WINNIPEG, Man. — A growing awareness of Anabaptism is increasing interest in Mennonite Church Canada, and Willard Metzger is happy to respond.
“I hear so many people tell me that they have found a spiritual home in the Anabaptist expression of Christianity,” Metzger said. “They may remain with their family of faith, whether that is evangelical or mainstream, but they closely identify with certain Anabaptist values, such as living simply, nonviolent peacebuilding, taking care of creation, or how they interact with people of other faiths.”
Since assuming the role of MC Canada’s executive director in 2009, Metzger’s passion for people and Anabaptist faith perspectives has sparked diverse connections in Canada and abroad.
“When I get asked to contribute, I often ask, ‘Why me?’ And just as often the response is, ‘We need the unique perspective your faith background brings to this issue,’ ” Metzger said.
On a recent interview for the Christian TV talk show 100 Huntley Street, he shared a life-changing experience in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake.
While he escaped uninjured, he said, “Some friends would say that God spared me. . . . But if I lay claim to that, then I’d also have to say that God killed hundreds of thousands of people. . . . That’s not the God I know.”
His desire to reach out to people affected by the earthquake affirmed for him the idea that faith and fulfillment are not about being satisfied when God is at work in our lives but when “we as individual followers align ourselves with what God is doing.”
Mennonites comprise about 1.7 million of an estimated 840 million global Protestants. That’s an almost negligible proportion at 0.2 percent. Yet Googling “Mennonite” returns 2.4 million results compared to 10.9 million for “Protestant.” This isn’t scientific but suggests plenty of interest in Mennonites online. That is the curiosity Metzger responds to as he networks within and beyond Mennonite circles.
MC Canada is one of 25 denominations in the Canadian Council of Churches, which includes Anglican, Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions.
James Christie, director of the Ridd Institute for Religion and Global Policy at the University of Winnipeg and past CCC president, said MC Canada “has helped to bring together a far more unified voice among Christians in Canada since the turn of the century.” He cites the contributions of Metzger and past general secretaries Dan Nighswander and Robert J. Suderman.
Metzger responds to invitations from a variety of faith interests. In 2012, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association flew him to North Carolina for a meeting with evangelical leaders. The next day he joined an Interfaith Conversation meeting in Toronto.
“These two back-to-back meetings took me from one end of the faith expression spectrum to another,” Metzger said. “One emphasized conversion, the other collaboration.”
He has contributed to books and conferences and participated on panel discussions covering topics ranging from Truth and Reconciliation to ecological justice and the prominence of Canadian companies in worldwide mining. He worked with the CCC to speak out about nonviolent solutions to conflict in Syria and conversed with multifaith leaders about Quebec’s proposed Charter of Values that would ban certain religious clothing in the workplace. He and seven other faith leaders met with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada to discuss matters important to the church.
Not everyone always agrees with Metzger.
He recently met with the Canadian Council for Anabaptist Leaders to discuss MC Canada’s Being a Faithful Church process, which has been reviewing biblical perspectives of sexuality and will lead to wider church discernment about sexual orientation and the church.
“Some CCAL members, and others, including people in the Mennonite Church Canada constituency, seem to think the outcome is predetermined and that it is in my hands,” Metzger said. “But the BFC
Task Force and I are assuring everyone that it is not.
“While we take the whole of the Bible into account when interpreting Scripture, we acknowledge that as Anabaptists Christ is central for our hermeneutics, and denominational members will decide.”
Jeremy Bell, executive minister of the Canadian Baptists of Western Canada and a CCC governing board member, said Metzger’s voice is strong but generous.
“He gets away with saying some pretty strong stuff because he’s kind,” Bell said.