It seems appropriate on the eve of Canada Day to reflect on the state of our national church. I am doing a workshop at the Assembly in Saskatoon entitled “Running toward Community.” In light of this I found it ironic that a recent letter in the Canadian Mennonite was saying that if the BFC resolution passes it will be “time to run” away from the denomination. Without giving away all the content of my workshop, suffice it to say that my call will be that in a time of difficulty and controversy, it is indeed “time to run” but toward community, not away from it.
The questions before us as a denomination are: What does this community look like? What is the primary locus of this community? The reality is that we live in a post-denominational era where the present generation does not share their elders’ strong commitment to denomination, or even the local church for that matter. The title of a seminar at the assembly, “Young Adults don’t need the ‘church’” seems indicative of this sentiment. “Church” is in quotation marks because it is open to definition; young adults do value community but they question some of the structures of the church they have inherited. In the latest issue of the Canadian Mennonite, Gerald Gerbrandt says that church refers primarily to the worldwide community and the local community but that the national church is an important link between the two. So what will be the shape of our national church in the generations to come?
I am not a big picture thinker or an expert on structural matters and so even after reading the Future Directions Task Force [FDTF] recommendations I’m still not sure I understand all the ramifications of the recommendations. It seems to place greatest emphasis on the local communities, then the regional community, and least on the national community. I suppose opinions will range from whether the recommendations splinter Mennonite Church Canada into regionalism or whether they help to maintain the long term viability and unity of MC Canada. One thing I picked up that I would celebrate is a stronger emphasis on fellowship and worship during national assemblies with discernment and more decision-making to take place in congregations and area churches.
I came into this denomination at a time  when there were two different denominations in North America coming together to form one—and eventually dividing into national churches of this one denomination. As an outsider coming into this new reality I was excited by two denominations coming together instead of dividing, as has been common especially among Mennonites. The “healing and hope” statement brought tears to my eyes as I committed myself to my new church home. In Alberta I worked for local conferences of both denominations charged with the task of integrating the youth structures. Ontario had already led the way a few decades earlier but I felt buoyed by the opportunity to work together and the possibilities for witness that unification could have for this new church entity. With the controversies and departures over the past few years it seems my initial euphoria may have been somewhat premature.
Contrary to many Mennonite denominations, Mennonite Church Canada’s origins in 1903-04 involved a unification movement. In his history of the General Conference in Canada [precursor of Mennonite Church Canada] Adolf Ens describes one of the first meetings—held not far from Saskatoon—as one without a formal constitution “but they did operate along the lines of the GC motto: In essentials unity; in nonessentials liberty; in all things charity… Disagreement did not imply disunity. Uniformity was not necessary… The motivation for creating the Conference was two-fold: God’s desire that the unity of Christians should manifest itself in outward structures, and the desire of the churches to cultivate communion in the Spirit and encourage each other in Kingdom work.”
The next year in article 4 of the new constitution it “explicitly specified that the Conference not interfere in the internal affairs of a congregation unless requested to do so. It was to be a consultative rather than a legislative body. The unity it sought consisted not so much in outward forms and practices as in love, faith, and hope.”
So there you have it! This is something to ponder at our present juncture. Whatever happens with the resolution I hope that it will lead to unity of our church and a stronger collective witness for Jesus Christ.