Variety of opinions led to “interesting discussions”
by Kathy Heinrichs Wiest, MCC News Service and a Meetinghouse report by Paul Schrag
Mennonite Brethren were among the dozens of stakeholders around the world who took part in a major review and discernment effort for Mennonite Central Committee(MCC). Entitled “New Wine/New Wineskins: Reshaping MCC for the 21st Century,” the comprehensive review addressed the organization’s vision and structure and calls for significant changes in how MCC organizes itself.
The 18-month discernment process produced seven foundational statements to guide the work of MCC. The statements were adopted last summer in a final New Wineskins summit and MCC binational (U.S. and Canada) board meetings held at Hillsboro (Kan.) MB Church. By the end of 2009 each of MCC’s regional and national boards had also endorsed the summit results.
U.S. Mennonite Brethren executive director Ed Boschman represented the U.S. Mennonite Brethren churches on the 34-member Inquiry Task Force (ITF) that served as the clearinghouse for the broad input MCC received. “My part on the ITF put me into the mainstream,” Boschman says, “and gave me the opportunity to speak in behalf of our family to press some of the core values we hold dear to be integrated into the ministry.”
Included in the summit results is a new purpose statement for MCC’s work around the world: “MCC endeavors to share God’s love and compassion for all ‘In the Name of Christ’ by responding to basic human needs and working for peace and justice.”
“This is the statement that people should memorize,” says Arli Klassen, executive director of MCC binational. “This is what we believe God has called MCC to do in its history and in the future. Now we have found shared words to express it.”
Boschman says he pushed hard to ensure the inclusion of the phrase “in the name of Christ” as part of the core. From an MB perspective it was a “nonnegotiable.” He was encouraged to see that other participants also felt strongly about the centrality of a Christian witness at the core of MCC’s work.
Klassen notes that this is the first time the words “in the name of Christ,” which have expressed MCC’s Christian witness for decades, are incorporated in the organization’s foundational statements.
Placing priority on MCC’s work of meeting human need was another issue of concern for Boschman. “Need-meeting and relief ministries are the core values that MCC delivers for (the Mennonite Brethren),” he says, because those activities tie in most directly with the church’s call to evangelize. “I recognize that (MCC’s) mandate is not evangelism,” he says, but Mennonite Brethren value the work of MCC that can “directly connect to the redeeming message of Jesus.”
Other voices at the table called for an equal emphasis on peace and justice work, making for what Boschman called “interesting discussions.” In the end, both values were reflected in the document. While Boschman was disappointed that relief work was not given the higher priority, he felt that his concerns were heard and shared by others on the task force.
MCC priorities identified through the New Wine/New Wineskins process are:
- justice and peace-building,
- disaster relief,
- sustainable community development.
The new statements, explains Klassen, both reflect MCC’s historic commitment to relief, development and peace and clearly state that peace cannot be built without addressing injustice.
Boschman was also among the voices calling for a statement of faith under which MCC should function. A global Anabaptist statement of “Shared Convictions” adopted by Mennonite World Conference in 2006 became part of the summit results. “Shared Convictions” lists seven beliefs that unite Anabaptist churches around the world.
Issues addressed include: God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the authority of the Bible, the global community of faith, salvation and peacemaking.
This is the first time MCC has had a statement of faith, Klassen says, noting that it has always drawn theology from the churches to which it is accountable. Many churches, she says, expressed strong affirmation for including these shared Christian faith convictions in MCC’s foundational statements.
Strengthening MCC’s connection to churches was one of the goals of the New Wineskins process. Boschman saw evidence that this had been accomplished and says that, “it resulted in a new culture of ownership for the churches” and a “reconnection with the church conferences.”
Beyond making connections with the North American churches and conference, the New Wineskins process was specifically designed to bring the global church into the conversation. Over 2,000 people from 50 countries met in 60 meetings where leaders listened to people reflect on MCC’s impact and envision MCC’s future.
MCC wants a closer relationship with all of its supporting churches, leaders say.
“The churches feel they don’t have enough say in what MCC is doing,” Klassen says, “That’s churches all over the world, not just North America. We needed to find a way to be more responsive.”
The process was reflective of MCC’s approach in all its work around the world. MCC does its work in partnership with churches and other partner agencies and builds bridges to connect people and ideas across cultural, political and economic divides. “We don’t do our work just by giving out financial grants—we work at building relationships,” Klassen says.
Ron Flaming, MCC’s director of international programs, says: “The conversations have led us to a clearer sense of the church being front and center. We want to be a part of the worldwide community. What form that will take is still a question.”
While the form is yet to be decided, the process is clearly leading to major changes in the structure that undergirds MCC’s work globally. The plan calls for ending MCC binational, the part of MCC that administers a $36.76 million budget for ministries in 65 countries. International programs would be transferred to MCC U.S., MCC Canada and Anabaptist service agencies in other countries as they develop.
Replacing MCC binational would be a new central office that would lead the entire system of MCC organizations, which currently include the U.S. and Canadian national MCCs, plus four U.S. regions and five Canadian provinces.
Klassen estimates a new central office, probably not in the United States, could be established in three to five years. Currently MCC binational is in Akron, Pa., where MCC U.S. is also based.
The MCC system-wide endorsement of the foundational statements is encouragement for the next step in the process—consensus on the revised structure, Klassen adds. Structural recommendations are expected to be endorsed in 2011 and fully implemented in 2012.
“There were points of despair or frustration in this re-visioning process, but there also was always a sense of commitment to listen to God through the voices of the faith community. I believe the Holy Spirit has been at work, leading MCC,” Klassen says.
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