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Ontario convention 2010

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Province “pushes the envelope,” seeks to blend old and new ministries

Ontario church plants have found their way to the big city, and are discovering innovative ways of being salt and light among their neighbours – and they want to encourage established churches to do the same. Hosted by the Ontario board of church extension (BOCE), Feb. 19–20, 2010 the 79th annual convention of the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches challenged some 140 participants, and attempted to build bridges between the province’s old and new ministries.
The event venue, St. Paul’s Bloor Street Church – a recently renovated brick edifice – spoke to this tension. “Think about us crusty MBs,” said pastor Ed Willms of Southridge Community Church, St. Catharines. “This church building is a picture of what could happen. We don’t always know how to marry [the old and the new], but God is a master architect and he knows how.”

To kick-start the “new,” the province’s church planting efforts have been given a different name, Xpansion, closing the door on Love Ontario. Xpansion will focus on Ontario’s inner cities, immigrant communities, Islamic communities, urban professionals, and university students. With a budget of just over $1 million, BOCE annually fundraises some $900,000 from individuals, businesses, parachurch organizations, local MB churches, and foundations.


During a pre-convention event on Friday afternoon, Xpansion church planters discussed the work they’re doing in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), from ministries with Farsi-speaking immigrants, to church plants among Toronto’s increasingly affluent residents, to missionaries living and serving in low-income housing projects among Muslim people.

The key to this work, says BOCE director Terry Wiseman, is partnerships.

“We’re moving into areas that MBs haven’t been involved in historically,” said Wiseman. “We’re part of a larger movement and have to build partnerships.” This includes collaboration with other denominations and parachurch organizations, such as the Salvation Army, Campus Crusade, Operation Mobilization, Frontiers, Durham Church Network, and many others.

Theological reflection

As the convention officially opened Friday night, church plant leaders explored the theme X-M-E (Christology-Missiology-Ecclesiology), as they shared from their ministry, life, and experience, and talked about how Christology (what we believe about Jesus) affects missiology (how we reach out to others) which affects ecclesiology (the way the church functions as Christ’s Body).

“We need to focus on the sent-ness of Christ,” said church planter David Sutherland. “He invites everyone who follows him into his sent-ness.”

Conference minister Richard Martens then reflected on Jesus’ call to live incarnationally in the city. “We don’t like traffic, pollution, crime. But [when we follow Jesus] we become transformed, and it causes us to plunge into the mess of our neighbours and our communities; to embrace and
serve others.”

Jon Osmond, one of Xpansion’s newest church planters, agreed. “The key to our missiology is Christ’s compassion for people,” he said. “We must enter the story of Jesus with our hearts, not just our heads. What would it be like to truly feel the compassion that Jesus felt?”

New leadership and funding model

During Saturday morning’s business session, the provincial board of faith and life welcomed Richard Martens to his new role as conference minister. “Having been raised and nurtured in a Mennonite Brethren church, commissioned as an MB pastor for 18 years, and having served on the [provincial] board of faith and life for 9 years, I feel quite at home in this role,” says Martens. Martens anticipates that his role will involve credentialing and ordaining of pastors, being available for preaching, and helping churches deal with conflict within their leadership teams.

“Unfortunately it is not uncommon for pastors and boards and other staff members to have communication and relational breakdowns. While no one would claim to enjoy this part of the ministry, it is a very necessary and important function,” said Martens.

Delegates then discussed and voted on a proposal for the conference to change its funding model from a per-member pledge to a percentage based on a church’s annual budget (currently 4 percent).

Several delegates expressed concern that the conference currently doesn’t receive full financial support from all its churches, and wondered if a new funding policy would help. “What if churches aren’t giving either $80 per member or 4 percent?” asked Vidya Narimalla of Kitchener MB Church. “Ontario has a deficit! Do we think this is going to make a difference?”

One delegate suggested that the conference hold a study conference on stewardship, while others questioned how churches can expect their members to tithe 10 percent, but can’t themselves tithe to support the provincial conference.

BOCE board member Ed Willms left delegates with three challenges at the end of the weekend: 1) to pray that God would help blend the old and the new in Ontario; 2) to be a positive advocate for what God is doing among Ontario MBs; and 3) to ask, “God, what do you want me to do in my community after what I’ve heard here?”

Other business

Camp Crossroads is now partnering with MB churches in Niagara and Waterloo, providing them with staff and other resources to start local summer kids programs. They also hosted their first junior high retreat to create a place for spiritual growth and to build relationships between churches. With 129 students in attendance, Crossroads anticipates running another retreat in 2011.

Tabor Manor seniors’ residence received approval from the Minister of Health to redevelop their long-term care home. Tabor is planning the first phase in its site redevelopment, with a projected cost of $20 million.

After hearing from the nominating committee, delegates affirmed Peter Durksen as moderator, and Wayne Kroeker as treasurer. Pat Goertzen will continue as secretary for another two years.

— Laura Kalmar

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