by Terry M. Smith
ROSENORT, Man.—Conference council delegates on Nov. 26, 2016, approved a budget of $1,950,000, and pondered both a report on a trip to Israel/Palestine and relationships with other affiliate organizations.
Welcome and Devotional
Moderator Abe Bergen welcomed delegates. Ward Parkinson, pastor of host Rosenort EMC, focused on the beatitudes of Matt. 5:1-12, saying the Church has “strange currency” in rejoicing over mourning and meekness. Christ’s kingdom is not a matter of celestial distance, but of values. Keep listening to a different drumbeat. As Mother Theresa said, we must never fear to be a sign of contradiction to the world. Let’s find our identity in nothing but Christ and his drumbeat. There is the blessing of God, he said.
Board of Church Ministries
Jessica Wichers, BCM chair, said that the board is actively working to provide a Balanced Digital format in early 2017. Readers can check out The Messenger’s new digital format at ISSUU.com. There will be six print and six website issues in 2017, though the board desires to return to 12 print issues at some point.
Kevin Wiebe, BCM member and pastor of New Life, introduced Povology, a six-part video series created by him about “poverty and the church, intended for small group studies.” It is officially approved by the EMC and is free to stream or download at http://www.povology.com. It features interviews with Shane Claiborne, Dr. Ron Sider, Bruxy Cavey, Dr. Ray Vander Zaag, missionaries, professors, and EMC pastors. Responding to the presentation, moderator Abe Bergen told Kevin, “You rock!”
Kim Muehling introduced the newly formed Worship Committee, which will engage in theological investigation and identify practical resources to be shared. It has no desire to be an echo chamber, she said.
Steinbach Bible College
Professor Gord Penner said a high percentage of graduates are volunteering in church life, giving, recommending the college, and satisfied by their experiences within it. New are an online BA, a BA in Marketplace Ministry, an Activate Discipleship School. Take a course, be grounded in the faith, and go back to serve, he said. Abe Bergen told delegates that Gord Penner is the EMC’s 2017 convention speaker.
Board of Missions
Ken Zacharias, foreign secretary, said he and BOM chair Fred Buhler recently visited missionaries and ministries in Paraguay. Some workers retire, but continue to minister. He and Fred were with Judy and Dave Schmidt when they received news of Judy’s having cancer. Schmidts are grateful for prayer, and Ken asked that they be upheld in prayer.
The Mingu Gauzu team carries on. Tres Palmas, with about 40 to 50 people in attendance, has many ministries: in Ste. Teresa; in radio, counseling and addiction ministries; a village outreach; a school open to German-speaking Brazilians; a hospital open to all; and school and camp ministry.
Darren Plett (Pleasant Valley) was part of a prayer team to Guadalajara, Mexico, and spoke of being deeply affected by the missionaries’ commitment and contacts. The church plant is a cell group model focused on upper middle class people who will later reach people of a lower economic class. The cell groups occasionally meet. If you believe prayer makes a difference, go on a prayer team, Plett said. Tim Dyck said a $500 subsidy is available for pastors who visit missionaries.
Moderator Abe Bergen and Tim Dyck, general secretary, visited cross-cultural workers in sensitive areas. Pray for these and other workers. Beth Koehler is the new volunteer prayer coordinator for EMC Missions. The Day of Prayer for EMC Missions is Feb. 19, 2017. Lester Olfert promoted the 2017 50th anniversary celebration tour in Nicaragua (April 4-11, 2017), inviting people to attend.
Executive director Don Peters said that the scope of MCC’s work is worldwide, with $73.2 million of expenses last year (MCC Canada and U.S. combined) in 54 countries. MCC’s work is done in the name of Christ on “your behalf,” he said. The Nigerian school girls kidnapped two years ago were connected with the Church of the Brethren, part of the Anabaptist family, he said.
Highlights of Meeting
Delegates were encouraged to report to their churches in these areas:
The Messenger moving to mixed print/digital format beginning in January
Newly released video study series on Povology (www.povology.com)
BCM has restarted the worship committee to serve our churches
New options coming to SBC (online BA, Marketplace Ministry BA,
Activate Discipleship School)
Nicaragua Exposure Trip to celebrate 50th anniversary
EMC Day of Prayer moved to Feb. 19
Report on Israel/Palestine
Survey will be sent to churches on role of women in leadership
Survey for assisting in reimagining Convention
Treasurers’ Day Jan. 21 at St Vital EMC
Statement of Faith Review nearing completion
Celebrating World Fellowship, Sunday, Jan. 22
– Erica Fehr
Abe Bergen and Tim Dyck reporting on being part of MCC’s learning tour in Israel. Canada and the U.S. are western allies of Israel. The Church has been in Israel from the start. While some people are concerned about MCC’s perspective, MCC is “pro church” in Israel, not pro-Palestinian, they said.
MCC’s work is well-respected by the Church in Israel. They told stories: a Palestinian Christian vineyard owner refuses to sell his land or treat those who oppose him as enemies; of a young boy’s being killed by a sniper; of an MCC Grow Project; and of how Jordan accepts many refugees. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and he died to bring peace between peoples (Eph. 2). Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:1). Bergen and Dyck are willing to dialogue regarding the situation in Israel.
