Ontario gives God the glory
Spirit of partnership permeates conference work
Feb. 22–23, 2013
The 82nd annual convention of the Ontario Conference of MB Churches (ONMB) at Mountain Park Church, Niagara Falls, Ont., experienced “a welling up of God’s presence and his Spirit in this place,” said ONMB executive director Ed Willms.
“I believe God is doing this new thing among us,” said Willms, commenting on the previous year’s convention theme, See I am Doing a New Thing” (Isaiah 43:19). “I have been given a front-row seat to what God is doing in our churches across the province,” he said. “Despite our brokenness, sin, and pain, God has not given up on us.”
Said Karen West, board chair and convention moderator, “Tomorrow, we will enter into decision making, but [Friday night] is about worship. How we worship tonight will carry over into our business tomorrow.”
Led by Southridge student life pastor Chris Fowler (a last-minute substitution for Mountain Park worship pastor Matt Unruh who welcomed a newborn daughter two days before), the evening’s Spirit-filled singing set the tone for that business.
Do you want to be well?
Keynote speaker (former B.C. MB pastor) Dan Unrau’s gentle tones and storytelling manner contributed to the reflective, yet upbeat mood of the convention, themed Loving in Both Directions” (1 John 4:21). He reminded delegates that “loving God means loving others” (1 John 4:11).
“Everyone needs a Nathan,” said Unrau, speaking on the “disturbing but liberating story” of David and Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11, 12. “Humans are fallen beings. We mess up. We sin. Everyone needs a Nathan – someone who will get in our face, hold up a mirror, and tell us how we have behaved despicably. We are all, at times, ‘little Davids’ pretending to be big. And we need a Nathan.
“Becoming part of the church means giving others the right to mind your business.” Unrau paused and peered into the group: “Do the Ontario churches need a Nathan?”
To answering chuckles and murmurs, he pressed, “Do you want to be well?” and left a challenge for delegates to own their past, admit sins, and commit them no more.
At the conclusion of Friday evening, Willms encouraged members to pause and search their hearts as the board of directors prepared to serve communion to the pastors and delegates. Willms encouraged people to make peace with one another before participating in communion, promising his and the board’s availability for dialogue prior to receiving communion.
This spirit of openness and humility contributed to the evening’s reverent atmosphere.
Unrau’s message on Saturday morning, from John 4, modelled love in both directions. When Jesus spoke with the woman at the well, he broke societal rules. “Jesus is radical – above and beyond the usual definition of the word,” said Unrau. Ontario churches need to embrace this “story of radical love. We need to surrender traditional practises and norms for the sake of pouring out living water. For the sake of loving in both directions.”
Willms encouraged attendees to peruse the Journey Wall created by pastors and leaders with ReFocusing facilitator Dave Jackson at May 2012’s retreat. The display marked the ups and downs of the past 82 years in Ontario MB churches.
Partnerships and new things
A reoccurring theme of partnership surfaced in the ministry reports, supporting Willms’ challenge to the more than 170 delegates to “lower the MB flag and raise the flag of Jesus.” Many presenters positively referenced this challenge to partner with other denominations and organizations to better reach Canada and the far corners of the world with the good news of Christ.
In other reports:
- Gord Fleming, director of C2C (a Mennonite Brethren-based interdenominational church planting network), presented his vision to begin a prayer movement across Canada to “go deep and sweet into the things of Christ.” He urged, “As you pray for missions around the world, remember to pray for Canada. It is this generation’s responsibility to reach the next generation.”
- Fleming spoke candidly, addressing concerns the sudden conclusion of C2C regional director Terry Wiseman’s ministry Dec. 31, 2012, affirming Wiseman’s character and conduct, saying it was an issue of “working chemistry.”
- MB Biblical Seminary (MBBS) president Bruce Guenther affirmed partnerships at the seminary as well. “We work purposefully to be more than MB, to involve our brothers and sisters from other denominations,” Guenther said. MBBS will launch online curriculum in the fall. Guenther commended ONMB’s “candid admission of difficulties.”
- ONMB-owned and operated Tabor Manor (offering a full continuum of affordable housing and support services to seniors) projects completion of construction on a new long-term care home in April. Moving 82 residents to the new 128-bed facility will occur in one day, with the remaining 46 beds filled over the three weeks, post move. Pleasant Manor amended their board structure from 7 to 9 people, opening 4 positions to non-MB members. The convention ratified the termination of the liaison board, made redundant by the new board structure.
- ONMB-owned and operated Bethesda (providing a wide range of support and services to individuals who have special needs) received FOCUS accreditation (affirmation of professional best practices) for the next four years.
- Camp Crossroads, Torrance, is exploring the idea of a men’s retreat, reported Andrew Hiebert. They’re also launching a March break daycamp adventure, inviting local children to attend.
Down to business
- Kevin Bayne (Cornerstone, Virgil) was re-elected vice-chair of the ONMB board of directors and Jeff Jantzi (Southridge, St. Catharines) and Kim Knight (Waterloo MB) were elected as members-at-large. It was noted the majority of board members are pastors and a concern was expressed about the need to include members with different areas of expertise. Karen West reminded delegates the nominating committee can only consider the names nominated (the committee received only three nominations in addition to Kevin Bayne standing for re-election). She encouraged delegates to nominate more people when the invitation is extended.
- Church plants Xpansion and Malkutha, and the MoveIn initiative have been removed from the 2013 ONMB budget. Malkutha is now under C2C, Xpansion closed, and MoveIn is incorporating as a ministry.
- The 2013 operating budget of $360,750 was approved, reflecting a positive outlook for the future, in light of previous years’ numbers.
“God moved among us as we centred ourselves on Jesus in our worship. That carried over into today’s meeting,” said West, with tears in her eyes as the convention concluded. “To God be the glory!”