You could almost time the passersby’s reaction to us four teenaged guys dressed in baby-blue blazers (purchased at an MCC Thrift Store) perched in the mezzanine of the Steinbach Regional Secondary School gym: a stare, a smirk, and a shake of the head. Our low-budget crew consisted of Marty behind the VHS camera and rickety tripod, Ken holding a microphone duct-taped to a hockey stick (boom mic), and Chris providing colour commentary to my play-by-play call of the games below.
Goofing off with my buddies was so much fun that I occasionally thought of a career in journalism, but never pursued those casual musings. So it was with a “this-can’t-be-real; I-don’t-think-I’m-up-for-this” smile that I found myself in the editor’s chair at the MB Herald, calling the play-by-play action of life in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren church.
And what a year it was! The 150th anniversary of the MB denomination, the 100th anniversary of the Canadian MB conference, the 50th year of the Herald, the closing of the joint U.S.–Canadian MB seminary and the launch of a new school, the passing of important leaders such as Henry Schmidt and Hans Kasdorf – all these events and more left me with mixed feelings of disbelief and delight.
Changes on the playing field
Historians will have to replay the tapes to see if I’ve made the right call, but I think the playing field changed in two significant ways in 2010–11. My sense is that Celebration 2010 – combined with the work toward a Canadian seminary – provided Canadian MBs with a clearer sense of our theological roots and a renewed emphasis on our Anabaptist heritage. Instead of asking, “Who are we?” MBs are now saying, “This is who we are and what we have to offer.”
While I heard many stories of MB congregations (re)embracing Anabaptist convictions with respect to social justice and community hermeneutics, the conversations regarding the atonement, plus growing church planting connections with networks south of the border, indicated Reformed theology now exercises a significant influence among Canadian MBs. Viewers will have to stay tuned to see how this dynamic plays itself out in our understanding of theology, Scripture, discipleship, and more.
I also caught glimpses of a third shift. At various times and in various places, I heard leaders acknowledge we need to do a better job of listening to each other. In our efforts to streamline our work, have we become too centralized and top-down in our decision-making process? Aside from the Herald, study conferences, and annual general meetings, there are few places and times where we can gather to discern God’s will together. As a result, many churches feel alienated from the conference, some leaders are suspicious of one another, and our practices of mutual accountability tend to be quick pronouncements of heresy (although we prefer to use the labels “liberal” and “fundamentalist”).
As editor of the Herald, I had an excuse to talk with people across the country, from Kitchener to Kelstern to Kelowna. I’ve been in sound booths in St. Catharines, Snow Lake, and Surrey. In every instance, I met people whose lived theology is better than their stated theology. I may not always agree with how they think or the words they use, but they sure know how to love God and others.
Pursuing God and loving people is a beautiful pastime. Having covered the Canadian MBs for a season, I’m convinced they can do well at this game.
Now back to the action…