3% for the next fiscal year while accommodating an increased cost of living.

“It’s tough when you’re working year by year,” noted one board member.

Dreaming, strategizing, and funding a national church has many parallels to life at the congregational level. It wrestles with budget, finding volunteers, commitment, theological issues, and what news deserves to be put in the church bulletin.

At the magnified level of a national organization committed to ministries and partnerships that extend far into the future, the challenge is very real. Finding stable and long term solutions for supporting and advancing God’s mission continues to be an ongoing test of faith and commitment.


 


Mennonite Church Canada is exploring legal options for transferring a land title to Canadian Mennonite University to construct this new, 100 bed residence. Delegates at the Winkler 2004 assembly acknowledged that the land was originally purchased for the purpose of higher education. Construction of the $5 million residence is reportedly on schedule

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Sidebar: Other Highlights

  • Canadian Mennonite University - Property Needs
    With the growth of CMU enrollment, the construction of an additional 100 bed student residence is underway. A delegate resolution at Winkler 2004 acknowledged that the property used by CMU at 600 Shaftesbury was purchased and developed for the purposes of higher education. General Board heard several legal options for assigning this property to fulfill this mandate, and authorized staff to explore the option of title transfer to CMU. Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church Manitoba’s interests in their office space at 600 Shaftesbury must be protected under any new arrangement.
  • Addressing questions of theology, polity, ethics, and practice
    The board has appointed a committee to recommend how a council could be formed and mandated to address denomination-wide questions of theology, polity, ethics, and practice. A proposal will be presented at the 2005 assembly.
  • Resolutions from congregations at Winkler 2004
    • MC Canada leadership has been in prompt and ongoing communication with Rosemary MC (Alberta) regarding the tabled resolution on “dealing with churches at variance” with the Confession of Faith. The General Board affirmed there were valid sentiments expressed in several parts of the resolution, and is continuing to explore the intent of the resolution.
    • A defeated resolution from Niverville MC (Manitoba) calling for the Canadian Mennonite to be transformed into a church owned magazine has already begun to be addressed by a pre-assembly meeting of leadership and stakeholders. New editor Tim Dyck has been on a cross-country listening to hear similar concerns, as well as affirmations, for the magazine.
    • A carried motion from a group of retired pastors in B.C. seeking a scripture motto for MC Canada will turn into a country-wide suggestion box. A proposed motto will be presented at Assembly 2006.
  • The board also heard a request from Mennonite World Conference to advance Mennonite-Catholic (MWC) dialogues by discussing and responding to a theological report entitled “Called to be Peacemakers Together.” By encouraging Mennonites to engage in the report’s contents, MWC and other church leaders hope to stimulate conversations among Mennonites and Catholics at the congregational level.