Tag Archives: EMC Conference Council

Delegates Respond to Survey Results, Restructuring Proposal

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.

Council approves budget and ponders wider relationships

by Terry M. Smith

ROSENORT, Man.—Conference council delegates on Nov. 26, 2016, approved a budget of $1,950,000, and pondered both a report on a trip to Israel/Palestine and relationships with other affiliate organizations.

Welcome and Devotional

Moderator Abe Bergen welcomed delegates. Ward Parkinson, pastor of host Rosenort EMC,  focused on the beatitudes of Matt. 5:1-12, saying the Church has “strange currency” in rejoicing over mourning and meekness. Christ’s kingdom is not a matter of celestial distance, but of values. Keep listening to a different drumbeat. As Mother Theresa said, we must never fear to be a sign of contradiction to the world. Let’s find our identity in nothing but Christ and his drumbeat. There is the blessing of God, he said.

Board of Church Ministries

Jessica Wichers, BCM chair, said that the board is actively working to provide a Balanced Digital format in early 2017. Readers can check out The Messenger’s new digital format at ISSUU.com. There will be six print and six website issues in 2017, though the board desires to return to 12 print issues at some point.

Kevin Wiebe, BCM member and pastor of New Life, introduced Povology, a six-part video series created by him about “poverty and the church, intended for small group studies.” It is officially approved by the EMC and is free to stream or download at http://www.povology.com. It features interviews with Shane Claiborne, Dr. Ron Sider, Bruxy Cavey, Dr. Ray Vander Zaag, missionaries, professors, and EMC pastors. Responding to the presentation, moderator Abe Bergen told Kevin, “You rock!”

Kim Muehling introduced the newly formed Worship Committee, which will engage in theological investigation and identify practical resources to be shared. It has no desire to be an echo chamber, she said.

Steinbach Bible College

Professor Gord Penner said a high percentage of graduates are volunteering in church life, giving, recommending the college, and satisfied by their experiences within it. New are an online BA, a BA in Marketplace Ministry, an Activate Discipleship School. Take a course, be grounded in the faith, and go back to serve, he said. Abe Bergen told delegates that Gord Penner is the EMC’s 2017 convention speaker.

Board of Missions

Ken Zacharias, foreign secretary, said he and BOM chair Fred Buhler recently visited missionaries and ministries in Paraguay. Some workers retire, but continue to minister. He and Fred were with Judy and Dave Schmidt when they received news of Judy’s having cancer. Schmidts are grateful for prayer, and Ken asked that they be upheld in prayer.

The Mingu Gauzu team carries on. Tres Palmas, with about 40 to 50 people in attendance, has many ministries: in Ste. Teresa; in radio, counseling and addiction ministries; a village outreach; a school open to German-speaking Brazilians; a hospital open to all; and school and camp ministry.

Darren Plett (Pleasant Valley) was part of a prayer team to Guadalajara, Mexico, and spoke of being deeply affected by the missionaries’ commitment and contacts. The church plant is a cell group model focused on upper middle class people who will later reach people of a lower economic class. The cell groups occasionally meet. If you believe prayer makes a difference, go on a prayer team, Plett said. Tim Dyck said a $500 subsidy is available for pastors who visit missionaries.

Moderator Abe Bergen and Tim Dyck, general secretary, visited cross-cultural workers in sensitive areas. Pray for these and other workers. Beth Koehler is the new volunteer prayer coordinator for EMC Missions. The Day of Prayer for EMC Missions is Feb. 19, 2017. Lester Olfert promoted the 2017 50th anniversary celebration tour in Nicaragua (April 4-11, 2017), inviting people to attend.

MCC Canada

Executive director Don Peters said that the scope of MCC’s work is worldwide, with $73.2 million of expenses last year (MCC Canada and U.S. combined) in 54 countries.  MCC’s work is done in the name of Christ on “your behalf,” he said. The Nigerian school girls kidnapped two years ago were connected with the Church of the Brethren, part of the Anabaptist family, he said.

Highlights of Meeting

Delegates were encouraged to report to their churches in these areas:

The Messenger moving to mixed print/digital format beginning in January

Newly released video study series on Povology (www.povology.com)

BCM has restarted the worship committee to serve our churches

New options coming to SBC (online BA, Marketplace Ministry BA,

Activate Discipleship School)

Nicaragua Exposure Trip to celebrate 50th anniversary

EMC Day of Prayer moved to Feb. 19

Report on Israel/Palestine

Survey will be sent to churches on role of women in leadership

Survey for assisting in reimagining Convention

Treasurers’ Day Jan. 21 at St Vital EMC

Statement of Faith Review nearing completion

Celebrating World Fellowship, Sunday, Jan. 22

– Erica Fehr

Israel/Palestine Trip

Abe Bergen and Tim Dyck reporting on being part of MCC’s learning tour in Israel. Canada and the U.S. are western allies of Israel. The Church has been in Israel from the start. While some people are concerned about MCC’s perspective, MCC is “pro church” in Israel, not pro-Palestinian, they said.

MCC’s work is well-respected by the Church in Israel. They told stories: a Palestinian Christian vineyard owner refuses to sell his land or treat those who oppose him as enemies; of a young boy’s being killed by a sniper; of an MCC Grow Project; and of how Jordan accepts many refugees. Jesus wept over Jerusalem, and he died to bring peace between peoples (Eph. 2). Pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Ps. 122:1). Bergen and Dyck are willing to dialogue regarding the situation in Israel.

