Canadian Mennonite
Volume 11, No. 13
June 25, 2007


Holy agreements

The re-covenanting process has become an important tool for our area churches over the last decade. In this issue, we have a special report on the covenant just signed by most MC British Columbia churches in a mass worship service on Pentecost Sunday (see BackPage).

In MC Saskatchewan, delegates decided in 2002 that the church needed to hold a re-covenanting service for its churches. At the end of a three-year process of gathering input from congregations and considering draft versions, the MC Saskatchewan covenant was signed by most churches there in February 2005.

MC Alberta went through an extensive discernment and consultation process about what its core vision, purpose and mission should be when it developed a new constitution in 2001, which its delegates overwhelmingly passed in 2002. While not named a covenant, the constitution has similar language to the Saskatchewan and B.C. covenants on what the theological purpose of the area church is and what shared expectations individual congregations agree to as members.

What makes a covenant different from area church restructuring, which is also a typically lengthy process involving consultation, goal-setting and big-picture thinking about what God is calling us to do?

In a church context, a covenant is a holy agreement between God and us. Many examples are found in the Old and New Testaments. While most agreements are contracts between two people, a covenant is fundamentally first about God and then about what our relationship with each other should be in light of this. The Bible as a whole follows this pattern, as does the most famous individual covenant, the Ten Commandments.

This structure is also found in the B.C. and Saskatchewan covenants, which both begin with our common centre of Jesus Christ, our resulting identity as the body of Christ, and the ministries to the world that Christ has called us to do. They then both contain a series of commitments that the congregations signing make to each other.

Why re-covenant? According to MC B.C. moderator Gerd Bartel, it’s a way to refocus intensively on church relationships that we often take for granted because they are only explicitly stated by congregations when they first join the denomination; for many churches, this was decades ago.

Bartel also feels that the re-covenanting process provided a way to find a common theological centre and, through that, a new unity as a body and a new focus. “One aspect I strongly feel is that congregationalism has led to more uniqueness between congregations, and more diversity, and that means you keep on expanding the elastic band that connects us. How long can that band stretch without breaking?” he ponders.

“This diversity has made us dysfunctional and has taken away our ability to focus on the vision God has given us. Do you keep on in a state of dysfunction, in basically spending your energy facing each other and discussing and dialoguing…instead of together focusing forward? It’s time, folks, to stop and decide where we are going to get to…. It’s time for forgiveness, reconciliation, coming together, and to move forward.”

Living by our covenants is a challenge for all of us in the church. In early 2005, Ken Bechtel said of the MC Saskatchewan covenant: “We state our best intentions, relying on God’s resources, forgiveness for failures and strength for new beginnings.” That continues to be true today.

—Tim Miller Dyck

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