Half-century organization is “a movement”

MCC Canada celebrates 50 years

WINNIPEG
Executive director J.M. Klassen stands outside the first MCC Canada office in a DeFehr warehouse on Princess Street, Winnipeg.

Executive director J.M. Klassen stands outside the first MCC Canada office in a DeFehr warehouse on Princess Street, Winnipeg.

1963 was an extraordinary year, said Esther Epp-Tiessen, author of a soon-to-be-published history of MCC in Canada.  Mennonite Central Committee Canada celebrated the organization’s 50th year of existence with a dessert reception at Canadian Mennonite University, Sept. 20., where Epp-Tiessen observed that in 1963, Bob Dylan wrote “The times they are a-changin’” and indeed they were: Martin Luther King Jr. gave his  “I have a dream” speech at the march on Washington, the FLQ began its activities in Quebec – and MCC Canada was born.

Mennonite church leaders gathered at Portage Avenue MB Church, Winnipeg, in December 1963 to “rethink how Mennonites work together,” said Epp-Tiessen, also public engagement coordinator for MCC Canada’s Ottawa Office. Until then, Canadian Mennonites had worked with MCC, based in Akron, through an “alphabet soup” of smaller, denomination-based organizations. The men at the Portage Avenue meeting proposed to dismantle these organizations, create a new organization with “a sweeping mandate” for work in Canada. In a last-minute move, they landed on the name MCC Canada.

For all its boards, constituencies, and provincial bodies, MCC Canada has not been about bureaucracy but about activities and participants. “The people have made [MCC] not so much an organization, but have made it a movement,” said Epp-Tiessen.

Four people, whose work with MCC represents a variety of roles, illustrated this aspect by sharing stories from their experiences:

  • Margaret Neufeld spoke about serving as founding director J.M. Klassen’s secretary, working “with” not “for” the exacting leader in the 1960s.
  • Rick Cober Bauman, now executive director of MCC Ontario, told a tale about learning what it means to show solidarity with Aboriginal hunters in Labrador in lean years when low-level test flights at the NATO base were adversely affecting hunting.
  • Dave Dyck, who had “4 MCC incarnations” – as a teacher abroad, Canadian program staff, interim director, and board member – said MCC has had a great “impact on my family, theology, politics, and sons’ vocations” and asked whether MCC might today “have a role to help the church move forward” in conversations on sexuality.
  • Leona Dueck Penner reflected on how getting “the MCC service bug” led her to awareness of First Nations justice issues in Canada via encounters with apartheid in South Africa. She called for a “new wine/new wineskins” approach to aboriginal relations in Canada. “If we learn to understand with the heart,…maybe the slow road to justice will pick up speed.”

No Mennonite gathering is complete without singing; this evening included both congregational singing, and special music by Darryl Neustaedter Barg and Kim Thiessen.

With the dismantling of MCC binational in 2012, MCC Canada moves into the future with a strong mandate for its work in relief and development both in Canada and internationally. Executive director Don Peters closed the program with thanksgiving: “We are thankful to have a sense of being part of a great cloud of witnesses,” he prayed.

Mennonite Central Committee in Canada—A History, a new book commissioned by the Mennonite Historical Society of Canada, will be launched at a history conference at the University of Winnipeg, Dec. 13 and 14.

—Karla Braun

Updated Sept. 23, 2013: name spelling corrected.
Updated Sept. 24, 2013: historical detail corrected.
Updated Dec. 12, 2013: title amended

2 Comments on “Half-century organization is “a movement”

  1. Hi Karla,

    Thanks very much for this nice article. Just a little correction. When MCC Canada was founded, it did not have a mandate for international work, only for broad and sweeping work in Canada. All its international work was to be done through the MCC based in Akron, PA. This was one of the compromises reached in the creation of MCC Canada.

    Warm regards,
    Esther

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