I love birthday celebrations. When I turned 35, I decided to throw myself a huge party. I wanted all my friends and family to gather for an evening of fun, food, and… presents! I chose a Cat in the Hat theme and promised my guests a prize for the craziest hat (the award went to a firefighter friend who wore a vintage fireman’s helmet).
My favourite part of the event was blowing out the birthday candles on my cake. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, candles are used to mark the passage of time, such as during Advent or Hanukkah. On my cake, the burning tapers symbolized the years past and the adventures that lay ahead of me, still unwritten.
Birthdays give us permission to wish for new and exciting things in the future. So, on this 150th birthday of the Mennonite Brethren, allow me three wishes for our denomination in Canada.
1. I wish that we truly would be people of the Book.
The Bible is a living, breathing document (Acts 7:38; Hebrews 4:12). But I’ve noticed a tendency, coming out of our recent theological discussions, to search for one “true” meaning of particular Bible passages, leaving no room for the Holy Spirit to continue speaking through the Word in fresh ways. I fear this attitude will kill the Bible – and destroy our willingness to sit down with our brothers and sisters in theological discussion.
Let’s be open to learning new things from God. Let’s keep asking our denominational leaders to carve out time for round-table discussions at conferences.
God’s Word has been a dynamic, transforming force among us for more than a century and our understanding of God’s truth has continued to grow over the years. Thank God his voice keeps speaking, time and again!
2. I wish that we truly would be people dedicated to community.
In 1999, North American MBs voted to dissolve the General Conference and transfer its ministries to the U.S. and Canadian conferences. In the ensuing decade, our conferences have become more and more regional, with weakened ties to the national conference.
Our interaction with one another seems to be diminishing. Conversation doesn’t happen as freely or broadly. Fewer people come to study conferences or Gathering. Church plants don’t use the name “Mennonite Brethren” and many seem hesitant to admit their affiliation with the denomination (based on my brief surveys of their websites).
How will we survive if members don’t want to participate in family business (or even come to parties)? Perhaps some folks just aren’t aware of the huge MB family that exists out there, with so many agencies, ministries, and resources available to them.
3. I wish that we would be people of hope.
While there are things to be concerned about, all birthday guests (that’s us!) should leave the celebration with a party favour. I believe our gift is one of anticipation, believing that God wants to do something new in our midst during the coming century.
We know that God has given MBs a spirit of boldness, innovation, and hospitality. Take, for example, the work of Mennonite Disaster Service in the wake of hurricanes and wildfires; the creative ways churches are reaching their neighbours through community garden projects, movie night discussions, and gifted preaching; or the international feel of many of our gatherings, with multiple languages spoken under the same roof. We trust that these gifts will not be taken away from us.
As God acts, we’ll be able to stand together and say with joy, “We are truly a people being transformed more and more into the image of Christ.” That’s a wonderful birthday present!
So, in this issue, we invite readers to look back over the last century and a half – through stories, reflections, photos, trivia – and dream about our future together. What’s your birthday wish for the Mennonite Brethren?