by Tim Dyck
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” This famous paragraph from a Charles Dickens novel were the opening words of the devotional given by Andrew Dyck (Pastor at Stony Brook Fellowship) as he challenged us to consider both the good as well as the frustrations of the year 2020. He referred to the prophet Joel, who spoke words of encouragement and challenge to the nation of Judah when they faced a disastrous year. God’s intention then, as now, is to draw us to himself in all circumstances.
This Conference Council meeting, held November 28, 2020, was conducted entirely online, with only a few churches gathering as groups—most people remained isolated in their homes. How would this work? Would it be possible to gather as delegates to hear reports and engage with the boards and each other? For many participants, the answer was a resounding “Yes!” The meeting featured many breakout sessions, some polls to gather feedback, and short, snappy reports from boards and staff. More detailed reports were provided as videos online so delegates could view them prior to the meeting. These videos are available for a limited time at https://www.emconference.ca/reports.
General Board Asks About EMC Church Priorities
Moderator Barry Plett reported on the postponement of Festival 2020, and the potential that it could be held in summer 2021. The General Board is also encouraging the BLO in their desire to have a year focused on spiritual renewal beginning in Advent 2021. In their summer meeting, the General Board requested that the Trustees deliver a budget for 2021 that was ten percent lower than the 2020 budget. This was in response to anticipated lower revenues due to the pandemic.
The Personnel Committee, chaired by Ward Parkinson, reported on the reduction of staffing levels in order to achieve the ten percent budget reduction. The Director of Communications and Education position has been eliminated for the coming year, and all responsibilities of that position have been distributed among other staff. The Personnel Committee is also engaged in succession planning, as other executive staff are nearing retirement. How will tasks be distributed in order to best serve the priorities of EMC churches?
A breakout session followed with five to six delegates each discussing the priorities. Specifically, the question of youth and next generation ministries was presented.
BOT Presents a Reduced 2021 Budget
The Board of Trustees followed with an update on the financial status to date. Andrew Kampen, BOT chair, reported that, as of November, EMC is operating on a surplus of approximately $95,000. This is due to continued strong donation revenue, coupled with a decrease in expenditures due to cancellation of events and less travel by staff and boards. Andrew encouraged strong giving through the end of the year and indicated that any surplus would be dedicated towards rebuilding our budget reserves, which have been entirely depleted.
Andrew then presented the 2021 budget with the ten percent reduction applied. He indicated that in the event of a strong financial showing in 2021, there are plans in place to increase the spending in specific areas. The budget passed with a strong majority.
The BOT presented two polls to request feedback. The first poll was about Giving Tuesday, which EMC featured on December 1. The poll showed that the majority were interested. The second poll asked delegates to respond to the reduced budget. Almost two-thirds of delegates indicated that the temporary reduction in budget is a prudent action in light of uncertain times. In the breakout session that followed, delegates were asked to consider the additional budget amounts that would be reinstated if the 2021 year is financially strong.
BCM Celebrates Communications Plan Implementation
Board of Church Ministries chair Kim Muehling provided further details on the redistribution of responsibilities among staff members. Rebecca Roman has been engaged part-time as interim editor of The Messenger. Kim also reported that the Communications Plan has been completed and is being implemented across all boards. The Discussion and Discernment theme that has been the focus of the BCM is being wrapped up at the end of the year.
Kim presented the two bi-weekly email distributions that are being rolled out as part of the Communications Plan implementation. EMC Today is directed towards church leaders and delegates. It combines much information that is relevant to EMC and Church life and ministry in one place. Growing Together is intended for a much wider audience and will connect readers to the online Messenger site.
She then presented two polls to ask delegates about their level of engagement with email newsletters. The breakout session presented opportunity to weigh in on the topics of interest and potential writers for the Growing Together email distribution.
BLO Asks About Roles of Women in Ministry
The chair of the Board of Leadership and Outreach, Andy Woodworth, gave an update on the Desire Conference just finished (see the article on this conference elsewhere in this issue). The BLO would like to have this kind of enhanced theology conference every second year. Andy also introduced the newly updated Minister’s Manual and the modified ordination process (called Rudiments) which is in its second year of operation.
Conference Pastor Layton Friesen spoke about his interactions with pastors in this pandemic year. He has been encouraged by the resilience of pastors in dealing with challenging circumstances, and needing to learn new technologies and techniques. It is possible that EMC churches are experiencing a time of winnowing, which can lead to a purified church.
The BLO has been leading the EMC Ministerial through a time of study on the topic of the role of women in ministry. There has been good discussion on the two books that were recommended to present opposing views of the matter. The breakout session focused on the question of what practical challenges and problems would need to be addressed in order for both kinds of congregations to really work together joyfully and fruitfully.
CPTF Encourages Churches to Partner with New Church Plants
Travis Unger is the chair of the Church Planting Task Force. He shared about his experiences in establishing a house church model in inner city Winnipeg. Travis presented a picture of how established EMC churches can support new church plants that are nearby. Gerald Reimer, Director of Canadian Church Planting, picked up on this theme of partnerships. Many of the newer church plants are directed towards immigrant groups, and they need the support of established EMC churches.
The breakout session that followed posed questions related to this matter of partnership. What are the unique qualities of your church, and how could these be used in support of a new or existing EMC church plant?
BOM Responds to Pandemic Needs
The Board of Missions has been responding in various ways to the pandemic since it began in March. Board chair Brad Brandt reported on the Global Pandemic Emergency Fund, which is an effort to raise funds for the global Anabaptist church, especially in areas where there is much suffering due to the pandemic. The EMC Missions board had initially set a target of $10,000 for this fund, but because of overwhelming response, the target has been increased twice and is now at $50,000. There are other emergencies as well, and the country of Nicaragua has been hit by two hurricanes in the past month. EMC Missions has established a project to raise $25,000 to assist our Nicaraguan sister churches’ response to this crisis.
Ken Zacharias, the Director of Global Outreach, reported on how EMC missionaries and churches are responding to the pandemic. In Paraguay, Mexico and Bolivia, workers have been reaching out to those in need. As an example, in Minga Guazu, Paraguay, the church gave three food baskets to each church family. One food basket was the for the family, and the other two were to give away to their neighbours.
The question for the breakout session was to consider ways that our missionaries can respond appropriately to the needs around them while still maintaining vigilance and health protocols.
Sustainable Funding Strategy—Interim Report
The last presentation of the day was introduced by Abe Bergen, the chair of the Sustainable Funding Strategy Committee. The SFS Committee has done research on giving patterns in Canada, and specifically among EMC churches. The video report presents some interesting graphs and charts on the state of giving in our conference. The breakout session posed a variety of questions about how EMC can best nurture a generous giving culture. How do we ask for funding, and how can we improve our communications?
A Worthwhile Day of Connecting
Each of the breakout groups provided notes on the conversations and responses to questions. These notes have been distributed to each of the boards and committees. It was an encouraging event where delegates were able to connect virtually with friends and colleagues across the country. Many commented that it was a good day of connecting and contributing together to the work of EMC ministries.