Delegates Discuss Church Trends
by Terry M. Smith
NEAR GIROUX, Man.—Conference council delegates on Nov. 30, 2019, met at Ridgewood EMC where they accepted a slight budget decrease, heard plans for Paraguay, and discussed church trends.
Welcome and Devotional
Moderator Barry Plett welcomed delegates. Darcy Sproule, senior pastor of host Ridgewood EMC, drew from 1 Samuel 7 and a brief history of crop failures in Minnesota to remind delegates that when people fasted, God delivered. Fasting is one spiritual tool; God honours those who honour him, he said.
The moderator said a Sustainable Funding strategy has not been completed, but will be worked on in 2020. The new EMC history book is to appear in early 2020. Staff changes have occurred. The percentage of conference spending on national staffing is monitored and staffing is as high as is wanted. The National Youth Committee was not adequately informed of how staffing changes will affect its work, he said. Gerald Reimer will continue to assist with Abundant Springs.
Tim Dyck, executive director, spoke of staffing changes: Ruth Block took over as missions and finance assistant, a position previously occupied by Diana Peters. In 2020 there will be an unconventional convention, a festival that celebrates in the midst of turmoil. It will have a modular, intergenerational, interactive format. As well, staff members are exploring what connectedness with our churches looks like.
Small group discussions were held about topics and trends for the EMC and the results were shared with delegates. Among the thoughts: individualism, professionalism of church services, anxiety, share what is happening, better communication, ministry in a post-Christian society, finances (whether the conference work reflects the priorities of the churches), clarity of for what the EMC stands, where does the money go, authenticity and honesty as a church, social justice is as important as spiritual revival, for young people to be engaged in church, accountability, competition from mega churches, dropping Mennonite, caring for singles, women and men in ministry.
Ruth Plett said conversations swirl. MCC is involved in relief, development, and peace. MCC is grateful to conferences for their involvement and in 2020 it will celebrate 100 years of service.
Mennonite World Conference
Gerald Hildebrandt said that MWC is called to be a koinonia [fellowship] of Anabaptist faith reflecting the global reach and breadth of Anabaptists—108 conferences in 58 countries and many languages. Our spiritual well-being is connected to that of the wider Church, he said.
Board of Missions
Brad Brandt, chair, referred to Romans 3:23 and 6:23 to say that by grace an incredible gift has come to us. The board has talked much about the work in Paraguay where the EMC has a long history of ministry. An exit strategy was considered, yet a lack of clarity was hurting the work at Minga Guazú, its most recent effort. The board decided to recommit to Paraguay as a mission field and seek to develop a cluster of churches. Missionaries are being recruited.
Gerald Reimer oversees the BOM’s work in the city of Guadalajara in the state of Jalisco, Mexico. He reported that the possible start of a work about four hours east in Querétaro, a city of about a million people, is being explored because of connections with the area. Ken Zacharias, director of global outreach, and Brad Brandt spoke of a recent trip to Turkey where there appears to be a window of opportunity to work among displaced Muslims who seem open to the gospel.
Brad Brandt said there is a desire to bring together people involved in Indigenous ministry to explore how to move ahead in Canada; and Ken Zacharias spoke of Pelly’s ministry to Kamsack, Sask., area. What can we do to assist our churches? Ken wondered. Since the BOM and the Church Planting Task Force are exploring the same issues, a joint summit is being planned in 2020. There is a desire for new initiatives without neglecting other fields, it was said.
Discussion and Prayer
It is important to involve First Nations people in decision making as ministry to them moves ahead.
Suggested caution about motives in FN work. Do they want the help?
How are we being neighbourly to people in our backyard (such as Asians)?
Maybe we can find ways to support pastors already in FN ministries who are uneducated and unsupported.
There was a time of prayer around tables.
A video was shown that highlighted that donors control how funds are distributed.
