Those of us who have found ourselves worshipping in Mennonite congregations have probably heard that the larger Mennonite Church is going through some significant changes. And by significant changes, I mean radical changes in how we relate as individuals, as churches, and as the body of Christ.
Let me give you some background. These changes have been discerned by a group of people who make up the Future Directions Task Force (FDTF). Recently, FDTF released a report that outlines suggested structural changes to Mennonite Church Canada. These changes mean the restructuring of the national body, with an emphasis on viewing the congregation as the foundational unit of the church.
In December, 2015, I was part of a group of young adults that began meeting on the campus of Canadian Mennonite University to discuss these proposed changes. We are young adults from all across Canada, ranging in age from 18-35 years old.
We soon became known as the Emerging Voices Initiative (EVI). We met regularly to pray together, discuss our vision for the church, and respond to the FDTF process and report.
One of the first things we did as a group was to discuss our hopes and dreams for the church. We created a list of 11 points that we believe the church and it’s members are called to right now:
- Follow Jesus
- Commit to the Church and to Each Other
- Worship Together
- Form Disciples
- Foster Accountability
- Tend to its Gifts
- Engage Neighbours
- Bridge Social Divides
- Nurture Global Family
- Live the Anabaptist Story
- Trust God
We, as a group, asked ourselves if the structural changes of MC Canada proposed by FDTF would allow the church to live out this vision.
Emerging Voices Initiative appreciated the way the FDTF Final Report led us into much-needed conversations and invited us into creative and faithful discernment. In the midst of that discernment, we observed a need for increased clarity and engagement from congregations. We want individuals and congregations to consider if we can be a faithful church using the FDTF model, and want to hear if congregations believe that they will feel revitalized by this model.
Many of the challenges and opportunities we observed as we considered the future of the church turned out to be quite similar to those observed by the Future Directions Task Force.
Some of the challenges and opportunities we observed included new technology, reduced levels of commitment, settler-Indigenous relations, diversity within and outside of the church, and maintaining a communal identity in an individualistic society.
These are just the issues that we observed, we know that those from different congregations and backgrounds will be able to observe even different issues.
Here’s the thing: this is our church. Now is the time to think critically, discern with others, and share our voice. As Emerging Voices Initiative we want to hear as many voices as possible get involved in this conversation. We’ve created a series of questions for you to reflect on, and have included some of them below. To access more questions, visit our website. We encourage you to reflect on these by yourself, with a small group, or as a congregation.
- We (EVI) began our conversations by sharing our hopes and fears for the church, which was a helpful exercise for grounding ourselves biblically and theologically. What are your hopes and fears for the church? What are your dreams?
- The FDTF Report suggests a considerable decrease in the structure of the national church, focusing more on individual congregations and regional bodies. We see broader church bodies as playing some key roles. Do you see a role for broader church structures (regional and national)? If so, what are these roles?
- We see the national church being particularly important in the areas of mission, education and resourcing. What is your vision for what the national church could be (even if these are not roles it currently has)?
We want to hear from you! Your voice matters as our national church discerns it’s future. Check out our website at emergingvoiceonline.wordpress.com, and send us your responses through the “Contact” section of our website.
Anneli Loepp Thiessen is a third year student at Canadian Mennonite University, where she studies piano performance and music ministry. When she’s not having conversations about the future of the Mennonite church, you can find her making nachos with her siblings, thrift shopping, or directing musicals for kids.