Despite meeting under the theme of “Building healthy connections,” many delegates who gathered for Mennonite Church British Columbia’s annual general meeting on Feb. 25, 2017, wondered how the future might look for their connections as an area church family when the day was done.
The meeting at Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford was the third gathering in four months at which potentially divisive issues surrounding the Being a Faithful Church (BFC) 7 resolution were on the agenda, putting the future unity of MC B.C. in uncertainty.
In an opening statement, executive minister Garry Janzen said, “We have come to see the best in each other. We may hope to find one statement we can all say ‘yes’ to. Let us listen rather than talk over each other. We may come to hope that the church bigger than ourselves would thrive. Real life happens in local congregations. There is a difference between ‘this is how I stand’ and ‘this is how I love.’ ”
Generating much discussion were two resolutions (see sidebar below), both dealing with the implications of BFC 7 for the area church.
Resolution 1 affirmed the MC B.C covenant signed on May 27, 2007, and reaffirmed that, in accordance with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, “pastors within MC B.C. will not officiate at same-sex weddings and that MC B.C. congregations will not appoint pastors who are in a same-sex relationship.”
An amendment presented from the floor merged the intent of Resolution 2 into Resolution 1, stating that the passing of BFC 7 conflicts with the MC B.C. covenant from 2007: “By the adoption of BFC 7, delegates voted to distance MC Canada from the intent and purpose of the MC B.C. covenant, resulting in a relationship of discord.”
Speaking in favour of the amendment, Frank Berto of Living Hope Christian Fellowship in Surrey said, “BFC 7 and the covenant would seem to be incompatible.” On the other side, George Goertzen of Peace Mennonite Church in Richmond said, “One of the things I find troubling is language. It feels like MC Canada is set up like a separate church entity. I thought it was ‘us.’”
Delegates chose to deal with each separately and defeated the amendment by a vote of 71-46. Discussion then turned to the original Resolution 1.
Alf Penner of Eden Mennonite Church in Chilliwack said, “I trust all of you to follow Jesus. I trust you are compelled by love of Christ to love everyone as Jesus loved us. Can we agree to trust one another that we are motivated by love of God? If one congregation disagrees with one another, that is okay.”
David Friesen of Emmanuel Mennonite proposed an amendment that the words “and those in leadership positions” be added to the phrase “will not appoint pastors who are in same-sex relationships.” The amendment was accepted and the amended Resolution 1 passed by a vote of 105-52.
Later, the delegate body dealt with Resolution 2, presented by Artur Bergen, pastor of Eben-Ezer Mennonite. Phil Wheaton of Bethel Mennonite Church in Langley asked for clarity. “Can Article 19 [of the Confession of Faith, stating marriage is between one man and one woman for life] be interpreted by individual congregations and pastors? Is BFC 7 included in this motion?”
Garry Janzen responded: “It could be viewed in two ways: as a replacement of, or an implementation of, BFC 7. . . . Beyond that, it becomes a pastoral matter in a congregation’s experience. I’m okay with both these understandings.”
Walter Bergen of Emmanuel Mennonite, who drafted Resolution 2, explained: “We [those who drafted the resolution] wanted to create formal unity and invite out of that a conversation with MC Canada. We are in discord with MC B.C. and MC Canada. We have not in this resolution made any suggestions on action. If you do not like this, recognize it is the very best we could do. If this resolution is not passed, it will be viewed by many of us as a repudiation of us seeking common ground.”
Walter Paetkau of Langley Mennonite Fellowship wondered, “Is there a threat to leave MC B.C. depending on the vote?”
Replied Walter Bergen, “There is no threat implied. We were simply asking to address the fact that we are in discord.”
After much discussion, Resolution 2 was defeated by the narrowest of margins: 69-68.
Also on the agenda
Delegates heard an update on the plans for the former Clearbrook Mennonite Church property and held roundtable discussions on the implementation of the Future Directions recommendations by MC Canada. They also approved motions to:
- Extend the memo of understanding between MC B.C. and Brander McDonald, indigenous relations coordinator, to Feb. 28, 2018.
- Authorize the sale of the property occupied by Vancouver Chinese Mennonite Church, at that church’s request.
- Authorize a subsidy of $30,000 to church plant Living Stones Mennonite Christian Church in Surrey, to make possible the move to a sustainable future.
• Resolution 1. The MC B.C. resolution for our way forward in response to Being a Faithful Church (BFC) 7: Whereas MC B.C., as a collective body, affirms the MC B.C. covenant, and holds to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, which states that marriage is between one man and one woman for life: Be it resolved that: MC B.C. will continue the existing practice: that pastors within MC B.C. will not officiate at same-sex weddings; that MC B.C. congregations will not appoint pastors and those in leadership positions who are in a same-sex relationship. We, as MC B.C. congregations, encourage one another to continue to walk alongside and share the love of Jesus—as we are able and as our gifts allow—with all people, including those who are same-sex attracted and those who are in same-sex relationships. PASSED (105-52).
• Resolution 2. Whereas MC B.C. congregations did solemnly enter into a relationship of covenant on May 27, 2007; and whereas MC Canada did on July 9, 2016, adopt BFC 7 at the bi-annual assembly in Saskatoon; and whereas these two events, covenant and resolution are incompatible: We do hereby resolve: To affirm again the primacy of the MC B.C. covenant and the Confession of Faith for MC B.C. congregations; and to recognize that by the adoption of BFC 7, delegates voted to distance MC Canada from the intent and purpose of the MC B.C. covenant, resulting in a relationship of discord. It is with regret that we do recognize that MC Canada has entered into an impaired relationship with MC B.C., and with the adoption of this resolution we recognize the discord MC Canada has invoked. DEFEATED (69-68).
Read about the 2017 annual meetings of the other Mennonite Church Canada area churches:
‘Being like a family’
MC Saskatchewan ‘extends the table’
MC Alberta (March 17-18, 2017)
MC Eastern Canada (scheduled for April 28-29, 2017)