Date: January 6, 2005
To: Pastors and Church Councils of MC Canada Congregations
From: Henry Krause on behalf of the General Board
Copies: Area Conferences
Grace to you and peace from God and our Saviour Jesus Christ.
In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus
Christ, for we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love
that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you
in heaven. You have heard of this hope before in the word of truth, the
gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in
the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the
day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God. (Colossians
Mennonite Church British Columbia (MCBC) has raised concerns about how
Mennonite Church Canada (MC Canada) has worked at same-sex issues and
broader questions of the relationship between congregations and area conferences
to MC Canada. We recognize that these are issues that concern all of our
congregations across the country. We offer this letter as a report to
all our member churches on progress to date.
- MCBC and MC Canada have been working together on discerning our relationship
over the past year. On April 19, 2004 a letter from the General Board
was sent to the MCBC congregations and was also made available to all
our churches on the MC Canada website (see http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/news/statements/ssm/).
The letter outlined actions taken by the General Board since November,
2003 to address questions raised by MCBC.
- Several actions were taken at our 2004 assembly in Winkler
a) The “Resolution on the issue of homosexuality” from the
Stratford annual meeting in 1998, and a “Commentary on the 1998
resolution on the Issue of Homosexuality” were included in the
Report Book. Also included was a statement titled “General Board’s
Commitment to Continuing Dialogue” which said, in part, that “the
General Board acknowledges that human sexuality is a difficult issue
and chooses to walk toward conflict rather than walking away from it.
MC Canada will seek to engage those with whom we disagree in loving
and peaceful dialogue on an ongoing basis. The General Board’s
task in these dialogues is to facilitate and provide leadership. Throughout
the year this involves responding pastorally to impacted families and
continuing to respond to congregational and area conference initiatives.”
b) A letter was also distributed to all the delegates, giving an overview
of meetings and actions taken in MCBC and with MC Canada since the Annual
assembly in St Catharines in July, 2003. (http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/news/statements/ssm/stand.htm)
c) Some people have expressed unhappiness with the way Canadian Mennonite
has dealt with these issues. On the day prior to the Winkler 2004 Assembly
representatives of all the area conferences, MC Canada and the Canadian
Mennonite Publishing Services Board gathered to share their concerns
with each other. This resulted in an agreement to work through the various
concerns around the editorial policies and practice and the current
funding arrangement for Canadian Mennonite. A committee representing
the seven partners has been appointed to do further work on this.
d) A Winkler 2004 round-table discussion topic on “Leading the
church in discerning theology, ethics, polity and practice,” asked
what kind of leadership we want from the national church on such issues.
A second round-table discussion invited participants to share what was
happening in their churches as they relate to gay and lesbian persons,
their families and friends, and what helpful support from MC Canada
would look like. A summary of these responses has been reported in Canadian
Mennonite and posted on the internet at http://www.mennonitechurch.ca/events/winkler/.
On the national church’s role in dealing with questions of theology,
ethics, polity and practice almost half of the table groups expressed
a strong preference for the national church body to provide pro-active
guidance, direction and resources for congregations, and to facilitate
conversations. About one in eight table groups called for “a strong
voice, including authority to close discussion and settle disputes.”
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 the 2005 assembly that will implement the delegates’
On the question of what congregations are doing about issues related
to homosexuality, 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.
In discussing ways that MC Canada (delegates, board, staff, others)
could be helpful to congregations on these matters a strong preference
was stated for proactive guidance. More than one in three wanted the
national church to provide resources and teaching, and almost as many
want the denomination to facilitate dialogue. 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. The
General Board is exploring ways to support area conferences and congregations
in their discernment. We commend Mennonite Church BC on the initiative
they have taken with their congregations.
- MCBC held a conference, “Walking in Grace” on Oct 22-23
which included theological reflection by Willard Swartley, former dean
and professor of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary,
and personal stories from members of “Living Waters,” a
ministry for those struggling with a variety of sexual and relational
problems. This provided an opportunity for representatives from the
MCBC congregations to listen and talk to each other at round tables.
Sven Eriksson, Denominational Minister for MC Canada, and Dave Brubacher,
Minister to Conference from Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC),
were on hand to listen to the discussion Some described it as a time
when the “church was being the church.” A second meeting
for MCBC members, this time on issues of polity (how we make decisions
and are accountable to each other in congregations and conferences),
will be held in February.
- In the November 11-13, 2004 meeting of the General Board we renewed
our commitment to work in partnership with congregations and area conferences
across Canada to encourage and foster conversations between people who
are struggling with these issues and questions. We have recommended
that the meeting of Moderators, Secretaries and Conference Ministers
in March 2005 should explore ways to further collaborate and network
on the common issues and challenges faced by area conference leaders.
We continue to covet your prayers and your counsel on these and other
issues that face the church. We pray that God’s Spirit will continue
to guide us during this time and are confident that “the one who
has begun a good work among us will bring it to completion.”