A pastor friend’s jaw dropped when I walked into the 31st annual church gathering of Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) last Saturday morning.
“Why would you come to ‘conference’ when you don’t have to anymore?” another pastor asked. “I’m here because I want to be,” I responded. “This is home.”
Mennonite Church Eastern Canada (MCEC) is indeed home. I’ve attended the March or April AGM at least 28 times. Before that, I took in at least five spring gatherings of one of its predecessors – Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec (MCOQ).
Looking back, I remember that I first showed up in 1980 when my husband Sam began serving as MCOQ’s secretary. Then I continued to attend as various jobs I held required it.
Seeing a table of youth this year, I recalled that from 1982-85 MCOQ gave me my first ministry position as conference youth minister. I laughed to myself about the big deal we made when treasurer Omar Bauman explained the budget to the youth delegates. We invited them to check whether Omar was wearing a new pair of shoes….
Last Saturday as always, I rejoiced when we celebrated congregations exploring with us via emerging church membership status – Assemblée de la Grâce (Montreal) and Matu-Chin Christian Church (Kitchener). I silently applauded when delegates spoke of developing natural connections with neighbours through the Re-learning Community process sponsored by MCEC in recent years.
I was transported back to the mission committee “reports” of the late 80’s when three Ontario conferences were in process of amalgamating. I chaired one of the mission groups then, and also served as interim missions minister for one year.
Our reports on the conference floor were lively affairs, involving lots of people, as we tried to familiarize delegates from three conferences with one another’s dearly held church plants, service ministries, hopes and dreams. In 1988 in Leamington, we mounted an evening celebration called A Festival of New Creation. In 1989 in Kitchener, we focused on Sharing the Light. (On an advance planning visit to Leamington, I recall running a stop sign at a four-way rural crossroads in the area, greatly alarming my passenger and myself. I still shudder every time I stop there….)
In l987 MCOQ ordained me as I began serving the well-established St. Jacobs congregation as associate pastor. Later the Waterloo North congregation, formed during the time I was interim missions minister, called me as their lead minister. So of course I continued to show up at the annual spring gathering. And I’ve done so since – partly to see old friends, partly because I love the music, partly because the speakers are generally inspiring. All these things nourish me.
But I also continue to attend because I’m curious, and because I know I will be stretched. I felt comfortable with the way MCOQ and the early MCEC did things in the l980’s. I enjoyed being part of getting those things done! But 2018 is not 1988. Faithfulness does and must look different than it did in the 1980’s.
I was particularly pleased this year to see competent female leaders willing to take on difficult positions – Marilyn Rudy-Froese as church leadership minister and Arli Klassen as moderator. I was pleased to listen to the innovative problem solving of pastors such as Louise Wideman and Ruth Boehm.
Each year, as part of the Mennonite Spiritual Directors of Eastern Canada, I pray for our annual spring gathering. I’m grateful for those leading MCEC, and pray that they will continue to be open to the nudgings of the Spirit, presenting to us ways of being faithful that fit the situation in 2018, as we endeavored to do in the l980’s.
Thanks be to God for the challenges and opportunities of 1988 and of 2018 – and grace for all that is to come….
Question for Reflection:
Where – if at all – have you been nourished by church gatherings beyond the congregation?
Next Week: Cancer Journey Part II: Waiting