“Be not afraid“ was an apt theme for the 2015 annual delegate gathering of Mennonite Church Manitoba. Delegates were informed of a $234,647 deficit, the withdrawal of one their fellow member congregations (Plum Coulee Bergthaler Mennonite), an unknown future for camping ministry and scaled-down ministry programs.
“MC Manitoba had a difficult year this past year,” said Ken Warkentin, executive director, during the two-day event held on Feb. 27 and 28, 2015.
Chuck Neufeld, Illinois Mennonite Conference minister and a singer/songwriter, offered a pastoral presence at the gathering. He acknowledged the fear factor. “Fear is understandable and helpful to alert us to something, but it should not become a resting place,” he said. “Trust and gratitude are the antidote to fear. When I trust someone and am grateful for someone, my emotional state is altered. Say thanks for the very person you are concerned about. Thank God for each other. That is the only way to receive the rest from fear that Jesus offers.”
Difficult decisions looming
Some of the challenges of last year were the result of one-time events, such as the closing of Camp Koinonia for two weeks due to illness, the necessity of obtaining professional appraisals for Koinonia and Moose Lake camps, and parking lot repairs at the MC Manitoba offices. However, donations—including those from congregations, camp enrolment and guest group rental income—continue to reflect downward trends.
• MC Manitoba is facing difficult decisions in dealing with these new realities. “We are moving from four to three departments,” explained Warkentin. Leadership Ministries will continue to work with congregational health, governance and policy development, and congregations in conflict. A second ministry will be an integration of Camping Ministries and Evangelism and Service Ministries; and a third department will be Support Services. “Staffing adjustments will be done accordingly,” added Warkentin.
• Last November, delegates approved a 2015 congregational giving budget of $645,000.
“We are now concerned about its viability,” said treasurer Tom Seals. “Three congregations have notified us that they will be reducing their giving. Our guest group rental income and camp enrolment are down, and the ongoing [request for proposals] process may change things as well. We need to take another look at the budget and hope to complete it by the end of March.
• Peter Rempel, MC Manitoba’s board chair, presented a draft proposal of the area church’s guidelines for congregations and ministers considering policies and practices at variance to MC Manitoba’s Confession of Faith. “While some congregations are taking positions that seem to be at variance with the Confession of Faith, we have tried to develop some guidelines in this stage of our discernment,” he said.
In the discussion that followed, delegates stressed the need to love each other.
Stefan Froese, pastor of Rosenfeld Bergthaler Mennonite Church, said, “A lot of people have left the church not because of doctrinal issues, but because of how the churches have treated each other. We’re being watched by other churches and by the people we’re called to witness to.”
• Delegates were expecting to hear a business plan for the sale of the Koinonia and Moose Lake camps, but were informed that the Request for Proposals process is taking longer than anticipated. However, a full summer camp program will run this summer at all three of the camps.
“We are now in the stages of negotiating with the interested groups,” said Warkentin. “We want a partnership so that we can carry on our summer ministry. We are having favourable conversations, but I think it is safe to say, don’t count on a substantial inflow from the sale.”
Norm Voth, director of the former Evangelism and Service Ministries, was given opportunity to outline some of the visioning for Camp Assiniboia, which is not up for sale by MC Manitoba. An expanded summer camp program will build on the already well-established adults-with-disabilities camp program, for which Camps with Meaning has carved out an important niche in the province.
Plans are to look for ways to expand this ministry and share resources. The horse program at Camp Assiniboia will be replaced with a camp farm as part of a creation care program. The ropes course will be further developed, and providing hospitality through guest group rentals will be promoted. School education programs, gap-year opportunities for youth, an indigenous learning centre, and space and resources for congregations to carry out their programs and ministries, are some of the ideas that are being explored.
“High water levels are the new normal,” said Voth. “We have been informed that we can expect that every three to five years there will be flooding. How do we live with that new reality? We need to look at creative ways to provide unique camp experiences that allow us to use that space even in the high-water years.”
“I’m fully aware this isn’t a business plan,” Voth said. “We need to do a good amount of research and develop our partnerships, but we want to present these ideas for testing as a direction.”
Closing words of assurance
As Chuck Neufeld sang, “We have decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back,” delegates were reminded that if they claim Christ to be their centre, nothing else can be. They can’t allow other issues to come so close that they obscure the shared conviction of Christ’s centrality. “For God so loved the world,” he said. “Neither do you remove yourself from the world. Then you don’t bring wisdom and compassion to it.”
Neufeld brought to the MC Manitoba gathering the question that Jesus asked his disciples in the boat: “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”
“Wake Jesus up in your life,” Neufeld urged. “Rest assured you are safe, even though the structures may go down. Make sure you don’t do God’s work. Only do the work God has assigned for you to do.”
Peter Rempel, right, board chair of MC Manitoba, welcomes Pinawa Christian Fellowship into membership at the annual delegate sessions on Feb. 27 and 28, 2015. Ken and Willa Reddig and Lorna Hiebert, at left, are part of the Mennonite subset of the fellowship. In the 1960s, the government created Pinawa for workers to build and service a newly established nuclear research facility. Christians from a variety of backgrounds and traditions established homes in the community and, rather than forming many little denominational groupings, they formed one body called Pinawa Christian Fellowship in 1963 to convey a message of Christian unity. (Photo by Evelyn Rempel Petkau)