I've been working on this letter with a group of other young pastors from across MC Canada for the past couple of weeks. We've been reflecting on what has happened so far with the Future Directions Task Force (FDTF) and this is our response. Take a read and let me know what you think! You can also check out other young folks responding to the FDTF here, Emerging Voices Initiative. -Krista

young pastors

An open letter to the congregations and leaders of Mennonite Church Canada:

We are a group of pastors from each of the Area Churches who have gathered around the current Future Directions Task Force (FDTF) conversations in an effort to understand and respond together.  We write as younger pastoral leaders with hopes for many years yet in service to the Mennonite church in Canada, and so with a significant stake in this ongoing process.  We would like to offer the following reflections, encouragements, and prayers for our shared family of faith.

At the heart of our shared concern is the recognition that we have all observed expressions of mistrust or even woundedness in this process.  We have each been part of conversations in our various local settings that circle around themes of trust, transparency and confidence. These conversations seem to reflect a fracture between congregations and Area/National church leaders.  Our concern is that the FDTF process has exposed fractures or even initiated them. However it has happened, the unfolding of the FDTF process cannot be characterized by trust and mutuality within the body.  In some circles, in fact, trust has been significantly eroded.

As pastors, we recognize that we have not always contributed well to good communication.  We have struggled to bring the activities and realities of our denominational bodies into our local settings.  We have not always shared a compelling vision for our life together as a broader faith community.  And we recognize that much responsibility lies with the individuals in our congregations as well.  Many of our congregants simply are not invested beyond our own congregations or are perhaps over invested in a model that is no longer viable.

And yet, we also lament a lack of pastoral sensitivity in the way that the FDTF process was developed and led.  Many groups felt unheard (even when they were asked for feedback) in the feedback they offered, while others felt manipulated and pressured in the decision-making process.  Some have experienced a sense of ‘spin’ from leaders that has tried to put everything in the most positive light possible. While we do understand the challenges and constraints of the process, we also long to hear some sense of lament from our leaders where there have been oversights or mis-steps; or to simply help us understand some of the inevitable conflicts. We sense a growing divide between the local congregation and our National Church, and thus call for more pastoral sensitivity from our church leaders when addressing these realities.

While we acknowledge that this process should not be shrouded in lament, we do name lament and confession as an important posture in this time of change.  We encourage some avenue for corporate lament (including from our leaders) at Assembly in Saskatoon, as a step in the direction of healing and reconciliation.

On questions of transparency and accountability, we also have some practical suggestions. We understand that there has been conversation regarding the development of a listening group in the transition process. We strongly affirm this direction as a healthy mechanism for transparency and accountability.  We also see this listening group as integral to keeping present to us the questions and concerns of those often absent in the formal (paid and unpaid) leadership structures of the church. We identify the need for this group to reflect the voices of our Witness workers (Indigenous and International), new Canadian / non-white congregations, youth / young adults, and LGBTQ members and adherents.  We also call for this group to reflect the theological diversity in our congregations and to aim for good gender balance. It is our hope that such a group would aid in addressing questions of accountability and transparency while hopefully nurturing trust in leaders and process.

Further, we understand that key leadership in the transition process will be taken up by Area Church Moderators in some form of interim council. Given the lack of diversity in this group, we recommend   the addition of a few ‘at large’ members who can provide additional perspective.

Finally, we recognize that questions of triumphalism, homophobia, racism, sexism, and other abuses are not named at any point in this process.  However, given that any organization is an organization of power we insist that present and possible abuses of power be identified and addressed in the transition process. Institutions are by nature conservative and so we confess that the church as an institution has often responded with hostility to groups and individuals that do not fit its beliefs or practices. We see our calling to address these systemic abuses as part of the peacebuilding work of the church (much like the “Undoing Sexism” and “Undoing Racism” initiatives within MC USA). We can see in retrospect how such attention would have benefited the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) process regarding who was included in the formal levels of discernment and decision making.

We affirm that the future of the church needs to be accountable to and informed by those inheriting the church structure. In light of the BFC recommendations we also ask that space already be made in any transitional structures for LGBTQ members (as well as representation from those groups noted above). We see this kind of major change to our church structures as an opportunity to ensure that they reflect our attentiveness to the marginal and vulnerable believers in our midst.

