While the conversation and participation were good at Sargent Avenue Mennonite Church on a Saturday morning to discuss the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) document, Pastor Marla Langelotz told a Mennonite Church Manitoba leadership seminar on Feb. 24 that she was frustrated that participants didn’t engage the sexuality issue.
She had hoped that the process would take seriously the suggestion by Robert J. Suderman, former general secretary of Mennonite Church Canada, that, “as the Holy Spirit guides us ‘into all truth,’ the church may want to repeat its understandings, modify them or change them,” regarding the sexuality issue. Langelotz, along with John Klassen, pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church, Winkler, Man., were asked to report on how the BFC process went in their congregations.
Langelotz said that 54 congregants—about a third of her congregation—came to the BFC meeting and brought their own questions, rather than process the ones proposed by MC Canada. No analysis was attempted. There was some suspicion, she said, that MC Canada “had already decided on the outcomes,” and was only going through the motions of discernment as a strategy of congregational participation.
This was true, she said, for both those pushing for change and those wanting to “repeat its understandings” of scriptural interpretation. But both Suderman and his successor, Willard Metzger, the keynote speaker at the seminar, as well as MC Canada moderator Andrew Reesor-McDowell, have insisted that the process is more important than the outcome. Langelotz also said there was an attempt to hear all the voices in her congregation, not just a dominant few.
Klassen, who said his congregation has been involved in the BFC process for two years, also said congregants intentionally avoided the sexuality component because they didn’t want that to “bog down” the conversation at the outset. Before launching into the questions posed by the BFC process, he spent time in preparation, preaching a sermon on considering the Bible as the “best path in discerning God’s will” and looking at “binding and loosing” as an instrument of discernment.
As with Sargent, about a third of the church—between 60 and 70 congregants—took part in the discussions in a specially set-aside time. In addition to the BFC questions, they added three more to the discussion from one congregant: What happens when we discern differently, implying, “Is one interpretation more correct than the other?”, “How is our discernment more correct than others, let’s say than the Anglicans?”, and, “What do we do with our decision or consensus?”
The congregational questions proposed by MC Canada for the process are:
- Tell us what you have learned about the use of the Bible in your Christian life and what you think others might learn from your experience. You may want to share something that has come to you slowly through a lengthy time of reflection, prayer and interaction. Or you may want to share some experience that has dawned on you more suddenly—perhaps a new insight or perspective that has clarified things for you. Are there any particular passages, stories or images from the Bible that help you in a special way? Please explain.
- What are the underlying and overriding assumptions, principles and guidelines that you believe are helpful in the interpretation of the Bible and its use in your faith and life? Are there elements identified in the document from II Timothy and from the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective that are helpful to you? Are there additional elements that should be considered? Are there some characteristics of the Bible—how it came to be, how it is organized, or dynamics within Scripture itself—that are helpful to you and that you think would be helpful to others?
Both pastors felt good about their process meetings, saying that participants wanted to continue the conversation.
Sargent and Emmanuel are among 12 congregations, one youth group and four individuals who have undertaken the BFC process thus far, according to MC Canada. Some 56 leaders and pastors attended the seminar, representing 25 of MC Manitoba’s 49 congregations.