Canadian Mennonite
Volume 12, No. 15
July 28, 2008


Welcomed to Winnipeg

By Tim Miller Dyck



Outgoing moderator Henry Krause gets a lengthy round of applause as thanks for his six years of service to MC Canada.

Under projected words from Deuteronomy to be “a wise and discerning people,” delegates were welcomed to the ninth annual assembly of Mennonite Church Canada.

The first delegate session, held Monday afternoon, July 7, at Canadian Mennonite University, was dominated by reports from church leaders on the five major organizational parts of the national church budget.

General secretary Robert J. Suderman, speaking for the General Board, highlighted the new partnership covenant between the national and regional churches as an “historic agreement” and expressed gratitude for how it encouraged good will and collaboration between the various levels of the church structure. His list of six significant church issues were:

• How to best interpret the Bible;

• Pain in conversations about sexuality, particularly homosexuality;

• Growth due to conviction and commitment;

• The growing number of seniors;

• Being proactive in peacemaking; and

• Learning to relate “redemptively” to people of other faiths.

Sue Steiner and Dave Bergen, speaking for the Christian Formation Council, told delegates about the recently completed major survey of present and former pastors (see “Leaving . . . but mostly for good reasons” story on page 6), and also called attention to the effects of the Baby Boom population bulge moving through the church, with an expected 11,000 church members (one-third of all members) turning 65 during the next five years.

“It is the multicultural dimension of our church that is the growing edge of our church,” said Christian Witness Council representative Janet Plenert, referring to the continued growth in new churches of non-European-background Mennonites. She pointed to new Vietnamese churches forming in Calgary, Alta., and Abbotsford, B.C.; a Burmese church in Surrey, B.C.; and multiple Spanish-speaking congregations starting in Quebec.

Plenert, the executive secretary of MC Canada Witness, also reported that the peace tax legislation discussed at last year’s assembly was reintroduced to Parliament in October, but the bill hasn’t made it to second reading. “We invite all of you to continue to pressure your MPs to this end,” she said.

Delegates vote to approve the previous year’s actions taken by the national church’s General Board.

Pam Peters-Pries and Ed Janzen, speaking for Support Services, the operations arm of the church, encouraged delegates to use the 26 church videos now available through MC Canada’s YouTube video-sharing site and invited gifts to a new green building fund, used to do environmental retrofits, starting with low-flush toilets. They also announced details of next year’s assembly, which will be held in Saskatoon, Sask., from June 5–7, 2009, and which will use Colossians 3:12–17 as its theme text.

Randy Wiebe, director of finance, briefly described the several church groups and schools, mostly outside of Canada, to which MC Canada sends money through partnership arrangements. These are largely designated funds that are receipted by the church, but then passed on to designated agencies elsewhere.

At an open floor time, delegates voiced concerns about the low funding for Mennonite Voluntary Service; expressed encouragement for youth internship programs; asked about whether membership was up or down overall (“Frankly we don’t have the exact statistics,” Suderman replied. “The impression and information we do have would point to that we are probably almost stable.”); and were delighted but astonished to hear that North American Vietnamese Mennonites had planted 200 churches in Vietnam over the past 10 years, a figure that was confirmed.

Delegates also voted to approve the previous year’s actions by the national church’s General Board. They also thanked outgoing moderator Henry Krause with a lengthy round of applause for his six years of church service.

Quorum was easily met, with 328 congregational delegates present (200 are needed) and 33 area church delegates (21 are needed).

Gathering goes ‘green’

MC Canada tries to minimize environmental damage of national assembly

By Aaron Epp

National Correspondent


Meara Sparling, centre, and Allison Baergen, right, help a delegate sort his waste into organic and non-organic categories. Youths from the Home Street Mennonite Church helped the assembly better manage its waste and also assisted with beverage service. Dinnerware for this year’s assembly was especially selected for its ability to break down organically. A composting service picked up food waste.

The Incredible Hulk isn’t the only thing going green this summer: Mennonite Church Canada is too.

