Landmark event commemorates 150-year-old MB movement
by J Janzen
At the 2010 Winter Olympics, the stylized image of an inukshuk was omnipresent. The inukshuk, used by Inuit peoples of the Arctic for communication and survival, is a stone landmark in a form of a person. Often, it was a marker along travel routes. In other instances, theinukshuk indicated that one had arrived at an important destination—a place where food could be found or a place where the spirits dwell. As the Vancouver 2010 emblem, the inukshuk symbolized friendship, cooperation and the welcoming of the world.
While the icon itself was absent, the sentiment for which the inukshuk stand were present as Mennonite Brethren from the U.S. and Canada gathered in the metro Vancouver area July 12–18 for the North American celebration of the MB Church’s 150th anniversary. The week’s program included four distinct events.
- The Renewing Identity and Mission consultation (RIM), organized by the Historical Commission and the Center for MB Studies, took place July 12–14 at MBBS-ACTS on the Trinity Western University campus in Langley, B.C.
- Celebration 2010 took place July 14-16 (Wednesday evening, Thursday and Friday evening) at Chandos Pattison Auditorium in Surrey.
- While Conection 2010, the US Conference (USC) convention, took place July 15-16 (Thursday evening and Friday during the day) at Gracepoint Community Church, Surrey, B.C., Gathering 2010, the Canadian Conference of MB Churches (CMBC) convention, took place at North Langley Community Church.
- Saturday, July 18, conference participants spent the day visiting church plants in the city of Vancouver, concluding with a worship service at the Vancouver Convention Center, overlooking Stanley Park and the now dormant Olympic cauldron.
Marking the path
If attendance is any indication, North American Mennonite Brethren are keenly interested in knowing where they’ve been, in order to understand who they are and where they ought to go. Billed as a time of reflection and conversation on the identity and mission of Mennonite Brethren so that “we can live and serve Jesus faithfully within our changing times,” the RIM consultation attracted 304 people (66 Americans, 226 Canadians, 12 international guests). This was a pleasant surprise, given that organizers had expected only 200 attendees.
As might be expected, Mennonite Brethren continue to wrestle with the question, “Who are we?” It appears, however, that clear markers have been established. Perhaps it’s because a younger and more multicultural generation of leaders have joined the conversation or because time has provided a broader perspective. But Mennonite Brethren seem more prepared to affirm that they are a unique mix of evangelicalism and Anabaptism, and are ready and willing to build upon that dual identity.
As the consultation came to a close, a number of clear directions for the future emerged. RIM participants left with a deeper appreciation of MB heritage and a much stronger sense of family. There was strong desire to be people who continue to pray and study Scripture together. There was a strong call to pursue a more holistic mission that integrates heart and mind, witness and service, church planting and peacemaking.
Friendship, cooperation and welcome
For the first time since 2002, when the General Conference was dissolved, Canadian and U.S. Mennonite Brethren met to both worship God and hear about their cooperative ventures. Organizers were disappointed that attendance was lower than expected, but delegates and guests enjoyed a rich time of singing and storytelling.
The Wednesday evening session focused on MB identity, highlighting the fact that the renewal movement of 1860 has grown to become “a beautiful mosaic”—an international, multicultural community of Christians. In fact, John Sankara Rao of India Nzuzi Mukawa of DR Congo acknowledged that American, Canadian and European MBs have welcomed the world into God’s kingdom as a result of their cooperation in mission.
Thursday’s binational session included a brief update from the Historical Commission, followed by lengthy reports from MBMS International (MBMSI) and MB Biblical Seminary (MBBS). Delegates rejoiced in the many stories of people around the world experiencing friendship with Jesus as a result of MBMSI’s work. There was also a sense of loss as MBBS reported on the recent decision to transfer MBBS-Fresno to Fresno Pacific University. Delegates were saddened that a long-time cooperative effort was now at an end.
By Friday evening, delegates were in a celebratory mood once more. Guests were reminded again that Mennonite Brethren are a community of people called to mission. Testimonies and the plenary speaker called the MB Church to continue to pray and work at welcoming the world into a relationship with Jesus.
Refuel and reorient
Almost lost in the shuffle was the fact that Gathering 2010 marked the Canadian Conference’s 100th anniversary. Thursday evening CCMBC delegates looked back on a century of changes in which Canadian Mennonite Brethren moved from an inward-looking, survival mentality to an outward-focused, mission mentality. Delegates celebrated the foresight of past leaders who exercised remarkably effective financial stewardship even as they built schools, churches and mission agencies. Delegates acknowledged that the blessings of the last century have not been without their challenges. Becoming a diverse family as a result of geography, immigration, evangelistic efforts and God’s blessing has meant that Canadian MBs have struggled to be a community and continue to wrestle with questions of unity and identity.
Recent changes at MB Biblical Seminary were a topic of conversation at both national conference business sessions. Although their questions were unique to their respective conferences, Canadian and U.S. delegates shared a common concern for how the recent decision to transfer MB Biblical Seminary-Fresno to Fresno Pacific University will impact theological education and pastoral training.
A sacred place
In the end, though some would have liked more prayer, or more Bible study, or more singing, Canadian and U.S. Mennonite Brethren left with a sense that they had encountered God. Having paused on the journey to celebrate the past and to take stock of the present, participants had a clear understanding that Mennonite Brethren remain far from perfect.
As they looked ahead, participants recognized that Mennonite Brethren aren’t entirely sure how they will make their way forward. Nevertheless, Americans and Canadians departed with the humble confidence that they were on sacred ground, knowing that the God they have followed for the last 150 years will lead them well into the next century-and-a-half.