Delegates Respond to Survey Results, Restructuring Proposal

Ralph Unger leads in prayer. Credit: Andrew Walker

Women in Leadership survey results invite discussion, no clear way ahead

MENNVILLE, Man.— EMC’s conference council delegates voted on June 10, 2017, to fill conference-related positions, tabled motions related to the Statement of Faith, and discussed both the Women in Leadership survey results and a Conference Restructuring Committee proposal.

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Dwight Plett: Consider why you vote yes or no. Credit: Andrew Walker

Devotional

Dwight Plett, lead minister of the host Mennville EMC, cautioned delegates that we can say yes or no to women in church leadership for both good and bad reasons. There is a need for obedience and unity. We need to remind ourselves that we are on the same team and need to love each other. After, moderator Abe Bergen said that Dwight came forward in an unassuming manner and then hit the delegates between the eyes.

Elections

Sid Reimer, Nominating Committee chair, led in elections (see the sidebar) and told stories about the Region.

Board of Missions

Fred Buhler, chair, said national staff are intentional about visiting churches with missions information. The time of 10:02 a.m. has become a prompt from Luke 10:2 to pray for workers to be sent into the harvest. Beth Koehler has become a prayer coordinator. Wisdom is needed to care for missionaries and their children, Fred said.

Ken Zacharis, foreign secretary, talked of beginnings and endings in missions. Hacienda Verde is a beginning: a ministry within a 3,000-hectare area used by 18 families excommunicated from Old Colony settings. A school and a church have developed.  On the other hand, Nicaragua recently celebrated a half-century of active church development, though no EMC missionaries have been present for 25 years. Nancy Friesen shared that she will be going to language study before serving again in Bolivia.

Tim Dyck, general secretary, reinforced the need for prayer. He said that this is a “season” of medical challenges for missionaries, some of whom are dealing with cancer, which affects ministry. Beth Koehler led in prayer.   

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Nancy Friesen: heading to Bolivia after language study. Credit: Andrew Walker

Board of Leadership and Outreach

Peter Doerksen, chair, said the BLO has been involved in two major items: the Statement of Faith review and the search for a Conference Pastor. Layton Friesen was introduced as the new conference pastor.

The BLO is looking at the examining and credentialing process for ministers. Doerksen has two single-spaced pages of names of people who have been sent forms for processing, but have not returned them.

Ralph Unger, interim conference pastor, described the EMC as small, but tenacious, a setting where beliefs matter. He suggested a committee be formed of “older, younger, male, female, more conservative and more liberal individuals” to decide core beliefs not to be compromised, while moving some practices to the “periphery” without violating scripture or offending others’ consciences.

Church Planting Task Force

Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, highlighted the recent chartering service of Gospel Light Fellowship (Medicine Hat); a new outreach in Airdrie, where about 40 people attend; and the concern for outreach to First Nations communities around Pelly.

PTS and CMU

Layton Friesen said that summer and fall programming at Providence Theological Seminary is moving ahead despite the recent fire at Bergen Hall. He will be involved in directing the Anabaptist Studies Track. Five courses will be included.

Dr. Cheryl Pauls, president of Canadian Mennonite University, highlighted that the EMC has a member on the Graduate School of Theology and Ministry’s advisory council and that EMC students are involved in undergrad and graduate studies. CMU is celebrating the Protestant Reformation 500th anniversary.

Church Transitions

After much deliberation, Cornerstone Fellowship Church (Swift Current) will hold its final service on June 25, 2017, moderator Abe Bergen said. Conference passed a motion to release the church.  On the other hand, the Winnipeg Logos Church , a Mandarin-speaking congregation, has applied for conference membership with the endorsement of Fort Garry EMC, the churches of Region 7, and the EMC General Board. Council voted to accept the congregation.

Conference Restructuring

The Conference Restructuring Proposal, distributed somewhat earlier in written form, was presented. Change is needed because the relationship between the national ministerial and the conference council needs to be clarified; the current boards cooperate, but do not collaborate (“silos” of responsibilities); our needs today and tomorrow are to be considered; and the structure needs to reflect our Vision and Values statements. While the General Board could make changes by adjusting the conference policy, not the constitution, it prefers to place the matter into the council’s hands, it was said.

There were five recommendations (see sidebar). Because the fifth recommendation affects the second, third, and fourth, this recommendation will be acted upon; the second to fourth were withdrawn until the fifth is complete. The first recommendation was passed after considerable discussion. Among the comments:

Change is supported.

This involves significant change. Will other groups be consulted? (Response: Other boards, the General Board, and other non-EMC groups will be consulted.)

The proposal did not come to the churches soon enough.

The proposed restructuring is vague. (Response: Input is wanted and so what is presented is half-baked.)

What’s broken that we’re trying to fix? (Response: Use of staff and board resources needs to be more efficient.)