Lingering questions remain about how we will continue to express ourselves as a national body. The current proposal will see more work done by Area and National church staff. We understand that these individuals will still be accountable to Area and National boards. We also acknowledge that there have been various conversations around the development of national gatherings focused on study and worship. We affirm the need for such gatherings, but we also name that this remains an area of ambiguity.  How will our larger vision and shared documents be developed and approved responsibly within an ecclesiology that encourages strong congregational and individual engagement? In the midst of these questions we acknowledge that we will need to let go of some expectations and opportunities once afforded to us by a larger structure.

We confess some uneasiness and an inability to clearly see the vision and processes of our national body.  We call for greater care, attention, and clarity to be given to these questions.

We acknowledge that the Future Directions Task Force has worked under considerable constraints of time and resources.  Additional constraints have been imposed by the constituency through expectations that are either contradictory or impossible to fulfill.

We commit to refrain from placing unrealistic or unhelpful expectations on the FDTF and on the transitional structures of the coming years in whatever form they take.

Despite some difficult and disconcerting experiences in this process, we do also celebrate and give thanks for the various conversations and connections that this process has inspired. We give thanks for the Emerging Voices Initiative that reflects the vitality of our younger members, even as conventional wisdom insists that youth are less interested in the work of the church. The EVI models a helpful and hopeful approach to theological reflection and spiritual practice. We have also been grateful for the connections with each other that have taken place in developing this statement. In the course of the FDTF process, important questions of faith, church, and theology have been brought to the surface.

We give thanks for the life and work of the church and commit to publicly celebrating and sustaining the conversations that are emerging at this time.

Each one of us carries pastoral concern for the broader Mennonite church alongside that of our own congregations. So, in a spirit of pastoral response we offer the following prayer to help gather God’s people around both the FDTF and BFC process as they come to fruition in Saskatoon this summer. We encourage the use of this prayer for both personal and congregational use as we prepare to gather as one body of believers in July.

 

Prayer of Preparation for Assembly 2016

God of our past, you are:

Merciful

Slow to Anger

Rich in Love

Forgiving

Though we are created in your image, we come to you to    Confess

Lament

Speak aloud

That we, the body of Mennonite Church Canada

Have not always lived as a reflection of you.

 

Together we confess that some of us hold power over others

– implicitly or explicitly –

Due to race, gender, orientation or economic means.

We lament the stories left unheard and absent in our gatherings.

We forget that we are all part of

Your collective body

That knows no borders or division.

 

Together we confess the times we have tried to lead your Church

But have made others feel

unheard       manipulated       pressured       belittled

We lament this wounding for it is not how you desire us to treat our family.

 

Together we confess that we have divested our interest in the Church

And invested in other gods and idols that surround us.

We are occupied by our own agendas

By the noise of our strange structures that have both served you

And held us slaves to our own too-narrow visions of your Kingdom.

 

Together we voice our fear and anxiety

Because we treasure what is ending in our Church

And fear what you are leading us to.

 

Yet

 

We are your fickle people

covenanted and bound to you despite our nature.

Have mercy on us.

 

Yet it is you, God, who continues to draw us together as

Reconciled community

Jesus followers

Anabaptists

Mennonite Church Canada

Have mercy on us.

 

Because of your goodness we strive to trust, listen, communicate and humble ourselves

as we respond to our hopeful and hurting Church body.

We cannot do this alone.

Open us to the excitement of the Spirit’s moving in our midst.

Reflect in us your image.

 

Help us to remember that in our future

In our children’s future

We will proclaim you in our Church as:

Merciful

Slow to Anger

Rich in Love

Forgiving

 

Amen.