“Greening the life of our church” was the second discernment item at MC Canada’s annual delegate assembly in Winnipeg on July 7. Robert J. Suderman, general secretary of MC Canada, opened the discussion by reminding delegates of an affirmation statement approved at last year’s assembly in B.C.

“Mennonite Church Canada believes that God longs for the well-being and health of the whole world, for all of creation is bound together and belongs to God,” Suderman said. He went on to praise the “unsung heroes” of creation care—older generations because they have demonstrated models of anti-materialism, and First Nations people because they have always shown the need “to walk gently and softly in nature.” He then asked delegates to acknowledge their contributions with a moment of silence.

Pam Peters-Pries, executive secretary of MC Canada Support Services, read the resolution passed at the 2007 assembly: “Whereas the earth is an expression of God’s love and Christ calls us to be stewards of God’s precious handiwork, be it resolved that Mennonite Church Canada develop guidelines to reduce the consumption of energy and other resources when planning future assemblies.” She then outlined some of the steps taken at the 2008 assembly in response to the resolution, including compostable dinnerware used at every meal and billeting options.

Peters-Pries noted the findings of one expert, who said more than 70 per cent of the environmental impact of an event takes place before it even starts—travel. This poses a problem for an assembly that happens every year and that encourages everyone to come, so Peters-Pries encouraged people to think about how many delegates they send, how often they send them, and how they send them.

The discernment period concluded with a 30-minute discussion at each table, during which delegates presented stewardship activities of their congregations—what they have done to green themselves, what some of the challenges of greening their congregations and the broader church are, and what possible solutions there are to those problems.

Four delegates, each from a different church, reported on some of the ideas their tables had come up with. While “commuter congregations” and old buildings are a challenge to going green, some MC Canada churches have encouraged biking as a form of transportation, as well as composting, gardening, using low-energy light bulbs, sharing their sanctuary with other groups, and worshipping in the church basement where it is cooler, instead of using air conditioning.

At the end of the evening, the ideas were collected by assembly ushers. They will be distributed to MC Canada congregations at a later date.

Promoting the peace message

By Tim Miller Dyck



Raquel Contreras, president of the Baptist Union of Chile, a century-old group of about 500 churches in Chile, told delegates about her denomination’s decision to step onto a new theological path for their next hundred years: Anabaptism.

Delegates discussed peacemaking, passed a peace proclamation motion, and heard testimony about Anabaptist peace theology in their two morning delegate sessions on the second day of the national church assembly.

While Mennonites have a 500-year history of peace theology, the strongest delegate reaction of the morning—a standing ovation—came in response to someone speaking for a church that has adopted these priorities much more recently.

Raquel Contreras, president of the Baptist Union of Chile, a century-old group of about 500 churches in the South American country, told delegates about her denomination’s decision to step onto a new theological path for its next hundred years: Anabaptism.

“We looked and looked, and we realized that our identity, our roots, came from the Anabaptists,” she said. “We thought that that was history, that that was not alive now. Then we realized that Anabaptists were still alive, that Anabaptism was not history, that Anabaptism was what really identified us as Baptists, that we shared common roots.

“We adopted this as one of our main principles,” Contreras continued. “This has changed many ways in our convention. We realized that we can have a different lifestyle that shows peace, understanding, good manners, a different way of living.”

Contreras described how she, as head of the church, had just turned down a government request to bless a new warship; how congregations are declaring themselves places of peace in their neighbourhoods, and providing shelter for abused women and children; how the church has established a centre for Anabaptist studies and for publishing Anabaptist materials; and how the church is working against bullying at school. She also said the Chilean church is putting peace theology into practice internally in their congregations, stating that “peace also means to eliminate gossip.”

Delegates responded with a loud gasp, followed by applause.

‘[W]e can live in a world where Jesus Christ can be the Prince of Peace and we can be for peace in our world.’ (Raquel Contreras)

“We are very grateful to the Canadian Mennonite Church,” she concluded. “We are learning from you. You are showing us that to live as an Anabaptist is real and you can do it. You are showing us that this is alive, and this is possible, and we can live in a world where Jesus Christ can be the Prince of Peace and we can be for peace in our world.”

