As a Mennonite baby boomer, going to church was family reunion, Christian faith and social life all rolled up into one tight-knit package. Floradale (Ont.) Mennonite Church was my community.
Community is a core strength of Mennonite churches. Surviving and thriving came from a dependence on God and each other. Even though my tribe of Swiss German Mennonites have prospered in a peaceful and just land for two centuries, church community remained tight and did not easily include “outsiders.” Through half a millennium, one generation taught the next the strength and safety of community. Church is family. Community is everything.
The church’s community, which has served us well, can also become a hindrance in today’s Canadian society. Our closeness inadvertently can keep others out. One of the consistent themes that Mennonite Church Eastern Canada staff heard from congregations during a listening tour was an appeal for help in connecting with their neighbourhoods. How can we be community for the people in our neighbourhood? It is an important question to ask. However, living out the answer to that question is not easy. Community rarely is.
Since we already know how to do community within the walls and family relationships of church, God invites us to take that strength into the streets of our neighbourhoods. Several MC Eastern Canada congregations have begun to “ReLearn” how to be community so they can better engage and include their neighbours in their own lives. In the midst of a trusted relationship, those unassuming questions and non-threatening conversations of faith have room to rise to the surface.
“ReLearning” how to be community is a process. I have not yet discovered a paint-by-number program or the all-inclusive workshop that has the magic elixir to fix our inability to build relationships of depth in our neighbourhoods, where living out as well as telling our faith stories is non-threatening, unobtrusive and normal.
With guidance from 3DM Europe, the Missional Network and Forge Canada, groups of MC Eastern Canada leaders and congregations have set out on a “ReLearning” journey to discover what it means to be church for those in attendance and for those who may never be in attendance for Sunday morning worship. The journey is a little scary because we have no guarantees of success. Finding renewed ways of making disciples, being in mission and living in community each and every day is as Anabaptist and Mennonite as one can be.
Oh, in case you had forgotten, being a community of Christ followers was never meant to be easy. I pray that in the days and years to come we will have encouraging stories of inclusion to share with all of Canada.
May God continue to bless us in community!
Brian Bauman is Mennonite Church Eastern Canada’s mission minister.