 

Chris Lenshyn (Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Abbotsford, MCBC)

Ryan Dueck (Lethbridge Mennonite Church, Lethbridge, MCA)

Krista Loewen (Wildwood Mennonite Church, Saskatoon, MCSask)

Jeff Friesen (Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, MCM)

Susie Guenther Loewen (Charleswood Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, MCM)

David Driedger (First Mennonite Church, Winnipeg, MCM)

Virginia Gerbrandt Richert (Altona Bergthaler, Altona, MCM)

Kyle Penner (Grace Mennonite Church, Steinbach, MCM)

Carrie Martens (Stirling Ave. Mennonite Church, Kitchener, MCEC)

Kevin Derksen (St. Jacobs Mennonite Church, St. Jacobs, MCEC)

I was given the opportunity to travel to Orlando for Heavy and Light (https://twloha.com/heavy-and-light/) at the beginning of April.  It would be my first solo trip where all decisions were mine to make, my choices would make or break my memories.  As much as I told myself that I would be open to what would happen, I knew I was going with pre-planned hopes and desires for what would happen.  I was going with the idea that certain moments would happen, certain events would take place that would forever change the direction of my life. 

When I got there I was faced with the reality of the situation and not my dreams.  The decisions were mine and only mine to make, no one to deflect them to, no one to blame.  I was in Florida with no real plan of my own, no idea how to travel or where to go.  I was overwhelmed with the reality of the situation and needed to remind myself that God was in control and the truth of that would come out over and over throughout the trip.  I had to give myself permission to breathe and that I could take what time I needed to, to get myself oriented, to calm my soul and to just breathe.  I had to remind myself that I was in a new place and all that I would experience would be new.  I found myself making choices that would focus on being good to myself.  I could put myself first with no guilt, that no plans was a different way of travelling but that it was okay.  My far out ideals, dreams of what would happen, were just that - far out.  I needed to be deliberate and make choices and be okay with my choices. 

It was okay to enjoy myself.  It was okay that I put myself first.  It was okay.

The only real mistakes that I could make was to not enjoy the moments that God laid out for me.  To be in the moment and to enjoy that moment.  I did not have to explain myself to anyone - not even to myself.  I challenged myself to just be present and to appreciate what was in front of me.

I encountered peace within a  crowd of chaos. I found enjoyment within the joy of others, beauty in the moment. God showed up continually and I saw His work more often than not. I knew that recognizing God in the moment was what mattered. God was more important than what did or did not happen. It was still often a struggle to stay in the moment in spite of this knowledge. I still got distracted by my own desires/dreams, especially as the time grew closer to the start of Heavy and Light.

As the night began I entered a hallowed place and moment that I was a part of. Everyone else seemed to know someone else or at least came to the event with someone.  So as much as I knew I was part of the group, I was still an outsider, I had the feeling of being alone in a crowd where I wasn't alone. Being invited into the stories that were shared on stage reminded me that I wasn't alone. There are so many quotes that I want to be able to remember from the night, truths that reminded us that we are all part of a story that is still going. Tears and laughter were abundant throughout the night, and it ended all too quickly. Several hours flew by in a moment but I knew I was leaving the place with a full heart.

I had many things that I wanted to say to Jamie and Renee, but of course I forgot most of it. I was able to at least say thank you for what they have done for so many, including me.

After I returned back to life, I was asked if I would ever do it again, absolutely I would.  It is one thing to watch from afar, but God took those days and taught me much about enjoying now and not the future.  I am worth the time and energy that self care needs.

 https://twloha.com/blog/twloha10-live-stream/

Kari

Are you a missionary?  Probably not, in the traditional (full-time, evangelizing, church-planting, overseas-going) sense of the word.  Me neither.  For most of us, our time is dominated by non-churchy things: family, careers, friends, hobbies, recreation, and the endless to-do list of home-and-community responsibilities.  With all of that on our plates, who has time and energy for the work of God?  Aren’t missionaries the ones who give up all or at least some of that other stuff in order to do “ministry”?

But what if God’s work is more than just evangelism or church-building?  In WMC’s worship series on “God’s Mission,” I’ve encouraged us to take a wider view of how we think about missions:

God’s work is something all of us are created and called to do—and be—in a wide variety of capacities.  In other words, all work is God’s work.  And often, God’s work is less about what we do and more about who we are: the simple gift of presence and paying attention to the people and the world near to us can be the high calling of God.

So in this understanding of God’s Mission, maybe you really are a missionary.  Do you share in creating or building or growing things or people?  Do you participate in healing, repairing, or helping?  Are you present with people, offering encouragement, inspiration, friendship?  Yep, those are missionary activities.