Steinbach Bible College
Gord Penner, professor and EMC minister, said SBC values its relationship with the EMC. Students speak of the college’s solid biblical foundation and Christ-centred community. Mission X continues to have an impact on students. The college wants to “infect” students with the missions virus, he said.
Board of Church Ministries
Kimberly Muehling, chair, said that objectives remain the same from 2019 [to assist in discussion and discernment, to develop a communications plan, and to reinvigorate the archives committee]. The board wants to know what churches expect of it. A communications plan is being worked on, which is followed by implementation, she said. Kevin Wiebe, chair of the communications planning committee, said that the future of the conference is involved; with changes in technology, a current plan is needed.
Terry Smith mentioned Layton Friesen’s book ‘Seditions, Confusion, and Tumult,’ which is to be out by Valentine’s Day. Don Kroeker, archives committee chair, and Smith highlighted people from EMC history: founder Klaas Reimer, ex-bishop Heinrich Enns, midwife Aganetha Barkman Reimer, innovative minister Heinrich Reimer, and members of the recently received Winnipeg Logos Church. Since history involves the ear as well as the eye, Kim and Josh Muehling and Russell Doerksen led in Gott ist die Liebe, a song familiar in German Mennonite circles.
Consider moving Youth Portfolio to BLO. (The idea fits the conference pastor, yet the main events fit the BCM. A conversation is needed.)
Advent and Lent resources are welcomed. (Some resources are available through the wider Anabaptist Church, such as A Common Word.)
More information is needed on the shift to regional support for youth workers. (Young Adult Retreats have been held in Manitoba and Alberta.)
Content creation takes time and money, both challenges for a small conference. More volunteers are needed who aren’t committee members. Further discussion is welcomed.
Board of Leadership and Outreach
Richard Klassen, chair, said a deacons’ training video will be available in early 2020. The discussion on women in leadership continues and is being worked on; an open letter and a video are to be sent to churches early in the new year to assist in this. There is a positive focus on spiritual renewal in some of our churches and the board is planting a two-day retreat on how to assist churches in this. He welcomed prayer about this.
Travis Unger, church planting task force chair, called forward Gerald D. Reimer and his wife Sandy and Gerald was commissioned as the EMC’s new church planting director. The church in Calgary has been affected by the downturn in Alberta’s economy. There is interest in further Low German work; the question is where, Unger said.
Len Harms, Fort Garry EMC’s university and young adult pastor, spoke of how an initial focus on reaching grad students shifted to providing English classes that are held regularly and have planted spiritual seeds in hundreds of international students. Layton Friesen spoke of how he enjoys the privilege and spiritual luxury of being conference pastor. A severance policy, designed to assist in stressful times, will be sent to churches and placed on the website, Friesen said.
Pastor sabbaticals are a gift, not a right or an obligation, to long-serving pastors who do better longer if they have them, said Layton. Three pastors shared about the benefits of sabbaticals that ranged in length from two to four months: Ed Peters, Abe Berg, and Kevin Wiebe. A seven-month process of preparing leaders for ordination is underway, and the proposed draft of the revised minister’s manual is being reviewed, said Layton.
Board of Trustees
Gord Reimer, chair, said the 2019 budget was “barely hanging in there.” He expected about $400,000 to be donated in December. Beyond that, replenishing of reserves is needed. The BOT is working with the General Board toward sustainable funding and has sought churches to apply to the church grant fund, he said.
Andrew Kampen, BOT member, highlighted the proposed 2020 budget ($1,871,000), which reflected a one percent decrease from 2019 ($1,918,000). The amount for missions is down, while church planting is up. The 2020 proposal was approved by conference council.
Thanks for the narrative budget, which is helpful to people who find numbers less helpful.
Questions about youth were answered. Supports 2020 budget.
A church will be decreasing its overall budget, likely including to the EMC.
Concerned about budget drop and cut to staff numbers.
A church is increasing its contribution by 10 percent.
The meeting was adjourned.
Editor’s note: Erica Fehr provided supplemental information through her conference council minutes. My thanks to her.