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General Secretary announces retirement


September 3, 2009
- by Dan Dyck

Robert J. Suderman announces 2010 departure date

Winnipeg, Man. — Robert J. Suderman, General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, on Aug. 28 informed the General Board Executive of his intention to retire not later than Aug. 31, 2010.

Suderman officially began in the position on Dec. 1, 2005, after having most recently served as Executive Secretary of MC Canada Witness. His warm, patient, and listening posture have defined his leadership in large part, but a deep love for the church has fuelled an energetic and passionate commitment to his work.

By the time he retires in 2010, Suderman will have spent 42 years in church ministry – encompassing a breadth of diversity that includes teaching, spiritual formation, mission, and administration.

In his resignation letter, he expressed thanks for the dedicated staff, elected and appointed colleagues, pastors and congregational leaders, and ministry partners with whom he has worked over the years – to Irene, his wife of 44 years, and to his family “for the persistent encouragement and solidarity for our ministry together.”

Suderman has worked tirelessly at inspiring trust and loyalty among Mennonite Church Canada’s Area Churches, Congregations, and individual members. He has written extensively on diverse topics that have proved helpful to the church: at the beginning of his term as General Secretary, Suderman demonstrated his special love for congregations by crossing Canada on a personal visitation of virtually all MC Canada congregations (over 200 out of 225) resulting in the book entitled God’s People Now!; at the assembly in Saskatoon, 2009, his discussion paper, Being a Faithful Church: Testing the Spirits in the Midst of Hermeneutical Ferment provided delegates with a refreshing and helpful tool for faithful discernment of contentious issues in the church.

Suderman has been deeply involved in the international church, and has been an important voice in ecumenical circles through MC Canada’s membership inthe Canadian Council of Churches and the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada.

Suderman’s record of spiritual and intellectual rigor and gifts for working with people will remain in the denomination’s collective memory. “Jack has been an inspirational leader at the General Board table,” wrote Garth Ewert Fisher on behalf of the General Board Executive in an official release. “His wide experience, his biblical wisdom, and his ability to ask probing questions have contributed to the work of the whole. We will miss his voice at the table.”

For a time, Suderman will leave behind a big hole to fill – for the denomination – and in his own heart and mind. He has said that it is difficult to imagine what retirement could offer that would be more engaging than his current work. But after 42 years of extensive travel and weekend and evening meetings, spending more time with his wife and family is on the priority list.

The two most striking characteristics of Suderman’s leadership may in fact be so obvious that they could be easily overlooked. First, he has an innate ability to understand scripture in its context, and how it can be meaningfully applied to the discernment and tough decisions of the day, always seeking to understand issues by returning to the Biblical text. Having a PhD, a working knowledge of Greek, and considerable international experience (including being fluent in Spanish) have been a tremendous asset to the denomination.

Second, he brings a positive energy, a compassionate heart, and a profound sense of joy to the work of the church.

He closed his resignation letter by saying, “I am grateful to God for a sustaining vision that is large enough for the gifts of all.”

Drawing on lyrics to a hymn in Sing the Story, Ewert Fisher wrote that the hymn “... gives voice to Jack's work among us: ‘Nothing is lost to the heart of God, nothing is lost forever ... no impulse of love, no office of care, no moment of life in its fullness ...’”