Speaking of women…

In a kind of offshoot from my previous post, I find myself checking in at my 2006 journals, to see whether my memory of the awe, even euphoria, I felt when the Mennonite Brethren conference I was part of passed a resolution freeing women for ministry leadership (this after a long process of debate and study over many years) is accurate or if it has been imagined into stronger color over time.

I find it’s accurate enough. I was trembling through the final discussions of that particular convention, I noted, because it mattered that much, and then came the surprise, even shock, of the resolution passing, solidly enough (the news report here), a sense of “wow” as it began to sink in. “I feel that something has been loosed on earth, as we prayed…” my private pages said, bursting with gratitude.

Nearly six years later, I confess I’m disappointed in the “since then.” My impression — anecdotal, I realize, since I’m no longer involved in the conference — is that while women’s participation goes on a-pace in some congregations, the ethos of the Mennonite Brethren denomination as such has not changed to reflect that decision — or “the spirit, the direction” it represented, as one of the men who worked hard on that process put it to me recently. Perhaps it’s even regressed. Continue reading

The top 10 Mennonite Brethren stories of the decade

The transition from old to new year is always a great time for picks and pans, for looking back and making lists. This year, of course, there was an entire decade to grab on to and re-consider. 

The international and national scenes have already been covered by the media pundits, but I put my hand to a list of my own on a rather smaller scale: the top 10 stories of the decade for Mennonite Brethren.

Although I worked with the denomination for five years of the decade, please be assured there’s nothing official or sanctioned about this list, and please realize too the opinions and impressions are entirely my own.

In no particular order then, and for tried-and-true MB conference junkies only (I’m warning), here are my picks for the top MB stories of the decade:
Continue reading

The significance of siblings

Events such as the death of an elderly parent, which my siblings and I experienced this week, bring the original configuration of a family into sharper focus. We were eight children, a relatively large family even for its time. We were also the children of a minister who served various churches, none of them in communities where our grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins lived. It has always seemed to me that for all the disadvantages created both by the size of our family and its isolation from our relatives, there were advantages as well, including a strong enjoyment of one another — squabbles notwithstanding — and reliance upon each other for memories around the year’s special days, when families are the key unit of celebration.

It’s been a long time since the last child left home to form her own household, and even longer since the first left to form his. Over the decades we’ve become our own extended families, with five of the eight of us now grandparents. Shaped by divergent career paths, the people we married, and our scattering to reside in four Canadian provinces and one U.S. state, we’ve become much more diverse than we were in our family of origin. We’ve remained relatively close, certainly very cordial, but we’re together occasionally rather than frequently, and certainly much less than siblings who remain in the same place geographically. We have our own “space”; we have our own lives. 

The past week, though, in planning and participating in our father’s funeral, it was the “originals” who met via telephone conference call to make decisions about the arrangements. In the storytelling and slide-viewing that happened once we’d gathered here in Winnipeg, it was, inevitably, the original bunch of us that again came to the fore. Without intending to (and here our spouses are the best witness), we probably slipped back into earlier roles, banter, “insider” references. This deceased man was most particularly ours and, for a while, we went back to this knowledge with whatever joys and wariness it might entail, as children of the household he had formed. 

Truly, the sibling bond is an interesting one. It’s complex, but somehow simple too. Virginia Adams, in “The Sibling Bond: A Lifelong Love/Hate Dialectic,” an article I saved in my files from the June 1981 Psychology Today, says the link between brothers and sisters “is in some ways the most unusual of family relationships…the longest lasting…and the most egalitarian.” 

In the church
In the same file, I found a 2004 Sojourners article by S. Scott Bartchy called “Secret siblings.” Bartchy describes Jesus’ “radical new vision” of believers as family and goes on to say that popular English translations of Paul’s letters have in many cases mistranslated the Greek word for brothers and sisters by using non-family terms. This has diminished the impact of what is proposed as a way of being in the church.

Sibling relationships, as Adams reminds, are indeed unusual, long-lasting, and egalitarian. Implied in them is fairness, equality, the honor of the family, love and support in spite of diversity. When my church — the Mennonite Brethren — was debating women in ministry leadership, it seemed to me that the arguments against it sometimes inserted notions about marriage into the discussion, as if every woman in the congregation was the “wife” of every man. Yes, Paul also compares marriage and the church in Ephesians 5:22 ff, but the church entire is meant vis a vis Christ, with both the marriage relationship and the relationship between church and Christ illuminating the other. But to be siblings of Jesus in the church, well, that’s another perspective all together.

The past week has reminded me how formative, powerful, and life-giving the sibling bond is, and can continue to be. Freshly appreciative of its significance, I want to also probe its meaning for the church. Our identity there as “sisters and brothers” is familiar enough. But, I’m wondering, have we really grasped its many implications?