It was a difficult year. On the cultural front, 2016 saw the loss of several artists who spoke to North American cultural consciences. Amid rapid change, we feel growing anxiety about the sustainability of our jobs, the state of the economy and the health of our pensions. On the political front, the world watched in amusement and horror as two candidates fought bitterly for the American presidency, giving civil discourse a bruising.
There are echoes of these events in our own church conference. Professor Elmer Martens, who revolutionized the Old Testament for many an MB seminary student – in Fresno and around the world – died; his wife Phyllis (an author and church leader in her own right) following close behind. Writer Katie Funk Wiebe, an advocate for women and seniors, went to her rest with some 2,000 articles and 20 books to her name. The CCMBC budget felt financial strain even as the ministries and services burgeoned. Finally, two national leaders – moderator and executive director – surprised constituents with news of their departure from the board rooms.
And this doesn’t even touch the personal pain and tragedy the year held for many.
With such a year behind us, what might 2017 bring?
For one thing, it is a year of commemorations.
Renewal after Reformation: 500 years
On the world stage, 2017 marks the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The “Luther decade” comes to a close in 2017 with celebrations in Germany of Martin Luther’s rebellious act of posting 95 challenges to the church. In an age when we so easily find reasons to go our separate ways, Lutherans marked this anniversary of division from the Roman Catholic church by coming together: Oct. 31, 2016, they celebrated a joint worship service in Sweden presided over by the Lutheran president, general secretary and Pope Francis.
May this herald a new era of appreciating difference and repairing broken relationships.
Within our wider faith family, 2017 will begin a 500th anniversary reflection on our participation in the Radical Reformation with a 10-year initiative called Renewal 2027. Mennonite World Conference, the worldwide body of Anabaptists of whom we as Mennonite Brethren are a part, will explore the particular gifts entrusted to our movement and the specific contexts in which they have taken root, from the burgeoning MB churches in DR Congo, to the peace-convicted churches in conflict-plagued Colombia (home of general secretary César García), to the increasingly indigenized and charismatic churches of Indonesia.
Renewal 2027’s first yearly event will take place in Germany, home of one of the earliest streams of Anabaptists, but will culminate in 2027 with the every-six-years Assembly in Africa, home of some of the fastest growing national churches.
As Mennonites, we don’t celebrate the schism, but follow the biblical injunction that God often gave the Israelites to remember (Numbers 15:39, Deuteronomy 4:10, Deuteronomy 15:15), and ask what role God may have for us next.
Faith at 150
On the Canadian stage we also have an anniversary: 150 years since Confederation.
For the occasion, Canadian Christian think tank Cardus has formed Faith in Canada 150, a multi-armed initiative to recognize the role of people of faith in building our country. It calls on people of all religions to demonstrate that “faith is a good in our society”: in the past, present and future.
As Mennonites, we believe our faith is lived out. Why not take the opportunity provided by these celebrations to build bridges and speak about the One who leads us?
The Week of Prayer guide included with this issue calls Canadian Mennonite Brethren to reflect on Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” – and to rely on that Holy Spirit power to embolden us to share the good news with our neighbours.
Over the next three issues of the MB Herald, we’ll explore Acts 1:8’s expanding spheres of God’s calling for us: local, national global. As his witnesses, we do not do the work by ourselves, but through partnership with the promised Holy Spirit. May we stop, wait and listen, and then act on the Spirit’s inspiration.
There is hope for 2017. Our celebrations won’t prevent us from experiencing more leadership challenges, financial crises or personal losses. But there is still good news to deliver and power to do it.