by Terry M. Smith
WORLD—Conference council delegates on June 27, 2020, met by Zoom, heard updates on boards’ activities, and discussed questions proposed by the boards.
Welcome and Devotional
Moderator Barry Plett welcomed delegates to the Zoom meeting and encouraged them to view any video reports previously posted to avoid “redundant” questions. Tim Dyck, executive director, outlined the electronic process.
In his devotional Ward Parkinson, vice moderator, said “the Bible is more than words on a page.” God wants to communicate his own life and Jesus came to reveal his heart, partly captured in Rembrandt’s painting of the return of the prodigal son. Eugene Peterson said the Book of Revelation does not say more than the Bible’s other books, but is to fire our imagination. Revelation 21:3-4 says what it means to be home.
With committee chair Leonard Plett guiding, delegates affirmed the slate of candidates.
Coaldale has asked for more time to decide its relationship with the EMC, though from the EMC perspective it is a member church, said the moderator. Grace Community Church has closed and delegates were welcome to comment. None were offered.
The moderator said that four years ago when the EMC faced the need for budget cuts, an equal percentage was removed across the boards. With a desire to do it differently amid the COVID crisis, a quick poll of values and priorities was taken of pastors and regional representatives.
Among the delegates’ comments on the results:
The list reflects short-term cuts, but likely not the long-term priorities of the conference.
Some surprises. Youth and theological resources were up and convention and The Messenger were down.
These reflect leadership, not necessarily congregational priorities. The list could be a guide in cutting.
The list has overlapping categories better reduced to five or six.
Youth is high and The Messenger is down, reflecting the priority to engage the next generation for the EMC to survive.
Communications is distressingly down. Convention and The Messenger are two main ways to reach seniors.
Tough to know where to place priorities without background. There’s a need to analyze the effectiveness of ministries.
Zoom saves money, which could help in finances.
Board of Missions
Brad Brandt, chair, and Ken Zacharias, Director of Global Outreach, reported; and a video report was shared from Chris Kroeker with Travis and Rosey Zacharias.
The EMC is part of a unified response to the COVID crisis among Anabaptists worldwide and EMC Missions designated a special projects fund of $10,000; surpassed, it is now set at $20,000. In Paraguay workers respond to needs for food, medicine, and rides for medical care; a benevolence fund was raised to $5,000. What binds together evangelism, food, medicine, radio? The Church, Brandt said.
God called the EMC to expand its presence in Paraguay. Seeking a smaller, growing city (reflecting the rural to urban shift), 10 years ago a team moved into Minga Guazú, which had only one evangelical church. Many needs exist within family life, and people need the freedom and salvation that Jesus gives.
There is a vision to plant churches nearby because people do not travel far to attend a church. More workers are needed and the BOM has approved workers to serve in general church planting and planting with special attention to youth and children. Attitude, character, and being a team player are important traits for workers.
When asked to speak to expansion plans, Zacharias said that a ministry in Spain to Muslims is being explored, though a needed field visit was postponed by travel restrictions. In First Nations’ ministry, conversations have been held and a committee formed. Please pray as Prayer Teams are on hold, he said, and Bolivia is affected by COVID where the EMC works. The breakout time was for prayer for EMC Missions.
Board of Leadership and Outreach
Richard Klassen, chair, said that he was stepping down after 25 years of serving on EMC boards. Major BLO projects have been completed or are underway: The Statement of Faith review, women in ministry, and the minister’s manual.
The board’s work is assisted by the conference pastor’s being a gifted writer and the BLO is dealing with some tough issues. Layton Friesen said the BLO wants to assist churches in renewal. The breakout question: how might the EMC empower its congregations to spiritual renewal?
Among the responses:
The EMC has a history of renewal, yet needs to see sister churches as part of it.
Appreciated the videos sent during the COVID crisis. Need videos with stories of church renewal.
In travelling and training by national staff, focus on more people, not just pastors.
Two groups asked what is meant by renewal. What are we talking about?
How do we get it to the grassroots? Ideas are needed on how to help the congregation share the vision.
We need non-EMC churches to push our thinking toward renewal.
The next generation is key to renewal. Give them role models in gender and ethnicity.
Encourage pastors to enroll in a church renewal program.
In rural areas, renewal can follow visits from national staff.
