A church in transition

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April 19, 2017
Willard Metzger

The times we live in seem to change more rapidly with each passing day. In North America, Europe and elsewhere, protectionist sentiments, growing nationalism and increased border controls are becoming commonplace.

Fifty-four percent of worldwide refugees in 2015 poured out of Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia, according to the United Nations. In response, congregations have continued to do what we do best by faithfully responding to Jesus’ call to love our neighbours, no matter where they are from. Across the country, we estimate that up to 40 percent of our congregations are welcoming newcomers to Canada.

Numerous congregations are working hard to understand what it means to reconcile our relationships with indigenous peoples. On April 23, 2017, a 600-kilometre Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights will leave Kitchener, Ont. for Ottawa, taking walkers through treaty lands along the way.

As of press time, the eldest participant is 87. The youngest, a nine-month-old baby girl, will travel the route on her mother’s back. Kandace Boos, her mother, says, “I am walking for every aboriginal mother without access to solid prenatal care and post-partum support, every foster kid who doesn’t believe life will get better and for every baby girl growing up with a depressed mother unable to get help.” (To read about another participant in the Pilgrimage for Indigenous Rights click here.)

The Pilgrimage is a hopeful opportunity to show the rest of Canada and the world that the church is willing to take responsibility for its historically uninformed treatment of indigenous peoples and it is willing to embrace difficult conversations.

In our national church family, congregations are following Jesus as they wrestle with a variety of challenges and opportunities. Some congregations are experiencing decreased energy, while others are enjoying increased vitality. In both cases, many churches have maintained regular worship patterns and Sunday schools; engaged in Bible study; ministered to youth, families, young adults and seniors; extended community outreach; supported camp workers; engaged with other ministries in their regions; and partnered with Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers overseas.

The Future Directions process among our area churches and national church is the result of such congregational challenge and opportunity, and of dynamic and dramatic cultural shifts in our faith community and society. It emphasizes helping congregations to be at their best as centres of worship and mission together with sister congregations in area churches and across Canada. Can we bring the same generous rigour to this important task as we have brought to the job of resettling refugees and reconciling our relationships with indigenous peoples?

For all of the ways you love your neighbours as yourselves in these tenuous times, I am humbly proud of you. Your actions are a reflection of faith and an inspiration. May we experience an ever-stronger call to serve God as a community together united in worship and mission.

Willard Metzger is Mennonite Church Canada’s executive director.

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