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Change, I welcome you

Tobi Thiessen
By Tobi Thiessen, Publisher
Apr 19, 2017 | Volume 21 Issue 9

Anxiety about change abounds. It is a natural response to uncertainty, but I tire of reading about it. Newly taking up my role as publisher of this magazine, I would like to be bold and announce, “Change, I welcome you.” I would also like to praise the staff at Canadian Mennonite for taking our new leadership structure in stride, welcoming me in and being open to new ideas and possibilities.

Executive editor Ginny Hostetler introduced herself in the previous editorial with snapshots of the church influences and past experiences that led her to this new calling at Canadian Mennonite. Going forward, Ginny will continue to write editorials, and will oversee the print and digital aspects of the magazine. My role as publisher is to strengthen church-wide partnerships during these turbulent times; work on ways to adapt and improve our communications across the church; and be responsible for the financial side of our organization.

Many have asked if this is a new position. No. It’s a re-organizing of responsibilities. Formerly, Canadian Mennonite had a full-time position called “editor/publisher” and a half-time web editor. Now we have a half-time publisher and a full-time executive editor responsible for print and online media. Our goal is the same as it has been since 1953: to offer Mennonites across Canada a forum in which to connect, inform, inspire one another and dialogue about issues facing Mennonites in Canada.

There are twin forces fuelling anxiety in the communications environment of Mennonites in Canada, but I am resolutely hopeful:

  • First, to state the obvious, the print medium is in decline. It is equally obvious that online communications are flourishing. Although print publications have some benefits that will never be recreated online, there are new ways of engaging with each other online that print could never achieve. For a church as spread out geographically as Mennonites are in Canada, we should embrace the new options. Change, I welcome the benefits you will bring to our church in terms of more immediate and more interactive communication with one another.
  • Second, and more difficult to accept than the decline of print, is the idea that Christianity is in decline. This large societal shift helps explain the context for the five-year Mennonite Church Canada process led by the Future Directions Task Force. One outcome of that process was the recommendation to reorganize our church structure into a network of regional churches. Because there are many uncertainties about what will be lost, and whether the new model will serve our congregations well, there is tremendous anxiety. Recently, I heard a few people call the new model “deconstructionist.” But from my perspective, the idea of structural change brings us new opportunities that the previous model might not have been able to accommodate.

Already, there are signs of renewed hope for the future church. Witness the energy that surfaced spontaneously from students and young church leaders to form the Emerging Voices Initiative. This group is injecting new ideas, critical questions and encouragement to our revisioning process.

Witness the energy of the working groups and reference groups that have been established to further shape the proposed regional church model. By my count, there are nearly 100 church members from across the country, of all ages, bringing their own diverse opinions, experience and theological perspectives to the questions posed by the 11 working and reference groups. These are encouraging signs of engagement in the fundamental questions about who we are as a church family and what we do together.

Witness, further, the spin-off effect that the working groups are having. To fulfill their mandates, they are inviting others to contribute ideas and counsel on the future of our church programs. For example, the International Witness/Relationships Working Group is surveying pastors and congregational leaders to help determine how to make our international ministries most effective. You can find it at futuredirectionsmc.ca, if you would like to add your own voice. Change, I welcome the new engagement that the Future Directions process generated.

Anxiety about change is understandable. At Canadian Mennonite, we wrestle with the twin impacts of the decline of print and the challenges to Christendom. Yet amidst the anxiety over all that might be lost, there are signs that much is to be gained through change. Praise God for change that brings renewal.


Comments

Thank you for a thoughtful editorial. The ongoing problem of anxiety in congregations due to change is rooted in a lingering distrust of our institutions and their leaders. For all the various ways we can communicate, communication that is only informational and not also informed by trust will not result in a decrease in anxiety. That is the unspoken dilemma in our midst.

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