Thursday, March 24, 2011

Maybe It Really Is That Simple

I have had the wonderful pleasure of attending the Annual Sessions of our Area Churches this winter. It was encouraging to experience the energy and excitement of those who have shared a long commitment to the work of the broader church. I also hear a common desire to see this commitment passed along to others.

I usually worship with a congregation in the Area Church following these meetings. This too has been an important way for me to better understand our Canadian Church family.

During one of those congregational visits I was able to meet with a small group of young adults. We talked about what it means to be church in a changing context. They described how their peers are busy, and seem to portray little interest in traditional church. There was however, a keen interest in being engaged with issues of poverty and social justice. It was suggested that a natural place for people to become engaged with the church is when the church engages with these issues. We also noted that having responsibilities at Worship Services increases the probability of young adults attending those Worship Services.

I found the conversation intriguing and insightful. These young adults were swimming against the current of contemporary society and making congregational involvement an important part of their lives. I felt honoured to be in the presence of such pioneers.

We continued the conversation, discussing how we might be able to increase the involvement of young adults in our congregations across Canada. As the dialogue came to a close, I noticed a young man sitting quietly among the circle. He had been engaged in the discussion but had not said a lot. So I asked him for his thoughts.

He paused for a moment and said; “Most of my friends are not interested in Church. It’s too bad, because I think they would really enjoy it.”

The group disbanded, but this final statement impressed me. It was such a simple assessment, but such a profound clarity. After debating effective ways to engage young adults, perhaps the solution is simpler than we realized. If we offer more involvement with Worship Services and congregational ministry, young adults might just find that they really do enjoy it.

Maybe it really is that simple.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Always Have Time for You

I was recently part of an Inter Faith delegation of National Faith/Church leaders that gathered at Parliament Hill. Our task was to meet with federal political party leaders - Liberals, Bloc Quebecois, NDP, and Conservatives - to urge the honouring of Canada's commitments towards the Millennium Development Goals.

After being ushered into the stately room we were soon being introduced to various MP's and their Aides. I thrust out my hand and identified myself as the General Secretary of Mennonite Church Canada.

"Mennonites," said the MP with a broad smile, "I always have time for Mennonites".

His statement caused a rush of two emotions. The immediate emotion was pride, a natural response to affirmation. But that was quickly pushed aside by a strong sense of heavy responsibility.

I realized that this affirmation was not a result of anything I had done. Rather it was the result of some prior experience. Either a person or several people had similarly identified themselves as Mennonites to this MP before. It was their integrity that obviously left a positive impression, and now I bore the responsibility to carry on that positive impression.

I smiled and returned his hearty handshake. And wondered whose testimony I must now support.

The experience reminded me of a common responsibility we all carry as God's People. As the MP continued around the circle, I silently prayed that my life too would require others to support a positive impression.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Easy Humour

One of my favourite tasks as General Secretary is to worship with one of our 225 congregations across Canada. It gives me plenty of food for thought. One of those snacks occurred recently during a speaking assignment.

I arrived at the congregation location and parked beside the cemetery. A quick scan revealed that one particular surname was very prominent. Conversations inside the building confirmed this as a current reality as well.

As I waited for my invitation as the morning speaker, I thought it would be funny to introduce myself by pretending to stumble on my name, by incorrectly using the prominent surname. “I would get a laugh out of that,” I smiled to myself.

But I hesitated. I noticed that the Song Leader in the service did not have the prominent surname. I realized how my little joke, although not intended, could easily make that person feel disassociated.

It would be easy humour. But easy humour that relies on insider knowledge or prior shared experiences always carries the possibility of making people feel excluded. We never intend to disregard anyone, but easy humour can make it difficult for others to fit in.

So, I abandoned the’ sure winner’ opening line and contemplated something more subtle and complex. I momentarily considered a seamless transition into one of my best “Knock, Knock” jokes. In the end, I opted not to share my humour, and instead chuckled to myself behind the pulpit.

Most of my humour is best appreciated by myself anyway. Besides, it’s easier that way.