De-villainizing the Institution

Apparently, not everyone is pissed off by “The Church”.

Since my blog post two weeks ago, I have had some interesting responses from people who think I wasn’t being entirely fair.

It’s complicated.

People have worked hard to build the institutions we now take for granted – the churches, the charities, the movements.

For us young adults, we look at them now and we see stale, powerful, archaic groups of people.

We can be very critical and cynical.

We missed out on the innovation, the excitement, the hope and the newness that gave these organizations life in the first place.

These organized communities didn’t just spring up out of the ground.

They were responding to a need.

They weren’t thinking they would become a big power monolith that could squash people.

They were just average (and often young) people, looking to make a difference in their community and in their world.


Just look at how some of these institutions were started:

  • Mennonite Central Committee was started to give aid to starving Mennonites in the Ukraine in 1920
  • Mennonite Church Eastern Canada was formed out of three separate Mennonite conferences unified into one cohesive body in 1988
  • House of Friendship was started in 1939 by a woman’s prayer group in response to the physical and spiritual needs of local immigrants and disadvantaged individuals in a volatile time
  • Conrad Grebel University College was created in the early 1960s to stem the flood of young Mennonites going away to secular universities and losing their identity
  • The Working Centre was established in 1982 as a response to unemployment and poverty in downtown Kitchener (which was very different in the 1980s then it is now)
  • Mennonite Savings & Credit Union started in 1964 with $22 in a cash box in an attempt to share resources communally
  • PiE was started in 2014 because there was a need to embrace the diversity and callings of young adults beyond what the institutional church could handle

Churches (where many of these insitutions originate from) have similar origin stories:

  • Stirling Avenue Mennonite formed in the 1920s because of a church dispute over imposed female head coverings
  • W-K United Mennonite formed around the same time as a group of Russian Mennonite refugees seeking to build a church together
  • Waterloo MB started as a mission movement in the early 1960s to connect with students at the new university in town
  • The Gathering Church was planted in 2005 for those who weren’t comfortable worshipping in a traditional church

These are just a few local examples I pulled out off the internet. All these institutions and churches started from a basic need, and grew from there.

They were innovative for their time period – that is what allowed them to grow.

However, as institutions and communities become more stable, become more secure in who they are, they also become more secure in what they are not.

And people feel excluded – so they start new institutions, and the cycle continues.

But that’s not to dimish the sheer amount of human energy (and divine assistance) that is required for any one of these to become large and/or effective.

As a co-founder of PiE, I have a new respect for how difficult it is starting anything sustainable and lasting.

So when people make cynical blanket statements about “the church” or any other institution, I can see why people get upset.

No organization is perfect, especially not the larger ones.

But they also contribute immensely and give structure to our lives – even if they seem to us to be old and archaic.


I’m as critical as anyone about the public education system – something about standardized learning en masse just rubs me the wrong way. I like to tell myself that I’m a self-made learner. However, I am also the benefactor of 18 years of public education in elementary school, high school and university. Am I so high and mighty to suggest that I would have been just fine without it?

I don’t appreciate centralized government very much at all – my ideals crave a more localized, grassroots form of government. But as I say that, I use its infrastructure so often that I forget how entitled I have become by the standard of living that is my normal. Anyone who disagrees, I suggest taking a time machine back to the 1500s and see how you would fare. I probably wouldn’t last a week.

I’ve always struggled with Sunday morning religion – with its paid staff, over-technologized worship, and incompetent and hypocritical adherents. But I’ve also benefitted with a personal connection and language for God, and a quest for deep purpose and meaning in faith that I wouldn’t have without it.


It gives me cause to pause.

And think.

Anytime I haphazardly trash an institution, I’m negating the life that so many have given for its benefit.

People literally give their lives for these communities, these organizations. It gives them a higher meaning and purpose.

And there’s a reason for that – we all benefit from these organizations existing. Sure, they piss us off sometimes (or often), but if they didn’t exist we would be lost – we would be in a much worse-off state.


So I will criticize – I believe so much in “The Church”‘s potential that I will get frustrated in what it is.

That won’t stop.

But I can be less ignorant about the good that the church is actually doing, while still being less ignorant about the systemic evil it’s also committing and complicit with.

Each individual church and institution has its own story (with its own set of problems).

It’s not my place to judge whether “The Church” or any other institution is worth it in the long run. I can’t see all the fruit of their labours.

But I do know how hard it is to turn ideals into sustained action.

Talk is cheap.

At least they’re trying to do something.

One response to “De-villainizing the Institution

  1. “However, as institutions and communities become more stable, become more secure in who they are, they also become more secure in what they are not.”
    Any institutions will be called on by people outside of it to do or be a lot of things. No institution can be all things to all people, nor should it. Sometimes what is perceived as exclusiveness or rigidity is an institution just being clear about what it is not, and knowing that it cannot be everything.
    Institutions start to carry on work that is bigger than one person.
    Thanks for getting over the easy cynicism and acknowledging the good that comes from having institutions.


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