Delegates also shared their concerns over signs of militarism in Canadian society. Marilyn Rudy Froese, of Kitchener, Ont., said that the issue stopped being theoretical for her when her 10-year-old son came home from a school trip with a military poster and promotional hockey puck distributed to children by the Canadian Armed Forces. “It’s really important that we speak in the public square. They are targeting our children,” she said.

Delegates unanimously passed a resolution, with slight wording changes, presented by Osler (Sask.) Mennonite Church. It stated, in part, that, “realizing that we are called to bear witness for Christ and his message, we request that the staff of MC Canada develop a proposal for promoting the peace message in the ‘public square,’ and that it is presented at the 2009 annual delegate assembly.”

Lorne Buhr of Edmonton, passing on a comment from someone else who was not at the assembly, said that the Osler resolution seemed to be within the mandate of MC Canada and the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective already, and he questioned why there was a need for a motion at all. “If MC Canada needs to have a mandate on what it believes and to act on its belief, organizational ineffectiveness may prevail,” he said.

God not limited by stories or cultures

By Aaron Epp

National Correspondent


Delegates provided MC Canada leaders with many ideas to ponder.

If the Apostle Paul visited modern-day Canada, what would he observe about the average Canadian’s spiritual views? That was the question explored in a monologue by Arlyn Friesen Epp, manager of Mennonite Church Canada’s Resource Centre, during the July 8 afternoon delegate session. The monologue was part of the fourth discernment session, “Confessing Jesus Christ in a religiously pluralistic world.”

“I’ve seen how restless your souls are for God in every way,” Friesen Epp said in character as Paul. “Almost everyone I’ve talked to, from B.C. to Newfoundland, are asking the ultimate questions: Where do we come from? Why is there suffering? What happens when we die?”

He went on to note that 80 per cent of Canadians claim to believe in a God who loves them personally, and three-out-of-four Canadians acknowledge that they pray privately. “Our searching would not be in futile desperation, because God, in fact, is close to everyone of us,” he said. “So if this is unknown to you, I want to make it plain: That this very God you grope after, this God who stirs up the restlessness in our souls and who is as close to us as the breath we breathe, this same God comes to each one of us . . . through Jesus Christ.”

Delegates took their discernment tasks seriously.

After the monologue, the MC Canada Faith and Life Committee, led by Rudy Baergen, presented a document it has been working on to address how Canadian Mennonites can confess Jesus Christ when “there are trends in society which challenge [their] missional urge.”

Baergen noted that what one learns from the Bible is that God is present and active in the whole world, and not limited to any one story or culture. Canadian Mennonites “must value the universal and the particular work of God,” he said, because “God is active in all the cultures of the world, often in unexpected ways and places.”

“We acknowledge that God is greater than any human construct,” added Karl Koop, associate professor of history and theology at Canadian Mennonite University and a Faith and Life Committee member. “While other religions and spiritualities might appear foreign and strange, and may even offend us, on closer observation they may offer new and valuable ways of understanding who God is and how God is at work.”

The committee outlined three implications:

• We are called into a respectful dialogue with those who profess a different faith.

• We are called to proclaim faithfully and courageously the gospel of God’s grace.

Where do we come from? Why is there suffering? What happens when we die?” Arlyn Friesen Epp explored these questions of faith in a dramatic monologue in the discernment session, “Confessing Jesus Christ in a religiously pluralistic world.”

• We are called to live in peace with those of different religious persuasions.

The committee acknowledged issues requiring further reflection, including:

• What is the place for the biblical theme of judgment?

• What does it mean to engage our neighbours in matters of faith?

Delegates spent 30 minutes discussing these and other questions at their tables. Four delegates reported back, including Harold Peters-Fransen of Winnipeg. “We weren’t sure whether the tilt of the committee was that Jesus Christ was the only way, or whether we are to learn from other faiths,” he said, adding it would be useful if MC Canada supplied congregations with materials to grapple with these questions.

“As we confess Jesus Christ in a religiously pluralistic world, we find ourselves apologizing a lot for the history of the church,” noted Doug Klassen of Foothills Mennonite Church in Calgary, Alta. “In general, there’s distrust of religion in society.”

