New wine, new wineskins for MCC

Mennonite Central Committee embarks on ambitious initiative to reshape the organization for the 21st century

That there is “a fair bit of dissatisfaction” among its members and supporters over the “unwieldiness” of an organization that takes a minimum of six months to approve decisions – assuming all 12 boards are in agreement from the beginning – was acknowledged by Arli Klassen at the annual Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) binational board meeting in Waterloo, Ont., June 11–12.

To address these concerns, Klassen, the fourth executive director in the past three years, introduced “New Wine, New Wineskins,” a bold new initiative that she hopes will allow MCC to reinvent itself for the new millennium.

Under Klassen’s leadership and the guidance of a nine-person steering committee, a 25-person inquiry task force will address three core questions with the broader MCC constituency over the next year:

•    What is MCC’s purpose?
•    To whom is MCC accountable?
•    How should MCC structure itself?

Three “summits” are planned, the first of which will take place in the Philippines in late July, to be followed by one in Winnipeg in September, when the binational executive committee meets, and another in Kansas next June during the 2009 binational annual general meeting.

As well, there will be at least 16 regional meetings: five each in Canada and the U.S., and six or more international gatherings. And beginning on July 28, a website (mcc.org/newwineskins) will be available for everyone to voice their opinion. Klassen said this is the largest consultative undertaking in the last 30 years of the organization, involving churches, partner organizations, the 12 boards, and staff.

It is hoped that the process will provide MCC with a new “shared statement of vision, mission, values, and strategic priorities,” a pamphlet unveiled at the AGM states, as well as transformed relationships between MCC and its stakeholders and “concrete recommendations” as to how to go about the restructuring.

Klassen said there is a commitment to have the hoped-for outcomes in place before the Mennonite World Conference assembly in Paraguay next July.

Canada steps up to the plate

In light of a current memorandum of understanding between the 12 MCCs, that allows the binational board “the freedom to assign program administration … to one of the national MCCs,” MCC Canada has asked to administrate programming in Iran, Cuba, Afghanistan, and North Korea.

The MCC binational executive board has granted MCC Canada the go-ahead in all but Iran.

In a frank discussion, board members raised many questions, including one by Carole Philips (Brethren in Christ), who wondered how Florida BICs could continue to be involved in the Cuban programs if they are run from Canada.

MCC Canada executive director Don Peters suggested that such a transfer could be a “testing in microcosm” of moves towards globalization in MCC programs. Already MCC’s Young Anabaptist Mennonite Exchange Network is placing non-North American young adults in non-North American projects beside the SALT and IVEP participants.

Equity issues need work

As if to underline the need for more work on gender and racial equity in both hiring and governance, Klassen read an apology to Kathy Jackson, recently resigned human resources director, herself a woman of colour. The apology noted that elements of racism and sexism continue in the structures of MCC.

Louise Giesbrecht (MCC Canada) said in response to Klassen’s apology that everyone affiliated with MCC must become “uncomfortable about who we are as a people and recognize with humility that there are so many more ways than our ways to interact.” She also noted that people need to be willing to change their attitudes and behaviours or to take anti-racism training.

Cash rich

MCC has an intriguing problem. It does not want to have more than four months operating capital in reserve. However, due to increasing levels of donations, from Canada in particular, and with the Canadian dollar at par, it has over six months in reserve.

In order to deal with this “problem,” a temporary expansion in programming has been authorized to spend nearly $8 million over the next few years.

“We are going to spend more than we are going to take in and that is a good thing,” said board treasurer Scott Siemens. “We are projecting a deficit budget. We need to ‘lose’ some money for awhile.”

Pay scale changes

As the culmination of the other 11 MCC annual meetings through the year, issues that come to the binational meeting have been worked though by staff and regional MCCs, and in many ways the binational session is a final test of consensus.

One such issue was an action item brought forward by MCC’s human resources department regarding salary ratio changes. In order to attract trained and experienced staff to upper level management positions, the ratio was changed from three times the lowest-paid staff level to five times (a 66 percent increase).

The action was passed with only one abstention, although MCC Central States noted its objections.

—Canadian Mennonite staff for Meetinghouse. Meetinghouse is an association of Anabaptist editors in Canada and the U.S.

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