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Spring Leadership Assembly revisits priorities, refocuses efforts


Liz Koop, President of Mennonite Women Canada, presents her report at the plenary session of Mennonite Church Canada’s Spring Leadership Assembly at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg on March 9. Koop excitedly shared emerging plans for group’s 60th anniversary celebrations to be held at Assembly 2012 in Vancouver this coming July. Koop also welcomed younger women to get involved and noted the absence of a Manitoba representative in Mennonite Women Canada, encouraging Manitobans to tap the shoulders of women in local congregations.

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March 16, 2012
-Deborah Froese

Winnipeg, MAN. — Taking a hard look at how to prioritize activities in the face of change proved central to Council discussions at Mennonite Church Canada’s Spring Leadership Assembly (SLA). The event took place at First Mennonite Church in Winnipeg Mar. 7-10.

Christian Witness Council

At a plenary session following Council meetings on March 9, Witness Council Chair Rudy Dirks noted that the Council is still recovering from the loss of Witness staff last year, resulting from retirement and budget cuts. In addition, a decline in funding to Mennonite Church Canada has resulted in a reduced number of foci for Witness over the last several years.

“What do we do about that?” Dirks asked. “Keep things on paper and say ‘someday maybe,’ or is there another option?”

While Mennonite Church Canada is still able to staff International Ministries and Native Ministry, programs for Evangelism and Church Planting, Multi-Cultural Ministries, Peace and Justice Advocacy and Education, are no longer funded. Dirks recognized their continuing importance and noted that council members are still committed to them. “We have strong convictions that we are the keepers of the flame. We can’t fund and staff the other programs but we want to think outside the box and do something with them.”

He said that Witness Council and staff will continue to think creatively about how to participate and network with Area Churches and ministry partners who may already have inroads in those areas.

Tim Froese, Executive Minister for Witness, noted changes to staff roles so that Area Directors can balance their international ministry responsibilities. Most significantly, Gordon Janzen and Hippolyto Tshimanga have taken on additional responsibilities for ministries in Europe and Latin America.

Froese also expressed gratitude for two departing Witness Council members, John David Penner of Toronto,Ont., who served for two three-year terms; and Irene Crosland of Tofield, Alt., who for the maximum period of three consecutive three-year terms.

Christian Formation Council

Dave Bergen, Executive Minister, Formation, shared the highlights of Christian Formation Council (CFC) discussions with staff following the SLA. “We reviewed our priorities. What’s missing? What are the top three?” He went on to list the primary issues that Formation Council will tackle in the coming year; nurturing a culture for “thick faith”, leadership development, and worship.

Worship was a new addition to the list of priorities. “It’s one of the key ways in which our congregations and members are shaped in their understanding of faith,” Bergen said. “Worship is the vehicle by which some of these other priorities are expressed.”

The CFC devoted significant energy to exploring ways that Canadian Mennonite University’s book store could work more closely with Mennonite Church Canada’s Resource Centre. The two entities have been exploring possibilities for providing a more integrated approach to serving congregations and individuals. “There is excitement for this endeavour, but there are also many practical implications that need close attention,” he said.

Church Engagement Council

The 2012 SLA was only the second time the relatively new Church Engagement Council (CEC), established in 2010, met together as a complete entity with resource development staff in place. Director of Partnership Development, Daniel Horne, and Brent Charette, who serves both Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Eastern Canada as Church Engagement Minister in a jointly funded position,  joined Church Engagement ministries last year.

The CEC reviewed a fund raising strategy in addition to other agenda. “We have developed a conservative development strategy with a $150,000 increase in our fund raising target over last year,” Horne told the CEC. “Fundraising should be something we all take part in. We’re planning to develop funds with Witness and Formation, fundraising that is specific to their ministries.” Horne reported that he is also working with Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC), Mennonite Church Canada’s partner in estate planning, to strengthen legacy giving. A large wealth transfer from the current generation to the next is anticipated in the next one-to two decades, said Horne. He hopes that this generosity can build a financially healthier church in the future.

Several members of Engagement Council noted that the highlight of their meetings was a presentation by Communications staff of the work undertaken over the past six months, and a glimpse of what is yet to come, including a preview of the first in a series of planned “Mennonites Everywhere” videos. The series, intended for distribution via the no-cost venue, YouTube, will challenge Mennonite stereotypes by depicting ‘non-cradle’ Mennonites who have chosen a Mennonite church.

“The objective is to show that you don’t need to have a certain kind of surname or enjoy certain cultural foods to be part of a Mennonite Church,” Communications Director Dan Dyck told the CEC. “We have diversity in our congregations across Canada, but we could be doing much better,” he said, adding that in many regions being Mennonite still has strong cultural associations.