Vietnamese Mennonite Church in Edmonton may seem small, but it is a hosting powerhouse! On March 20 and 21, 2015, the congregation of about 70 adults and 23 youth welcomed pastors, delegates and visitors to the 86th annual session of Mennonite Church Alberta.
Keynote speaker Brian Quan, lead pastor of three congregations at Toronto Chinese Mennonite Church, challenged the gathering about what it means to be brothers and sisters in Christ, bound together by the Spirit of God for the common good.
“Our Mennonite faith tradition is still quite new for me and I’m still learning about it, but it has been refreshing to see how the church is honestly engaged in conversations about unity,” Quan said. “In spite of our differences, we have been engaged in some very lively conversations about unity in our diversity.”
A spirit of unity and hope was bolstered by good news from the various ministries of MC Alberta and a budget that was “in the black.”
According to treasurer Bill Janzen, the 2014 budget recorded a surplus of $17,827 as church and individual donations and fundraising events had exceeded expectations. For 2015, budgeted contributions are forecast at $224,830. While this is basically the same as 2014, there will be differences in achieving the goal because of the withdrawal of Tofield Mennonite Church from MC Alberta (see “Unity has been broken,” March 16, page 17), and projected revenue increases for Camp Valaqua and the North Edmonton Ministry.
Of MC Alberta’s ability to make the 2015 budget, Janzen said after the sessions were over, “We believe that if congregations can meet their MC Alberta budget, and we do some fundraisers, and with donations, we can meet, perhaps exceed, our budget.”
Moderator Ernie Engbrecht is also optimistic. However, in light of the slowing Alberta economy, he said, “We will have people in our midst who will lose jobs and we also have churches who are struggling.”
How positive was the event? At last year’s meeting, the North Edmonton Ministry, which builds bridges of understanding between Muslims and Mennonites, had its proposal for a three-year renewal reduced to one because of funding concerns. In contrast, the 2015 resolution was to remove the term limit all together. A generous anonymous donation, cooperation between Mennonite Central Committee Alberta and MC Alberta, a partnership with Africa Inter-Mennonite Mission (with donations coming from the U.S.), and successful fundraisers have provided the encouragement and funding necessary to keep the program as an ongoing ministry in Alberta.
Camp Valaqua reported a 6.5 percent increase in camper numbers, a successful cabin replacement partnership with Mennonite Disaster Service, and the beginning of a garden project to teach food sustainability while providing fresh vegetables for the camp kitchen.
One concern mentioned in director Jon Olfert’s report is that, while camper numbers are increasing, especially from local communities, the number of Mennonite campers is declining. “Some of this trend can be explained by lack of reporting and changing demographics in our churches, but it remains a point to be aware of,” he said.
In his closing remarks, Engbrecht responded to people who had commented that he has a tough job. “Yes, it can be a lot of work at times, but it hasn’t been a tough job, and I’ll tell you why,” he said. “I have had the good fortune of being surrounded by people with exceptional dedication, commitment and work ethics. The teams I have the privilege of working with have made my role one where I am not drained but energized, not dismayed but grateful, not alone but part of a team that watches out for each other. It has enriched my life and has enhanced my faith journey.”