What is being asked in the motion, approval of a basic direction or something more substantial? (Response: It is a desire to be transparent. It is an approval in principle of a direction, not a structural change.)

What is this doing to the power structure of the Conference? Will power be in fewer people’s hands? If so, there could be a loss of trust among churches. Groundwork needs to build trust, not just efficiency. (Response: This concern was shared by others, including by the General Board. There is an emphasis on collaboration. Send further responses to the Conference Restructuring Committee. This process is not complete. It is half-baked and shows what could be.)

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Layton Friesen: PTS has a new Anabaptist Studies Track. Credit: Andrew Walker

Board of Trustees

Gordon Reimer, chair, said the Treasurers’ Day went well in Jan. With changes at Abundance Canada affecting how the EMC can offer church mortgage loans, the practice is being reviewed.  The 2016 audit showed a modest surplus for the year, though the reserve funds require replenishing. Churches, individuals, and businesses were thanked for their financial support. He highlighted “all other funds,” internal and external designations (with significant amounts) that are not part of the budget. The audited financial statement was approved.

EFC and MDS

Tim Dyck, an EMC representative to the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, said he was encouraged by the results of the Evangelical Missions Engagement Survey among church members in Canada. It is a “treasure trove” that reveals a commitment to missions, the pivotal role of the local church, and an appreciation of conference and mission agencies. He encouraged churches to participate in a survey of youth ministries (Nov.-Dec.).

Ross Penner, MDS director of Region 5, said Mennonite Disaster Service has been engaged in mission in a time of global change since 1950. It shows an evangelical faith that cannot lie dormant and responds to disasters, touching lives and nurturing hope, faith, and wholeness. He has been surprised how people from set aside their denominational differences for the sake of mission.

Board of Church Ministries

Jessica Wichers, chair, highlighted the new beliefs brochure, a bookmark listing Anabaptist distinctives, and the Christian Education Update. Kevin Wiebe’s six lesson video series on Pov.ology has been well received in wider circles; she encouraged churches to check it out. More members are needed on the Archives and Worship Committees, and, with current technology, distance is no barrier.

Andrew Walker, assistant editor, said The Messenger is available in a variety of digital formats and he gave an update on readership statistics; digital readership is increasing. The website will include a poll to be posted through the year. He encouraged pastors and church secretaries to advertise the digital formats. The decision has also been made to post audio sermons on the magazine’s website.

Gerald Reimer, conference youth minister, highlighted the Young Adults’ Retreats in Manitoba and Alberta. Abundant Springs went well, though with an attendance of 345 young people. The lower numbers are a concern, but the event continues to meet needs. Where are the other churches? “Basically, it’s in your hands,” he said. Speaker Sid Koop, in his third appearance, did well. A seminar on mental health issues was packed out four times. Out-going members were thanked for their efforts. Jason Dueck has served for 16 years.

Statement of Faith

The Statement of Faith had been previously presented. The council made and tabled motions to replace the current 13 articles and to move footwashing from the Statement of Faith to Church Practices. These matters will to be voted on in Nov.

Women in Leadership Survey

Darren Plett, project leader, said about two-thirds of EMC churches responded to the survey. Many responses indicated that local leaders were not agreed on how to respond to the questions. Regarding restrictions in EMC policy (to limit ordination and selection of ministers to males), 32% would “require adherence”; 25% would support “no change, allow variance”; and 43% would “remove restrictions.” With no majority, no clear way forward is seen.

Potential action points were mentioned (summarized):

That all who teach in our churches be examined for theology and be held accountable. Could a woman be credentialed for working with children?

Though past study has happened, perhaps there is a need for current study, including Bible study guides.

  There is a need to respond to fears. Examples: approval of female pastors might lead to allowing same-sex relationships, women are too emotional to be pastors, and men don’t know how to relate to women in authority.

We have not heard from women. There is a need to hear their experiences and be better informed.

Do we only allow women to serve or do we encourage them? We could have “a more welcoming space” for women, even a co-pastor role.

Male pastors would be encouraged to take a course or seminar on women’s issues.

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Small group discussions rated survey action points. Credit: Andrew Walker

Small Groups Discussion

In response to the proposed action points, delegates gathered in small groups to rate the points and to comment on them. They could also suggest another action point. When the small group discussions were over, some of the results were shared with the wider body.

Among the comments during the council’s discussion:

Have a women’s conference with men present, but only female presenters.

Follow-up with churches that did not respond.

Some women have gone through much training; credentialing is needed, but need not automatically lead to being a pastor.

The three options in the survey were inadequate.

Some interest in the process ahead.

Where is the balance between personal and church positions?

Whether credentialing should be reduced to a local matter.

The sheets with ratings and comments were gathered to assist in future proposals and decision-making.

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