The Reimagining Committee has started its work, it was said. The Conference Restructuring Committee has met three times. The role of women in ministry issue will be picked up. Stephanie Unger, on the Reimagining Committee, said it wants convention to be open to everyone. There’s a need to find out why people aren’t coming and what they want to see. A survey has been developed; people are encouraged to invite non-attenders to complete it.
Harold Penner, stewardship consultant, said Abundance Canada changed its name from Mennonite Foundation of Canada because “God is generous; God owns, we manage; God invites us to give our whole selves; God invites us to share.” People felt the name was exclusive and being a foundation seemed too restrictive. The same services will be offered.
Board of Trustees
Tim Dyck reported that the salaries of Executive and Administrative staff are under review. The Manitoba Pension Committee is reviewing the EMC Pension Plan. The phone system is being upgraded. Jan. 21 will be an EMC Treasurers’ Day.
The EMC budget proposed for 2017 is five percent higher than 2016 (from $1,868, 000 to $1,950,000). Only a three percent increase is asked of churches; the remainder comes from an increase in estate giving. One church said it was voting against the budget. Delegates voted in favour of the budget.
Board of Leadership and Outreach
Vice chair Alvin Plett said that Ralph Unger was asked to serve as interim conference pastor as the search continues. Unger reported that the Statement of Faith review saw all articles, except one, receive strong support. Footwashing received 75 percent support to move it to Church Practices. The process will be completed in 2017. A church mediators training session will occur on Feb. 18, and a New Leaders’ Orientation held on March 18-19 (following SBC’s Leadership Conference).
Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, said that a pastor has been found for Living Faith Fellowship, Two Hills, Alta. (John Froese); there is a need for more workers; immigrants are coming because they want more opportunity; a Chinese church is asking about membership in the EMC; and little is happening within Caucasian European circles. The Dauphin ministry is being assessed, a partnership with C2C will assist in church planting, and additional funds are being sought for church plants. We want more people to come to faith in Jesus, he said.
Mennonite World Conference
Layton Friesen, EMC representative, said his awareness of the wider Anabaptist church was strengthened through attending MWC’s gatherings in Winnipeg in 1991, Paraguay in 2007, and Pennsylvania in 2015. The next General Assembly is in Indonesia in 2021.
There are four commissions: Deacons (looking for churches in distress), Peace (trying to love enemies), Faith and Life (theology), and Mission (outreach). A name change has been floated. According to MWC, based on numbers and location, the EMC is asked to contribute $22,000 to its global fund; it gives $7,000.
He asked if a global connection is important to your congregation, if it is wanted; and, if so, how to do it. He invited churches to make MWC Fellowship Sunday an event each year. Suggestions are available on sermons, songs, liturgies, and prayer. An offering, equal to the cost of one lunch, could be forwarded.
In a change, delegates met around small tables, discussed questions provided about boards and affiliate organizations, a recorder made written notes later handed in, and some of groups’ thoughts were shared publicly. It was generally well received.
Blessing to Churches
Toward the end of the day, national staff members spoke of the privilege, encouragement, and blessing that comes from serving the EMC. Specific encouragements were listed (see sidebar). They ended by saying, “We don’t take your support for granted. We want to continue to earn your trust, and serve the EMC churches to the best of our ability. We thank you and bless you for your continued support.”
Blessing from National Staff to Churches
As your national staff, we often reflect on what a great privilege it is for us to be serving all of our EMC churches through the ministries of our Conference. We sense the encouragement and the blessings of you, our EMC churches, as we engage in our daily activities. Some of the specific ways that you have encouraged us over the course of this past year include:
Your demonstrations of interest by asking relevant questions. Sometimes the questions are easy to answer and sometimes they are hard questions. But always, they are encouraging.
Your prayers on our behalf. We appreciate that you take the time to tell us that you are praying for us in our roles.
Your enthusiasm and service for missions. One church requested the contact information for all EMC missionaries so that they could send a personalized Christmas card to each.
Another church has been connecting with every missionary that is on home furlough, inviting them to report on Sunday mornings. This is a tremendous encouragement to us as well as to the missionaries.
Your invitations to serve in your churches through meetings, Sunday School presentations, or Sunday worship services. It is always encouraging to know that you are interested in the things that we are excited about.
Special thanks to the woman who routinely brings “snacks” to the EMC office.
Your enthusiasm for Christian education in many forms – through Conference produced materials, retreats, and beyond.
Your responses to the many surveys that we have sent to churches over this past year.
You send high quality volunteers to serve on the many boards and committees of the EMC. They serve with little recognition and without pay.
Your commitment to gathering for discussion, decision making and developing friendships.
You open up your churches to events such as this Conference Council gathering, and you serve joyfully and graciously.
Of course, you send funds on a regular basis to ensure that the ministries continue to function.
We don’t take your support for granted. We want to continue to earn your trust, and serve the EMC churches to the best of our ability. We thank you and bless you for your continued support.