Good conversation. Glad the EMC is doing this.
Church Planting Task Force
Travis Unger, chair, and Gerald Reimer, Director of Canadian Church Planting, reported. As we plant churches and expand within more cultures, the declining subsidy model is being revisited. The CPTF is involved in discussions with the BOM on Muslim and First Nations expansion.
The issue for the breakout was: In what kind of faith-filled creative ways, beyond our 10-year declining subsidy program and while seeking to connect churches, can we support our church planting ministry in Canada, particularly in cross-cultural urban settings?
Visits from national staff are helpful. Local churches could develop daughter churches. Prayer teams could support local churches.
Wealthier churches could support poorer churches.
In one model, churches focus on community development (for instance, a doctor’s office) and a church develops from this.
Intentionally send in a team (teachers, construction workers) to a reserve. As it lives there for years, learns the culture, and is involved in the community, this can easily lead to a church.
People want to give to people, not projects. Churches could sacrifice to help church plants and plants could tell of needs.
One experienced pastor said he had chosen to be self-supporting. It was a way to gain credibility and expand contact in the community.
Board of Church Ministries
Kim Muehling, chair, said that a Communications Plan was approved and an Implementation Committee was formed. The National Youth Committee is encouraging youth leaders to attend an alternative event instead of TRU. Youth leaders are connecting by Zoom chat, which will continue post-COVID. Ruth Block is now involved in the administration of Abundant Springs.
New resources are available: Doris Penner’s EMC history book, Layton Friesen’s study of early Anabaptism, and Darryl Klassen’s deacons’ training videos. The national office has new computer equipment and a video studio, and the EMC has a new website.
The issue for the breakout session: how are you and your churches teaching the faith to young people? What’s working, or not, or dreamed of? How can the EMC help?
We need VBS materials based on the EMC Statement of Faith. (Are recommendations needed on Anabaptist curriculum?)
Need to visualize the holistic education of youth from very young to adulthood and see how they move through them.
Good job, BCM, for what you are doing. Biblical literacy needs to speak to parents first, not just youth.
Need to highlight the parent-child relationship. The youth who stay in the church are those who see their parents involved.
Board of Trustees
Gord Reimer, chair, said the June update is that receipts were strong ($839,553) because of the timing of a yearly large donation, one-time donations, and government funding. Disbursements were lower ($788,255) because of COVID-related shutdowns. The board knows a strong response is needed to break even at year’s end and, amid uncertain times, wants to prepare for a reduced budget in 2021. The 2019 financial audit was completed and Tim Dyck was thanked for doing so under COVID conditions. Delegates approved the audited financial statement.
The moderator said that we are grateful for how things look now financially, but the BOT has warned of COVID’s “lag effect” and a need to be “leaner” in 2021.
The moderator said delegates were previously asked to identify trends later categorized as church and culture, role of leadership, the next generation, the culture of the church, church and conference relationship, and the need for spiritual renewal.
In leadership, the BLO is exploring the role of women, he said. For the next generation, the GB neglected to fill the gap created by Gerald Reimer’s new role and this will in future require more money or changed expectations. National staff are studying and pursuing church and conference connections, and church renewal is being worked on. A theology conference will be held on Nov. 26-27 on pastoring people with same-sex attraction.
The break-out session had three discussion choices: how to approach government with concerns about COVID meeting restrictions [a letter/petition was received by the national office], social justice (Black Lives Matter and other issues), and how we are nurtured spiritually amid COVID. Among the responses:
Government and Restrictions
What is a more Anabaptist approach? An active peacemaking role is needed in the community prior to a pandemic.
Consider what has been prevented from happening by the lockdown. We need to be involved with silent issues such as intimate partner violence, which would help us to be more salt and light.
This letter is largely a charter grievance, yet more than churches were affected and asking for special treatment is not a good witness.
Tensions in relations with First Nations are more common than with Blacks in Canada and there is concern that FN not be overlooked. There is a need to address racism in congregations.
Need for honest reflection on what we carry wittingly or unwittingly that perpetuate the problem.
It takes specialized, elite people to do ministry now because it is electronic. Others feel useless. This is negative.
The moderator said that more responses can be forwarded.
The moderator said the technology had worked better than thought, and he thanked the technical support staff for their work. He closed in prayer.