A North American celebration of 150 years of the MB church
At the winter Olympics earlier this year, the stylized image of an inukshuk was everywhere. Inuksuit, used by Inuit peoples of the Arctic for communication and survival, are stone landmarks in the form of a person. Often a marker along travel routes, an inukshuk directed people along the right path. In other instances, the inukshuk indicated one’s arrival at an important destination – a place where food could be found, or the spirits dwell. As the Vancouver 2010 emblem, the inukshuk symbolized friendship, cooperation, and the welcoming of the world.
While the icon itself was absent, the symbolism was present at the North American celebration of the MB church’s 150th anniversary in the Metro Vancouver area July 12–18.
The week’s program included four distinct events.
The Renewing Identity and Mission consultation (RIM), organized by the Historical Commission and CMBS, took place July 12–14 at MBBS-ACTS on the TWU campus in Langley, B.C.
During Gathering 2010 (CCMBC convention) at North Langley Community Church July 15–16, Conection 2010 (USMB convention) met at Gracepoint Community Church, Surrey, B.C.
Celebration 2010 binational events took place July 14 (evening), July 15 (day), and July 16 (evening) at Chandos Pattison Auditorium in Surrey. On July 18, conference participants spent the day visiting church plants in Vancouver, concluding with a worship service at the new convention centre, overlooking Stanley Park and the now dormant Olympic cauldron.
Marking the path – RIM Consultation
If attendance is any indication, North American MBs are keenly interested in knowing where they’ve been in order to understand who they are and where they ought to go. Billed as a time of reflection and conversation on the identity and mission of Mennonite Brethren so that “we can live and serve Jesus faithfully within our changing times,” the RIM consultation attracted 304 people (66 Americans, 226 Canadians, 12 international guests). This was a pleasant surprise, given that organizers had expected only 200 attendees.
As might be expected, MBs continue to wrestle with the question, “Who are we?” It appears, however, that MBs are establishing clear markers. Perhaps it’s because a younger and more multicultural generation of leaders have joined the conversation, or because time has provided a broader perspective, but Mennonite Brethren seem more prepared to affirm that they are a unique mix of evangelicalism and Anabaptism, and are ready and willing to build upon that dual identity.
As the consultation came to a close, a number of clear directions for the future emerged. First, RIM participants left with a deeper appreciation of MB heritage and a much stronger sense of family. Second, there was strong desire to be people who continue to pray and study Scripture together. Third, there was a clear call to pursue a more holistic mission that integrates heart and mind, witness and service, church planting and peacemaking.
A more detailed report on the Renewing Identity and Mission consultation begins on page 10.
Friendship, cooperation, welcoming the world – Celebration 2010
For the first time since 2002, when the General Conference was dissolved, 369 Canadian and 173 U.S. MBs met to both worship God and cooperate together in mission. Organizers were disappointed that attendance was lower than expected, but delegates and guests enjoyed a rich time of singing and storytelling.
The Wednesday evening session focused on MB identity, highlighting the fact that the renewal movement of 1860 has grown to become “a beautiful mosaic” – an international, multicultural community of Christians. In fact, John Sankara Rao of India and Nzuzi Mukawa of DR Congo acknowledged that American, Canadian, and European MBs have welcomed the world into God’s kingdom as a result of their cooperation in mission.
Thursday’s binational session included a brief update from the historical commission, followed by lengthy reports from MBMSI and MBBS. Delegates rejoiced in the many stories of people around the world experiencing friendship with Jesus as a result of MBMSI’s work. Yet there was also a sense of loss as MBBS reported on the recent decision to transfer MBBS-Fresno to Fresno Pacific University. Delegates were saddened that a long-time cooperative effort was now at an end.
By Friday evening, in a celebratory mood once more, delegates were reminded that Mennonite Brethren are a community of people called to mission. Testimonies and the plenary speakers called MBs to continue to pray and work at welcoming the world into a relationship with Jesus.
Stopping to refuel and reorient – Gathering 2010
Almost lost in the shuffle was the fact that Gathering 2010 marked the 100th anniversary of the Canadian MB Conference. The Thursday evening banquet was a time to refuel and reorient, as delegates looked back on a century of changes in which Canadian Mennonite Brethren moved from an inward-looking survival mentality to an outward-focused mission mentality. Delegates celebrated the foresight of past leaders who exercised remarkably effective financial stewardship even as they built schools, churches, and mission agencies. There was also gratitude that Canadian MBs are now a diverse family as a result of geography, immigration, evangelistic efforts, and God’s blessing.
Yet Gathering 2010 also acknowledged that the blessings of the last century have not been without their challenges. Diversity has meant that Canadian MBs have struggled to be a community, and continue to wrestle with questions of unity and identity. It’s not entirely clear how local congregations relate to provincial and national MB conferences when it comes to questions of theology, for example, or mission.
The Friday business session demonstrated the challenges of achieving unity in the midst of diversity. In response to recent changes at MBBS, and in an effort to develop a strong evangelical-Anabaptist perspective in pastors and leaders, a task force has been formed to spearhead the design of a Canadian MB seminary. Meanwhile, in an attempt to bring more churches together to study Scripture and discuss matters of faith and mission, the board of faith and life is looking to hire a theological director. Although they approved of these moves, delegates suggested conference leaders need to work harder at involving local churches in the decision-making process. At the same time, delegates lamented that numerous churches do not participate financially or otherwise in the activities of provincial or Canadian conferences.
As the business of Gathering 2010 came to a close, Canadian MB delegates were refuelled by thinking together about their faith. And they looked to be reoriented around a desire to be a national church that lives out its faith in such a way that Canadians meet Jesus.
Not a bad way to conclude a family gathering.
A sacred place
In the end, though some would have liked more prayer, or more Bible study, or more singing, Canadian and U.S. MBs left with a sense of having encountered God. Having paused on the journey to celebrate the past and to take stock of the present, participants had a clear understanding that MBs remain far from perfect. As they looked ahead to what comes next, participants recognized that MBs aren’t sure how they will make their way forward. Nevertheless, U.S. and Canadian Mennonite Brethren departed with the humble confidence that they were on sacred ground, knowing that the God they have followed for the last 150 years will lead them well into the next century-and-a-half. —J Janzen
Photos, from top (l–r):
· A volunteer choir joins their voices in a special number at Friday’s Celebration service;
· Candles symbolize spreading the gospel at Gathering’s Thursday night banquet;
· Delegates raise hands in worship at the closing service in the Vancouver Convention Centre;
· Musicians entertained delegates with international music prior to sessions at Chandos Pattison;
· A delegate peruses Kindred Productions’ book table;
· John Sankara Rao preaches at a Celebration session.