Photo: Coffee conversations strengthen bonds between MWC commission members at annual meetings. Photo by Vikal Rao.
Leaders and members of the four Mennonite World Conference commissions met June 25-27 for a time of face-to-face discussion, reflection, worship and strategic planning.
Approximately 40 women and men from around the globe gathered for the meetings at the Mennonite Conference Center Dopersduin, one of three retreat centers run by the Algemene Doopsegezinde Sociëteit (Dutch Mennonite Church).
“The work of the commissions can strengthen the bonds of communion among the churches in different parts of the world,” says Neal Blough, member of the Peace Commission. “It will help us be aware of the larger and often complex context of our work, allow a sharing of resources and of deepened intercessory prayer.”
Commission members are volunteers from around the world who represent the General Council or bring expertise in caring, service, theology and peace work. They guide MWC in proposing resources and facilitating fellowship within MWC networks. Each commission has eight members (nine on the Mission Commission) including a chair and a part-time staff secretary.
Faith & Life
“Faith & Life Commission is helping MWC as a brain, as a theological commission to maintain our identity and practice what we believe,” says Tewodros Beyene.
Larry Miller, the secretary of the Mennonite delegation for the Trilateral Dialogue with Lutheran and Catholic churches about baptism, reported to the Commission on the document arising from the five-year dialogue concluded in 2017.
“Catholics, Lutherans and Mennonites express themselves differently in different parts of the world. The faith lives and experiences of each group are permeated by the local culture and history. Even so, through education processes that take that into account, they can incorporate new ideas,” says Rebeca Gonzalez Torres. “It has not been easy to talk about three historic baptism traditions associated with the Catholics, Lutherans and Mennonites, not now or in the past. We value and are grateful for all the work and the process that has led to this document.”
The Faith and Life Commission recommended creating spaces where MWC member churches might learn from each other’s understanding and practice of baptism in their local settings, presenting the Trilateral Dialogue on Baptism official report to the General Council and producing a study guide for churches to accompany the report.
The Faith and Life Commission also discussed a document about the doctrine of justification and continued working on the possibility of a name change to better reflect all the members of Mennonite World Conference.
The Mission Commission reported on the progress of translation for God’s People in Mission: An Anabaptist Perspective, forthcoming in Spanish this year and French in 2020, assigned Missional Frontiers profiles for 2019–2021 and began planning the 2021 global consultation of the Global Anabaptist Service Network (GASN) and the Global Mission Fellowship (GMF), both comprised of Anabaptist agencies serving the church and the spread of the gospel around the world.
“We need each other’s strength and gifts in order to serve together,” says Andi Santoso. “One of the most challenging things we discussed during our meeting was the need for sharing our resources with others who are in need.”
“We want to keep our family united with things that are going on,” says GASN and GMF coordinator José Arrais. Different concerns stem from the specifics of local situations, so meeting together allows for better understanding and support, he says. “It’s important to have feedback so we can connect.”
“As we work through these agencies, they are involved in various ministries of justice,” says Nelson Okanya.
The Deacons Commission responds to prayer requests, publishes a bimonthly prayer network email in partnership with MWC Communications and administers the Global Church Sharing Fund (GCSF).
In December 2018, chair Henk Stenvers and members Vikal Rao and Hanna Soren visited several churches in rural India to celebrate church dedications after building projects partially sponsored by the GCSF and national churches.
“As a member of Deacons Commission, I was invited to walk with them in this joyous moment and experience the joy of sharing with our Anabaptist brothers and sisters around the world,” says Vikal Rao.
“We received wonderful traditional welcome,” says Vikal Rao. “We could see the happiness in their faces.” A church building was a dream come true for Antakya (Antioch) Mennonite Church, part of Bhartiya General Conference Mennonite Church, whose farmer and laborer members were not able to save enough to construct their own meeting place.
The Peace Commission worked on documents for approval by the General Council, including a statement on conscientious objection, prepared for the launch of the Global Anabaptist Peace Network and considered next steps on recent statements and the Children on the Move initiative.
“Our agenda sought to focus us on real issues facing us in the church,” says Wendy Kroeker. “The work of the Peace Commission seeks to articulate theological foundations—and create meaningful discussion—for Anabaptists/Mennonites on issues facing us in society and within our own church communities.”
“Our work grows out of direct places where the church around the world is experiencing difficulty in living their faith as we understand it,” says Ken Hoke. “It is good to be able to come alongside with sisters and brothers.”
Following the Commission meetings, the Global Anabaptist Peace Network was launched at the second Global Mennonite Peacebuilding festival in Elspeet, Netherlands. “Linking to the GAPN will broaden and strengthen the work for peace in the worldwide Mennonite, ecumenical and human family,” says Neal Blough.