Members share stories, reflect on themes of unity and diversity.
MWC release by Ron Rempel
In four days of meetings just prior to the July 21-26 Mennonite World Conference assembly, the General Council took additional steps in the journey toward interdependence in the global communion.
“During my ministry when planting a new church in Bogotá,” commented César García, MWC general secretary, “I dreamt of the day my local congregation would mature enough to become self-supporting, self-governing, and self-propagating…. Some time later I heard that, in addition to reflecting the three ‘selves,’ a church reaches maturity when it is also ‘self-theologizing’, i.e. able to make its own theology.”
“However,” he added, “it took me many years to discover what is obvious in the process of development of every living organism. True maturity is not reached when one is independent in all areas of life, but when one is capable of giving and receiving, of sharing with others what one has, as well as appreciating what others can bring to the table… in other words, when a person is interdependent.”
The General Council meeting included around 120 representatives from MWC member churches around the world. About half of their time together involved sharing stories and reflecting together on themes of unity and diversity.
Alfred Neufeld of Paraguay examined lessons from four historical areas of conflict: the ethnic versus the missionary church; militarism; the emerging versus the “departing” generation; and revival pietism versus enlightenment liberalism.
Fernando Enns of Germany reflected on the difference between “cheap” and “costly” unity. “It is not we who create unity,” he insisted, “but unity is created by participating in God’s relation of love.” The challenge, he added, is to determine the limits of diversity. The only basis for divisions, he suggested, is whenever the lordship of Christ is questioned. On most other matters, he urged forbearance of differences.
Martin Junge, the general secretary of the Lutheran World Federation, emphasized that the church is always both local and global. A focus on only the local (contextuality) without the global (catholicity) leads to provincialism, he declared. And a focus on the global without the local leads to imperialism.
General Council members shared stories from Ukraine, Zimbabwe, Panama, Angola, Venezuela, India, South Korea and other countries. A common theme was an expression of appreciation for prayers and expressions of solidarity from other MWC member churches.
In their business sessions, the General Council sought to strengthen the organizational structure that make global relationships possible.
According to García, MWC wants “to develop a global structure that, like the skeleton of a living organism, facilities the growth and development of this interdependent being we call MWC without drowning it with excessive institutionalization…. The structure that MWC has been developing seeks to avoid the temptation of being rigid and exactly the same in every local context. We seek to be sensitive to the reality of our congregations in each region, molding ourselves according to the different realities our community faces.”
Each of the four MWC commissions—Faith and Life, Mission, Peace, Deacons —which have been in place for only the past six years, reported on their vision and work which included a wide range of involvements with only limited funds available to them.
The General Council also heard that relations with and among member churches have been enhanced through the work of regional representatives on each continent. As finances permit, plans call for the appointment of additional regional representatives in Africa and Latin America.
To fund the work of MWC, each member church is asked for a “fair share” contribution based on the “purchasing power parity” of each country. All contributions from individuals and congregations of MWC member churches count toward their fair share.
In an evening gathering, the General Council expressed appreciation for Danisa Ndlovu of Zimbabwe, who is completing his six-year term as the MWC president at this Assembly. The incoming president, Nelson Kraybill of the United States, began his term as president immediately following the Assembly. In its deliberations, the General Council also elected Rebecca Osiro of Kenya as MWC vice-president, to succeed Janet Plenert of Canada.
USMB are represented on the MWC General Council by Bill Braun, Dennis Becker and Don Morris.
Photo: The MWC Executive Committee beginning in 2015 (from left): Agus Setianto (Indonesia), César García (general secretary, Colombia), Paul Phinehas (India), Lisa Carr Pries (Canada), Rainer Burkart (Germany), Iris de Leon Hartshorn (USA), Jean-Paul Peterschmitt (France), Sandra Campos (Costa Rica), Steven Mang’ana (Tanzania), Thuma Hamakang’andu (Zambia), Nelson Kraybill (president, USA), Dario Ramirez (Paraguay), Ernst Bergen (treasurer, Paraguay). Missing from photo: Rebecca Osiro (vice-president, Kenya). Photo by Merle Good