Baergen ended the session by stressing that the delegates’ comments will be used to revise the Faith and Life Committee document. “We see this as a complex issue, and this was just a beginning,” he said, “so, we will continue to work at it.”

Seeking the kingdom in uncertain times

Mennonite youths want to embrace a faith that is more than ‘a devotional add-on’

By Aaron Epp

National Correspondent


Christine and Tom Sine lead a workshop at the MC Canada/USA People’s Summit for Faithful Living. The Sines challenged delegates to imagine new ways of doing church and living in community.

“It is time to look carefully at the confusion around us. . . . This is the time, this is the place—we are standing at a crossroads.”

With these words, the 2008 Mennonite Church USA/Mennonite Church Canada People’s Summit for Faithful Living began on July 8 at Canadian Mennonite University. The theme for the event, “At the crossroads: Promise and peril,” was based on Deuteronomy 4:1-9.

Chaos and confusion kicked off worship at the summit, with a video that commented on the fast-paced consumer lifestyle many North Americans lead. The visual image for the evening’s worship was a sign representing Winnipeg’s infamous “Confusion Corner.”

In a sermon entitled “Challenge at the Crossroads: Seeking First the Kingdom in Uncertain Times,” Tom and Christine Sine, a professor and medical doctor who lead a Seattle, Wash.-based ministry called Mustard Seed Associates, outlined three goals:

• Anticipating new perils and challenges that Christians will face in the next few years;

• Rediscovering the promise of shalom; and

• Imagining and creating new expressions of the kingdom “one mustard seed at a time.”

Mennonites, like most denominations, are facing declining numbers and losing their young people, Tom said. The good news, he added, is that “God is raising up a new generation that is calling us all to a much more authentic, whole-life faith.” Young people who are leaving the church are no longer content with a faith that is merely “a devotional add-on” to their lives, but rather, hunger for something that will affect every aspect of it.

“Business as usual will not serve,” Tom stressed, “and in all of our churches we need to get much more serious about seeking the kingdom of God.” Mennonites need to redefine what their idea of “the good life” is, from something shaped by the North American dream to something shaped by Jesus Christ he said.

Toward the end of their message, Tom described what he sees as a “a crisis of imagination” in the church. Because some of the things Mennonites are doing right now are either not working or unsustainable, they need to imagine new ways of doing things, he said.

Calling for “whole-life discipleship,” Christine encouraged delegates to create a new rhythm for their lives that flows from their faith, “so that everything we do flows from the rhythm of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

Tom spoke of the need to create “communities with a difference.” Instead of single-family homes in the suburbs, he suggested moving into the inner city to create new counter-cultural communities that show the love of Christ to the poor.

Finally, Tom urged delegates to go back to their respective churches and ask the young people in their congregations for their ideas about how to do church and how to live in community. “If you want to keep them around, you need to invite them to own the program, not to just come in and mind the store other generations have created,” he said.

“What would happen if, by the year 2018, Mennonite churches in Canada and the United States placed mission at the centre of their lives and congregations?” Christine asked in conclusion. Before ending in prayer, Tom asked everyone in the crowded gymnasium to close their eyes and ponder how God might be calling them to live in new ways they may not have imagined before.

For discussion

1. At the MC Canada assembly, Robert J. Suderman listed six issues that are significant to the church today (page 4). Which of these are impacting your congregation directly? Which issues are most urgent to address?

2. Delegates were asked to think about ways they can encourage past, present and future pastors (page 6). How would you answer that question? Are we facing a serious pastor shortage? Do you agree with Gary Harder’s ideas about why there is a pastor shortage (page 22)?

3. In table groups, delegates were asked to describe what their congregations are doing to “go green.” What would you have said? What are the challenges your congregation faces in order to increase its care for creation?

4. A resolution passed at MC Canada Assembly called for promoting the peace message in the public square (page 8). Have you seen growing militarism in your community? How united is your congregation on this issue? How might Menno-nites increase their witness for peace?

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