Mennonite Church Canada delegates will meet Oct. 13-15 in Winnipeg, Man., for a special assembly to consider a new structure that shifts emphasis from the national denomination to its five regions.
In part due to decreased financial giving resulting in staff cuts, changes seek to streamline the denomination at the top.
Priority will be given to assist congregations at the local level, where most people claim their primary church identity. MC Canada transition leaders hope that bringing activities closer to the grassroots will increase engagement, and finances, in times of waning loyalty.
MC Canada is made of five regional churches — Eastern Canada, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia — which are similar to Mennonite Church USA’s area conferences.
In an effort to reduce overlap and structural confusion, the new national structure would be a partnership of the regional churches working together to develop national priorities.
A revised covenant will frame relational commitments made by regional churches to work collaboratively for MC Canada at all levels. By working to help regional churches better resource congregations as centers of worship and mission, the goal is for reimagined denomination-level work to be a connecting point for Mennonite identity and witness.
Under the plan, congregations would no longer directly send delegates to national conventions. National delegate assemblies would consist of regional church board members and other delegates at large appointed by the regional church. Nationwide gatherings would be much smaller, with delegates representing only their regional church, not any particular congregation.
Four years of work
The meeting is a culmination of four years of imagining and brainstorming.
MC Canada established a Future Directions Task Force in 2013 to put forth basic ideas. Delegates at MC Canada’s regular assembly in July 2016 in Saskatoon, Sask., gave approval by a vote of 318-21 to the overhaul’s basic trajectory. Since that vote, an interim council worked to refine the details and seek further feedback.
“We had piles and piles of input,” said transition coordinator Keith Regehr. In springtime regional church assemblies “and a variety of other meetings, we had something like 900 individuals speak into the process over the winter.”
The “Future Directions: Covenant New” gathering will require two-thirds approval to change MC Canada’s bylaws.
With less emphasis on the national level, many have feared international missions will be diminished or abandoned in favor of regionally supported short-term endeavors, or only viable in regional churches with higher populations, such as Mennonite Church Eastern Canada.
Reflecting the variety of desires for International Witness, a working group focused on drafting a model was unable to reach consensus.
A proposal was then developed by MC Canada’s Interim Council that suggests national staff continue to coordinate international missions and vet candidates and projects, with regional churches working with MC Canada to set priorities for projects and partners.
Regehr said some congregations and individuals are already giving generously to International Witness.
“We’re wanting to be more focused on tying projects to congregational and individual energy,” he said. “We’ll still get some general donations, but we want to more strongly do relational ties to projects and individuals.”
Projects will generally be approved only with sufficient local financial support.
“More and more people are reluctant to throw dollars at an institution and say ‘You do good work, spend our money wisely,’ ” Regehr said. “There’s more interest in having connections to a specific place where you know the people and like the work.”
Registration has closed for the special assembly, to be held at the Radisson Downtown hotel. The 350 registrants are similar to attendance at the 2016 assembly in Saskatoon. Regehr said that gathering had 50 percent of congregations represented.
“I think 50 percent is not bad for a national gathering where a whole lot of people have to fly a fairly long distance,” he said.