General Board

The Reimagining Committee has started its work, it was said. The Conference Restructuring Committee has met three times. The role of women in ministry issue will be picked up. Stephanie Unger, on the Reimagining Committee, said it wants convention to be open to everyone. There’s a need to find out why people aren’t coming and what they want to see. A survey has been developed; people are encouraged to invite non-attenders to complete it.

Abundance Canada

Harold Penner, stewardship consultant, said Abundance Canada changed its name from Mennonite Foundation of Canada because “God is generous; God owns, we manage; God invites us to give our whole selves; God invites us to share.” People felt the name was exclusive and being a foundation seemed too restrictive. The same services will be offered.

Board of Trustees

Tim Dyck  reported that the salaries of Executive and Administrative staff are under review. The Manitoba Pension Committee is reviewing the EMC Pension Plan. The phone system is being upgraded. Jan. 21 will be an EMC Treasurers’ Day.

The EMC budget proposed for 2017 is five percent higher than 2016 (from $1,868, 000 to $1,950,000). Only a three percent increase is asked of churches; the remainder comes from an increase in estate giving. One church said it was voting against the budget. Delegates voted in favour of the budget.

Board of Leadership and Outreach

Vice chair Alvin Plett said that Ralph Unger was asked to serve as interim conference pastor as the search continues. Unger reported that the Statement of Faith review saw all articles, except one, receive strong support. Footwashing received 75 percent support to move it to Church Practices. The process will be completed in 2017. A church mediators training session will occur on Feb. 18, and a New Leaders’ Orientation held on March 18-19 (following SBC’s Leadership Conference).

Charles Koop, church planting coordinator, said that a pastor has been found for Living Faith Fellowship, Two Hills, Alta. (John Froese); there is a need for more workers; immigrants are coming because they want more opportunity; a Chinese church is asking about membership in the EMC; and little is happening within Caucasian European circles. The Dauphin ministry is being assessed, a partnership with C2C will assist in church planting, and additional funds are being sought for church plants. We want more people to come to faith in Jesus, he said.

Mennonite World Conference

Layton Friesen, EMC representative, said his awareness of the wider Anabaptist church was strengthened through attending MWC’s gatherings in Winnipeg in 1991, Paraguay in 2007, and Pennsylvania in 2015. The next General Assembly is in Indonesia in 2021.

There are four commissions: Deacons (looking for churches in distress), Peace (trying to love enemies), Faith and Life (theology), and Mission (outreach). A name change has been floated. According to MWC, based on numbers and location, the EMC is asked to contribute $22,000 to its global fund; it gives $7,000.

He asked if a global connection is important to your congregation, if it is wanted; and, if so, how to do it. He invited churches to make MWC Fellowship Sunday an event each year. Suggestions are available on sermons, songs, liturgies, and prayer. An offering, equal to the cost of one lunch, could be forwarded.

Format

In a change, delegates met around small tables, discussed questions provided about boards and affiliate organizations, a recorder made written notes later handed in, and some of groups’ thoughts were shared publicly. It was generally well received.

Blessing to Churches

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Terry M. Smith

Toward the end of the day, national staff members spoke of the privilege, encouragement, and blessing that comes from serving the EMC. Specific encouragements were listed (see sidebar). They ended by saying,  “We don’t take your support for granted. We want to continue to earn your trust, and serve the EMC churches to the best of our ability. We thank you and bless you for your continued support.”

Blessing from National Staff to Churches

As your national staff, we often reflect on what a great privilege it is for us to be serving all of our EMC churches through the ministries of our Conference. We sense the encouragement and the blessings of you, our EMC churches, as we engage in our daily activities. Some of the specific ways that you have encouraged us over the course of this past year include:

Your demonstrations of interest by asking relevant questions. Sometimes the questions are easy to answer and sometimes they are hard questions. But always, they are encouraging.

Your prayers on our behalf. We appreciate that you take the time to tell us that you are praying for us in our roles.

Your enthusiasm and service for missions. One church requested the contact information for all EMC missionaries so that they could send a personalized Christmas card to each.

Another church has been connecting with every missionary that is on home furlough, inviting them to report on Sunday mornings. This is a tremendous encouragement to us as well as to the missionaries.

Your invitations to serve in your churches through meetings, Sunday School presentations, or Sunday worship services. It is always encouraging to know that you are interested in the things that we are excited about.

Special thanks to the woman who routinely brings “snacks” to the EMC office.

Your enthusiasm for Christian education in many forms – through Conference produced materials, retreats, and beyond.

Your responses to the many surveys that we have sent to churches over this past year.

You send high quality volunteers to serve on the many boards and committees of the EMC. They serve with little recognition and without pay.

Your commitment to gathering for discussion, decision making and developing friendships.

You open up your churches to events such as this Conference Council gathering, and you serve joyfully and graciously.

Of course, you send funds on a regular basis to ensure that the ministries continue to function.

We don’t take your support for granted. We want to continue to earn your trust, and serve the EMC churches to the best of our ability. We thank you and bless you for your continued support.