In our April 17 worship service, our church wants to name and bless this kind of missional engagement that often happens beyond the structures of the church.  We are planning a time of commissioning, anointing with oil (for those who would like that), and prayer.  I’ll invite participants to share a sentence or two about how they see themselves participating in God’s Mission (or a few longer testimonies, if time and willingness allow), and the church will speak words of affirmation and blessing over them to acknowledge the significance of their particular calling.

This might seem like something that doesn’t apply to you—isn’t commissioning only for those doing big and important things?  Wouldn’t it seem like bragging to suggest that God has called me to do something special? I’d like to challenge those notions.  We are all created and called to be part of God’s Mission in all things.  We humans are terribly poor judges of what is truly important, particularly in recognizing these things in ourselves.  Can we allow each other to name and bless the work of God in and through us?

So if being commissioned and/or being marked with a bit of oil on your hands or forehead would help you to receive God’s blessing, courage, strength, and awareness, come and allow the church to bless you.  And if you know someone in the church who is a missionary without realizing it, encourage them to receive this blessing as well.

All work is God’s work, and we are all called and gifted to join in.

 

February 10th marked the beginning of the Lenten season. This year my appreciation for this service deepened. In talking to other Mennonites I was surprised to hear that some have never been marked with ashes and usually just begin Lent with a Pancake Supper. How Mennonite of us to choose to have a large community meal that can include farmer sausage! Other Mennonites I talked to felt that the imposition of ashes, or a service on Ash Wednesday in general, is just too catholic of a practice to do in our Anabaptist churches. On the contrary at Wildwood this year we had a joint service with the L'Arche Saskatoon community. L'Arche has roots in the Catholic community so even the premise that we might worship together might be considered scandalous.I have, however, come to really appreciate the liturgical calendar and Ash Wednesday fits firmly into this.

Our service at Wildwood Mennonite called us to follow Jesus' example of entering into the desert wilderness immediately following his baptism. Jesus fasted to build spiritual strength and integrity in order to accomplish God's calling. But Jesus also enters the desert after hearing the affirming words of his baptism - "You are my beloved. With you I am well pleased." While affirmed in his identity in God, Jesus needed to wrestle with who he was as a created being and what his ministry would look like while on Earth. Jesus questioned who he was, why he was here, and what life was for. Entering into Lent urges us to ask the same questions. We have 40 days set aside to take up this task and Ash Wednesday is the doorway into this journey.

We encountered, however, a locked door while gathered together in worship.locked door

We approach the door ready to open it and start only to find that we hold ourselves back. What would unlock that door and allow you to walk with Jesus?

What burdens and baggage do you need to put down first?

What have you created inside yourself that isolates you from God?

When you come out of your baptism with God's words ringing in your ears what words will God send with you in the desert?

Our service had had a time of reflection for us to visit 3 stations.

The first was the Baptismal water.

water

Dipping our hands in the water reminds us of our cleansing and that God is pleased with us.

The second station was the keys.

Keys

We wrote on paper keys the things we needed to unlock within ourselves and taped it onto the door.

Station three was the imposition of the ashes.

ash

We remind ourselves that we are dust and that we will return to dust. The ashes began as palms of celebration on Palm Sunday.

But now they are burnt, black and grey. Dry and Lifeless.

On Ash Wednesday the dry black, and grey ashes mix our baptismal  waters and mark us for a journey. They mark that we are God's. They mark that there is no sin, darkness or grave that will keep us from the love of God. The Ashes lead us to live out the gospel, as Jesus discovered while in the desert, that brings the good fruit of justice, peace, and generosity. These ashes are worth wearing.

Come back to God - back from wherever it is you are wandering, weary and worm. Come back to God out of your individual and personal lives. Come back to God with all your heart the Lenten season - and you'll find yourself home.

When

Adult Sunday School: 9:45 a.m. 
Worship: 10:45 a.m. 

Family Singing Time: 10:15 a.m. 
Junior Sunday School During Worship

 

Contact

Phone 306-373-2126
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Pastor Joe Heikman
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