MCC unveils “New Wine”

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Agency seeks closer partnerships with churches

by Paul Schrag and Myra Holmes

During Mennonite Central Committee’s most extensive review in 30 years, leaders asked big questions, such as, “Who is the keeper of the MCC soul?” To find the answers, they convened 60 meetings involving more than 2,000 people from 50 countries over 18 months. 

Ed Boschman, U.S. Conference (USC) executive director, represented U.S. Mennonite Brethren in this process as a member of the Inquiry Task Force. Pakisa Tshimika of College Community Church (MB), Clovis, Calif., and Jessica Mast of Butler MB Church, Fresno, Calif., were also on the task force.

The result was a plan for change in an agency that elder historian and former MCC worker Robert Kreider on June 6 called “one of the most beloved of all programs that our people have.” The changes—approved by the MCC binational board, which met June 5-6 at Hillsboro (Kan.) MB Church—aim to clarify MCC’s vision, simplify its structure and make it a closer partner with Anabaptist churches around the world. The meeting brought near to an end a process MCC called “New Wine, New Wineskins.” The review sought to prescribe a structure (“wineskin”) and define a vision (“wine”) for a future of emerging global equality.

The plan calls for restructuring MCC into a system of interdependent national or multinational agencies. It redefines MCC as “a worldwide ministry of Anabaptist churches,” expanding upon MCC’s longtime definition as a ministry of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ churches in Canada and the United States.

“We have worldwide program, but we don’t have worldwide ownership,” says John Stoesz, executive director of MCC Central States. “This opens up those possibilities.”

Participants use words such as “momentous” and “historic” to describe the board’s approval of the “New Wine, New Wineskins” documents.

In an interview after the June meetings Boschman says that, as a Mennonite Brethren, he called for a re-centering on Christ as the reason for MCC’s work during the process. “On behalf of our MB family, I was deliberate about encouraging a refocusing on ‘In the name of Christ,’” he says. “Secondly, I called us not to forget that the need-meeting-relief has been and ought to be a core value.”

He says that the New Wine document presented at the Hillsboro meetings is fairly Christ-centered and connected to the church. “That is a good thing,” he says. The document endorses a statement of “shared convictions” adopted by the Mennonite World Conference General Council in 2006. That statement lists seven beliefs that unite Anabaptist churches around the world.

But Boshman would like to see an even closer connection between MCC’s work and the “capital G Good News.” He also expresses concern that relief work could lose priority to peace, justice and political activism. He says that from conversations with MB church members and leaders, he believes those two concerns express “an MB pulse.”

As for the New Wineskins document on MCC structure, Boschman believes MCC is headed in a good direction, although more work remains to be done. The plan calls for ending MCC binational, the part of MCC that administers a $36.7 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.

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.

“There is no center right now in the MCC system,” says executive director Arli Klassen. “We have a cumbersome decision-making process between 12 boards that has become almost paralyzing.”

Klassen estimates a new central office, probably not in the U.S., could be established in three to five years, although summit participants did not discuss possible locations. MCC binational is currently in Akron, Pa., where MCC U.S. also is based.

The long-term goal is for national or multinational entities to manage programs within their own region. This also could ease dissatisfaction Canadians feel about the centralization of international programs at the binational office in Akron.

“Canadian constituents in particular have felt that the international program has been run from a U.S. perspective,” Klassen says.

Boschman says that as the details are worked out, it will be critical to clarify the nature of the partnership between the U.S. and Canada.

A task force will meet in September to work out details of the “Wineskins” plan and then submit it to the 12 MCC boards for approval. Boschman says that once the New Wine/New Wineskins documents have been finalized, the USC Leadership Board will evaluate and make recommendations for a Mennonite Brethren response as necessary.

Allen Hiebert of Hillsboro, Kan., and Laura Schmidt Roberts of Fresno, Calif., represent U.S. Mennonite Brethren on the MCC binational board. Mennonite Brethren are also appointed to the national and regional MCC boards.

Paul Schrag attended the MCC meetings on behalf of Meetinghouse, an association of Mennonite and Brethren in Christ publications.

MCC budget goes from surplus to cuts

A year ago Mennonite Central Committee was looking for ways to spend a surplus. The global economic recession has turned that dilemma into a fond memory. At its June 5 meeting, the MCC binational board approved a 10 percent cut in the international program budget for 2009-10. Expenses are projected to be $36.7 million, down from $41 million in 2008-09. 

Helping to achieve the cuts, in addition to reductions in spending on programs, are a freeze on some hiring, travel reductions and salary cuts. Despite the overall belt-tightening, spending on programs in Sudan is being increased by $200,000 and in Congo by $80,000.

Phil Rush, resource generation director, praises the constituency’s generosity. “We have an awful lot to be thankful for,” he says. “Compared to many church-related nonprofit agencies, we find ourselves in a position that is envied by some others.”

In the past year, Ron Flaming, director of international program, says MCC has:

  • provided food aid worth $15.2 million, a 33 percent increase over the previous year, much of that in Africa;
  • completed a $22 million tsunami response in Asia, the largest response to a disaster in MCC’s history;
  • seen an 18 percent increase in international service personnel, from 353 to 417. — Paul Schrag
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