What’s the fastest-growing Mennonite church in Winnipeg?
St. Margaret’s Anglican.
That joke came back to me early this month when I learned that the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada and Mennonite Church Canada will be voting this summer to enter into a five-year bilateral dialogue.
In an interview with Anglican Journal, Archdeacon Bruce Myers said the two groups could learn a lot from each other.
“The Anglican Church of Canada, is increasingly . . . becoming a church on the margins, a church away from the centers of power, when historically we were a church of empire, establishment and privilege,” he said.
Mennonites, he went on to say, have made “a conscious decision to be very separate from the principalities and powers, and to take a stance that is often in opposition to empire.”
I’m not sure that Mennonites in Canada are as separate or as opposed to empire as Myers thinks, so Anglicans might be disappointed on that score. But it is true is that a growing number of Mennonites and others from non-liturgical churches are being attracted to such a style of worship.
I know — I’m one of them. For a few years I have been attending st. benedict’s table, an Anglican congregation that meets on Sunday evenings here in Winnipeg, in addition to attending a local Mennonite Brethren congregation.
For me, the appeal is mostly about the liturgy, and the way it moves me from confession to forgiveness and then to a life of service for the coming week. I especially like how the service’s focal point is the Eucharist, or communion, not the sermon. Having spent most of my life in an educational model of church, I am more than ready for something that feeds my spirit, not just my mind.
I’m not alone. My friend Harold Dick grew up in an MB church in rural Alberta. He’s gone to St. Margaret’s since 1981. For him, it’s also about the liturgy.
“It’s the sense of mystery, the idea that God is not something we are expected to fully understand,” he said.
When he goes to church, “I feel that my attention has shifted from my own life to this thing that is beyond me,” he added.
He also likes the idea that “the service isn’t about you, but about God. . . . It’s about celebrating what God has done, not just about what you need to do to make your life better.”
The presence of all those Mennonites also impacts St. Margaret’s, said parish administrator Thomas Reimer, who grew up in a Mennonite church in southern Manitoba before becoming an Anglican.
The church was already “pre-disposed toward asking difficult questions,” he said, but the presence of so many Mennonites “has heightened the social conscience of the church.” This includes discussions about things like just war and pacifism.
Andrew Dyck is associate professor of ministry studies at Canadian Mennonite University and also teaches at Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary. He understands why some Mennonites are attracted to Anglicanism.
“Mennonites place a high value on Scripture, so how it is read so much in Anglican churches would be appealing,” he said.
As for the liturgy, it “provides a richness around the mystery of God, something that is neglected in Mennonite and evangelical worship,” he said.
Whether or not the formal dialogue goes ahead this summer, Mennonites and Anglicans in Winnipeg may already be developing a new hybrid form of worship that could be a model for others.
John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.