“A cloud of witnesses” gathered Mar. 30, at Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church to observe the commissioning of Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) Canada and MCC U.S. for a new era of ministry. The two organizations now jointly carry out MCC’s mission, purpose, and vision, and administer MCC’s international program, previously directed by the binational MCC organization officially dissolved earlier that day.
“We will continue to do front-line, compassionate work around the world,” said MCC binational executive director Arli Klassen. “We’re just changing how we support that work internally and making it a stronger partnership between Canada and the U.S.”
Participants in the commissioning event encouraged MCC to draw strength for the future from the cloud of witnesses who serve and have served God through MCC, an inference drawn from Hebrews 12:1–2a, the Scripture focus for the evening.
The audience was full of those witnesses, including long-term MCC workers, donors, and volunteers from the many Anabaptist denominations that sponsor MCC, representatives of the church in Africa and Mennonite World Conference, pastors and church leaders, and staff and board members from Canada and the U.S.
The commissioning service culminated a five-year re-visioning and restructuring process called New Wine/New Wineskins: Reshaping MCC for the 21st Century. The process stretched around the globe and its conclusions were affirmed by sponsoring denominations and the 12 MCC boards in Canada and the U.S.
The re-visioning process brought about a new purpose statement that guides the work of MCC. In addition, MCC clearly identifies itself as an arm of the Anabaptist churches in Canada and the U.S. and as a partner with Mennonite churches and their relief organizations around the world.
The restructuring process equalized the decision-making power and administrative work of MCC Canada and MCC U.S. by creating a legally, jointly-owned international program. Together, leaders in both countries will direct the relief, development, and peace work that identifies MCC.
The cooperative relationship was symbolized during the service, when representatives of the sponsoring denominations in Canada and the U.S. gave bowls and towels to Don Peters, executive director of MCC Canada, and J Ron Byler, executive director of MCC U.S. Byler and Peters exchanged bowls and towels, and embraced.
“I hope that what we have symbolized today and what we’ve worked hard to create in a productive partnership between MCC Canada and MCC U.S., we will be able to fulfill going forward in a way that we’re literally joining arms to work at fulfilling the mission of MCC,” said Peters after the event.
The restructuring process was not without pain. While many former binational positions were transferred to either MCC U.S. or MCC Canada and some new positions added, 31 former binational staff, most of whom worked in Akron, lost jobs. This pain and the sadness that accompanies change was recognized through a prayer of confession and in the ragged pieces of cloth, collected from countries where MCC works, that were woven into a rug during the service.
The completed rug was brought into the sanctuary as Leonard Dow, vice chair of the MCC U.S. board, prayed: “Out of our aging fabrics, weave new hope. Out of strands, weave a fabric, a tapestry. Out of the parts, weave a whole.”
One of the keynote speakers for the evening, Robert Kreider, described the weaving of his history with MCC’s.
Kreider told how MCC supported him when he stood up to military officers who wanted his Civilian Public Service Unit to do a war-supported project. MCC provided funding and staff when he advocated for Russian refugees during World War II and for people who had mental illnesses after the war. Kreider began MCC’s Teacher Abroad Program in Africa, and his spouse, Lois, helped start the first MCC thrift shop in the U.S.
Myriam Ullah, a community engagement coordinator for MCC Saskatchewan and the other keynote speaker, is a representative of the next cloud of witnesses for MCC. She urged the audience to create cultures of holiness in the contexts where they live and work.
“Just like family traditions are created, practiced, adopted, and finally expected, so can peace, forgiveness, and compassion be practiced, adopted, and become the normal tone or culture of the people,” Ullah said. “I believe MCC has an important part to play in upholding our constituencies to be different, to set another tone, to create a kingdom culture within their own communities.”
The event marked a new beginning, but it is not the first one in MCC’s 92-year-history nor will it be the last, said Byler. “As I listen to Robert and Myriam I am confident that God’s spirit will again propel us into the future.”