By Erica Fehr
More than 100 people attended a Zoom meeting of the EMC Ministerial on June 18, 2021. Discussion took place and a vote was held on a recommendation from the Board of Leadership and Outreach (BLO) about women in ministry. Ultimately, the recommendation did not receive the level of acceptance it needed to pass.
Abe Berg, pastor of Straffordville (Ont.) EMC and BLO member, spoke on lament. Quoting a military chaplain who spoke on Remembrance Day in 2020, Berg said, “we need to lament well in order to give full expression to our joy.” This has been a difficult year and while crying in response to difficulty is human, lamenting is Christian—it is directed at God, he said. To lament is to interpret the world through God’s lens and many Psalms and Lamentations show us the way. Guiding attendees through Psalm 13, Berg said lament invites us to hope in God’s promises while we ask him for help. We need authentic relationships, Berg said, but recognize “no one can heal us and remembering that our validation and identity come from God.”
Attendees took time to lament together with Berg leading.
What Is the Spirit Saying to the Church of Canada?
Dr. Yemiru Tilahun spoke about different cultural identities. He pointed out biblical prophets, kings, priests, Jesus and Paul knew and named the cultural identity of the people to whom they were speaking. Yemiru described a number of the many countries he has visited and shared observations on what was unique about each. He was able to identify cultural traits in part, he said, because the Holy Spirit gives understanding.
“Canada,” Dr. Yemiru said, “is a place of paradox.” It is a good country yet there are many suicides. “The Canadian churches,” he said, have to “work hard to revive the hope of the people.” Many Christians are not living obediently and have lost their sense of mission, Dr. Yemiru said.
Dr. Yemiru said some things about Muslim people coming to Canada that were hard to understand. He was clearly comfortable praying alongside Muslims in a mosque in Turkey yet counselled that Canadians should be wary. Canadians are always running, he noted, and don’t have time to pray and fast and read the Bible, but many Muslim communities isolate themselves from Canadians and they take time for this and for expanding their religion. He encouraged us to continue welcoming Muslim immigrants and to learn how to engage people across cultural and religious lines.
Dr. Yemiru paused, saying he didn’t like to use the word “you” (to speak as an outsider to Canadians) “are not allowing yourselves to make mistakes.” Canadians are afraid of mistakes and so spend a lot of time in discussion and debate, taking years to work through one issue. He shared how his church worked through a challenging theological issue and arrived at a conclusion that allowed a young believing group to thrive and grow.
“To be free from the entanglement” of fearing mistakes we need to depend on the presence of the Holy Spirit who will “guide us to the truth.” “If you trust him, always he is ready to help you,” he said.
“Brothers and sisters,” Dr. Yemiru said, “this is the time to ask the Lord to start the change from us, individually and as a community of Christ; [to be] aware of what is happening in our nation, to deal with the danger which is surrounding us. We have to be very wise by seeing the evil days are bringing to our community. We have to be very active in prayer, in Bible study, and in fasting, and in mission work.”
Recommendation on Women in Ministry
The afternoon continued with information about the BLO’s Recommendation on Resolving the Dilemma of Women in Pastoral Leadership. Conference Pastor Layton Friesen explained the lengthy and involved process the Conference had gone through to discern together how to move forward while respecting each other, giving each other freedom to minister best to our unique communities, and maintaining unity in the EMC. The material Friesen went through is available from the Conference office. There were a number of questions on who could vote and confusion about who was and wasn’t credentialed. Friesen also pointed out that if the vote didn’t pass this wasn’t over because “we still have this dilemma that we need to come to some kind of agreement about in how we’re going to move forward.”
Getting in Step with the Rhythm of Jesus
The vote was held at this time and Friesen went on to give an overview of the past year.
The struggle this year, he said, has been with our “loss of control.” This has “revealed that we in our churches had…a kind of artificial, human-based rhythm and control.” We had secular control in the sense that we “made church happen,” Friesen said. “That ability that we have as human beings to make things happen” has been shaken in the last year which “leaves us now exposed in a new way to the Holy Spirit.” We have an opportunity, he said, to get back in step with the rhythm of Jesus: his pace, his path, and in his control.
Friesen then shared the BLO vision of a season of spiritual renewal. The BLO invites EMC churches to walk through the life of Jesus beginning with Advent and going through to Pentecost. Through this initiative, EMCers will be invited to fall in love with the One who compelled us to become Christians in the first place. Information will be shared throughout the next year.
The day ended with a breakout discussion on how to thrive in the next year followed by the results of the vote.
The recommendation failed to pass. The BLO, in partnership with the General Board, will continue to work on finding a solution to help the EMC work together.