MCM: Summary of the Future Directions Task Force Conversation

at the Annual Gathering March 5th, 2016
Ken Warkentin, Executive Director, Mennonite Church Manitoba (MCM)
March 7, 2016
Mennonite Church Canada/Mennonite Church Manitoba
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Winnipeg, Manitoba

Delegates at the MCM Annual Gathering met to discuss and ultimately vote on the following motion:

That Mennonite Church Manitoba adopt in principle the understandings of the Future Directions Task Force (as summarized in the Recommendation of the Moderators, Executive Ministers and Area Church Ministers (p. 41), the Supplement "What Is God's Spirit Calling US To In The 21st Century" (p.p. 42-45); the Vision and Structure summary (p. 47) and the Frequently Asked Questions (p. 48) ) with the intention of participating in creating a reconstituted national entity along the lines envisioned in the task force report.

After a fifteen minute presentation, 75 minutes of floor conversation, and 2 workshops dedicated to the topic the delegates voted in favour of passing the motion by ballot vote. One hundred and ten voted yes, 46 voted no, and 7 ballots were spoiled. Leaders expressed gratitude for the larger than usual turn-out for this gathering.

Some concerns about the report became evident through the course of the floor conversation. Several delegates raised questions about how our communal vision and Mennonite identity would be maintained in a more regionally based model in the context of reducing our national production of formation material (educational and worship). Loss of vision and identity were also named in the context of gatherings as a national body for worship, inspiration, and relationship building. Another concern noted that some difficult decisions and issues are best dealt with on a national level as the local level sometimes gets stuck in traditionalism and provincialism.

There were also significant concerns about our international Witness program. Several people voiced strong concern about changing our role in international witness from long term missions to short term responses to invitations. Others voiced concern that individual congregations did not have the expertise to discern the best responses to specific international invitations.

Some concern was voiced regarding the Covenant between Area Churches. One noted that our historical covenants regarding changes in structure have not always been maintained. Another voice suggested that a covenant may not be sufficient to keep us together working on a national agenda.

Some skepticism was noted regarding this as a cost saving measure. It was pointed out that historically congregations have restrained their giving when denominational structures change. We cannot count on all of the dollars continuing to flow into Regionalized collection methods.

There was some concern for how/if we will continue to work with our current ministry partners. Menno Media, schools, and the Mennonite World Conference were all mentioned.

Concern was also raised about how much consultation had taken place in the development of this report, and who was asked to participate in these consultations.

Finally there was concern regarding the process of voting. Questions were asked about what it meant to approve in principle the FDTF report. There was some concern that we are approving too great a change without having a say in the specific details.

There were also voices who noted the potential for positive outcomes. Some noted excitement about the proposal indicating that congregations need to take more ownership; they have become too independent and think they don’t need each other. It was also noted that we need to be realistic about finances, that this needs to be done in a controlled fashion, or finances will control us. One said that finances and theology cannot be separated; what we give is a theological statement. Another noted these changes as a call to be accountable for our individual financial decisions, observing that sacrificial giving has become a distant memory. There was also an expression of gratitude that there are people doing this work on “our behalf” that change is never easy, and a call encouraging prayer for the road ahead.

While not every concern was addressed from the floor or in workshop form, they were noted. The understanding was that they will be brought to the attention of the General Board, the transition team, and the national assembly in Saskatoon the July.

A special note must be made regarding a group of about 30 mostly young adults and mostly CMU students but coming from congregations in every area church calling themselves “Emerging Voices Initiatives." They produced a statement on what they hoped the church to be. They had taken seriously the FDTF reports and came with their own analysis of the report and context that the report speaks into. They questioned whether the ecclesiology (the congregation is the foundational unit of the church) is sufficient and whether the FDTF proposals will actually support the congregations. They offered one workshop on this topic and spoke passionately about their hope for and love for the church.

Review the FDTF Final Report, supporting documents, and Area Church conversations


Future Directions Task Force Summary Report from MCM Assembly

-by Willard Metzger, Executive Director, Mennonite Church Canada

The worshipful tone throughout the Gathering celebrated God’s goodness as God guided the community of believers in discernment.  

Delegates came prepared to discuss the FDTF Final Report. Concerns were raised about international witness, and developing and maintaining a sense of Anabaptist peoplehood. Recognition was expressed for the need of a larger faith family beyond the congregation. 

Delegates expressed a sense of loss. They expressed a fear of Area Churches becoming independent. Yet there was a recognition that the status quo was not an option 

I was once again very thankful for the concerned and passionate engagement.  It was evident that we love the church. 

After much conversation the delegates went to a ballot vote and approved the FDTF Report in principle by a 71% vote in favour.