Winnipeg, Man. — On January 20, 2024, over 350 delegates and guests gathered at Westwood Community Church to vote on a special resolution presented by Mennonite Brethren Church Manitoba (MBCM) leadership. Eighty-three percent of the church delegates voted in favour of the resolution, which will lead to River East Church losing its MBCM membership effective May 31, 2024 unless it takes remedial steps. This follows a similar resolution related to Jubilee Mennonite which passed in March 2023.
The January 20, 2024 resolution read as follows: “We, the Assembly of Congregations of the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba, do resolve that, unless River East Church returns to an active embrace of MBCM member church expectations by May 30, 2024, River East Church’s oﬃcial membership in the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba will end eﬀective May 31, 2024.
“We ﬁnally resolve that should River East Church’s MBCM membership end as of May 31, 2024, MBCM extends an ongoing invitation for REC to return to MBCM if they choose to embrace and live in accordance with our shared member church expectations.”
In January 2020, River East published a statement of inclusivity on its website: “River East Church is a Jesus community for the world. We invite everyone to join us in living out this mission as followers of Jesus in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition.
“This invitation is extended to all persons, whatever their ability, age, ethnicity, family status, gender identity, income level, race, sexual orientation, or other identity distinctives. All are welcome to full participation with us in the journey of discipleship.
“We strive to live as a community of love, even as we acknowledge our different understandings of Scripture. In our diversity, we gather around the Lord’s Table to celebrate our unity in Christ.”
River East declared its intention to affirm same-sex marriages, which conflicted with Article 11 (Marriage, Singleness, and Family) of the shared Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches’ Confession of Faith. Article 11 states, “Marriage is a covenant relationship intended to unite a man and a woman for life.”
In August 2019, River East church leaders met with Cam Priebe, the provincial director of MBCM, and Jason Dyck, the director of church ministries, indicating that the church was exploring new approaches to welcoming and caring for LGBTQ+ individuals, and processing possible implications. A four-year discussion and discernment process between the two groups followed, culminating in the January 20, 2024 special assembly.
“This statement was 20 years in the making,” said River East moderator Reynold Redekop, “River East is not buckling to social pressures, nor do we seek to change the Confession of Faith.”
Redekop provided examples of alterations to the Confession, allowing for communion with the unbaptized and blessings of post-divorce remarriage. On Article 11, the Mennonite Brethren Conference holds firm.
While churches across Manitoba came together to determine an outcome related to River East, it was also a space for delegates and guests to voice the broader concern of loving well and the process for potential future contentions. A delegate from a church in Winnipeg said, “Our process should be based on patience and unity, not uniformity of thought. Regardless of how this vote turns out, we are concerned for our future. We have work to do.” Though the process is difficult, this delegate added that his church continues to support the function, work, and leadership of MBCM.
After much deliberation and conversation, a delegate called for the question, moving the assembly towards a vote. By secret ballot, the assembled body of churches approved the motion which could lead to the removal of River East Church from MBCM membership, effective May 31, 2024.
River East lead pastor Mary Anne Isaak said in a departing blessing, “As we part ways, we recognize the many blessings in our shared 60-year partnership. We honour the ministries River East has lived out with the broader MB family. We pray that God upholds the MB congregations of Manitoba with abundant faith.”
Jason Dyck, who appeared visibly emotional and shaken by the weight of this decision, pronounced an exhortation and blessing to River East, “River East Church, keep loving one another as brothers and sisters. Embrace humility toward one another. Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Be caught up and enraptured by the person of Jesus. Today, you face a rejection; may God infuse your recovery. Today, your faith family is changed; may the Spirit of our Lord guide you into a faithful future.”
— MB Herald staff with files from MBCM