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Unexpected gifts: Commentary on Future Directions
It’s been a busy winter’s end as I move from one Area Church gathering to the next. I’m happy for the opportunity to interact, clarify, and respond to questions and comments about the Future Direction Task Force’s final report at these gatherings.
These experiences have been a gift to me. As human beings, we avoid thinking about loss until we fear there is something to lose. It’s a gift to have strong reasons to talk about our concerns for the future. It’s freeing to imagine new potential when faced with an uncertain future. The recommendations of the FDTF have engaged our community in dialogue we likely would not have experienced otherwise.
Wherever I go, concern bubbles up that we will lose our Mennonite/Anabaptist identity as a result of FDTF recommendations. I heard this concern in cluster group meetings in Mennonite Church Eastern Canada, congregational meetings, pastor gatherings and in Area Church annual meetings in B.C., Man., Sask., and Alta.
But this concern presents us with a real opportunity – as Congregations, Area Churches, and National Church – to consider and discuss deeply what our identity means to us.
Three broad categories of assumptions have surfaced in our conversations so far.
The recommendations of the FDTF are a done deal
In actuality, the final report presented to the General Board says, “We have now completed our assignment.” The report is now subject to the engagement, feedback, processing etc., of Area Church delegates and others, leading up to broader discernment together at our Saskatoon Assembly this coming July.
There will be no national church in the future
The FDTF’s final report intentionally avoids prescribing specific structures. Instead, it points to broader principles (and potential) about how we will engage our core identity and what that means for our national agenda moving forward. It will be the job of a yet-to-be-appointed transition team to recommend structure and staffing necessary to actualize the principles.
Mennonite Church Canada is discontinuing its international relationships
The FDTF’s final report acknowledges that the area of international relationships still requires further work. A lack of clarity at this point is not an indication that international ministry will discontinue, though it may take a different shape than what it currently looks like.
Once these misunderstandings are clarified, I find levels of anxiety are lowered. So far, delegates attending four Area Church gatherings have voted substantially in favour of proceeding with the principles and directions recommended in the FDTF’s final report.
I am very thankful for the comments and concerns raised. And I invite you to join in the national church discussion at Assembly 2016 – and beyond. Moving forward, I anticipate that there will be additional times of engagement with Area Church delegates once we all have a clearer view of how to move forward and a transition period begins.
These engagements are very rewarding and encouraging. I am deeply grateful for such an unexpected gift.
Photo Credits:Darryl Neustaedter Barg