WINNIPEG, Man. — Delegates voted 94 percent in favor of taking Mennonite Church Canada’s existing structures off of life support equipment that some believe is designed for a society and church culture from a prior century.
The vote at MC Canada’s Oct. 13-15 special assembly in Winnipeg means congregations will no longer be members of a national body but will speak to national agenda and programming through their regional church bodies at regional gatherings. The new structures make room for periodic national study conferences with direct congregational involvement.
A new Joint Council replaces the General Board. It will be composed of regional church moderators and other representatives appointed by regional churches, formerly known as area churches.
In setting up the delegate conversation, Mennonite Church Manitoba moderator Peter Rempel said the new structure “provides a platform, not a straightjacket, for accepting proposals presented at this assembly in principle,” referring to the several recommendations being presented for affirmation rather than a vote.
These included the covenant and operating agreement between regional churches, a proposal on International Witness and a financial plan. The action and required bylaw was guided by decisions made at MC Canada’s 2016 assembly in Saskatoon, Sask.
Identity and power
Delegate concerns focused on a lack of churchly language in the new bylaw, the danger of creating congregational “silos,” power imbalances among regional churches and small and large congregations, how to maintain Mennonite identity in the new structure and the underlying vision for the change.
They also worried regional churches do not have the fundraising muscle to meet their new financial commitments. Congregations will now channel funding for nationwide priorities through their regional churches.
The covenant and operating agreement among the five regional churches describes a firstfruits model that requires them to meet funding commitments to the denomination for a given year, even if their own funding needs are not met. The $1.92 million financial plan proposed for MC Canada is built on past patterns of congregational funding but does not include individual and corporate giving, which in the past has approached the high side of six figures.
International Witness will move forward with a blended model of funding. Relational funding based on commitments of congregations and individuals to support specific projects will be combined with a proposed 40 percent contribution from MC Canada, contingent upon sufficient funding from regional churches. Currently, about 60 congregations out of more than 200 in MC Canada are partnering with overseas ministries.
With the new emphasis on congregations as foundational to the denomination, about 100 people attended a breakout group discussion on congregational vitality. They urged regional churches to connect congregations and to curate resources compatible with Anabaptist values, even if those resources are from beyond the Mennonite realm.