The Gathering 2021 Moderator Address
“To the church of God in Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, Manitoba, Belize, Mexico and Bolivia, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
This past year has been a test for all of us as individuals, for each of our churches and ministries and for us a Conference.
We have been tested in unity – are we unified around a common purpose even if we disagree on how to handle the pandemic and the restrictions put on us by the government.
We have been tested in our resolve to minister in spite of limitations and challenges.
We have been tested in our agility and ability to adjust to constant change.
We have been tested in character – grace, perseverance, love, patience, joy, peace.
We have been tested in focus on direction and purpose – are we living for what God wants or living for our own comforts and desires.
We have been tested above all, in our faith in God in trying times.
From my limited vantage point, it seems to me that our churches, while struggling at times, have passed the tests put before us. I want to personally thank you for supporting your local church leadership and ministries as well as our shared ministry as an EMMC. The EMM Conference is only as strong as our churches. If our churches are weak, we are weak, if they are strong, we are strong.
Financially we have done better than we expected. We ended 2020/21 in the black. Praise the Lord! We thank each one of you for your sacrificial gifts toward our shared ministry. When the pandemic hit, we all wondered how each of our ministries would fare and whether or not we would struggle financially. Our income was lower than expected, but our expenses were also lower than expected. We have spent a little more on tech solutions but much less on travel, both here in Canada and in Bolivia. Your gifts have enabled us to:
Support our missionary staff in Bolivia and Belize as they reach the colony Mennonites with the Hope of new life in Christ. This involves radio programming, evangelism, church planting and education through grade school, adult, theological. Just recently we were able to purchase another existing radio station in Bolivia so that, together with our current station, we will be able to reach the majority of Mennonites in Bolivia.
Support the many associate missionaries from our churches who are serving with other organizations all around the world.
Continue to publish the Recorder and be active on social media.
Help our own churches with leadership training and ongoing pastoral support.
Coming alongside three of our local churches through crisis situations.
Maintain a good connection with our sister Conference in Bolivia, La Iglesia Evangelica Anabautista en Bolivia (LIEAB).
And much, much more.
We continue to work to fulfill the objectives in our 5-Year Plan. Our overall objectives are twofold: Strengthen our churches and then from that position of strength, make disciples. Some of our specific objectives are already accomplished, such as sending a prayer and exposure team to Bolivia in 2020. I was able to be part of it. The development of the EMMC Art Room and 1 Gloowen Network are ongoing. Other objectives are fulfilled but happened later than we anticipated. One is the hiring of a new Pastor of Care and Mission. Other objectives such as offering the 5C’s of Focused Ministry, holding a Pastors Summit and a Youth Leader Retreat have not happened due to COVID. One of our objectives, which was to help our churches multiply their services and outreach, may have been unintentionally advanced because of the pandemic. Most of our churches had no firm plan to begin an on-line ministry. Because of all the Public Health restrictions many of our churches regularly livestream their services. We continue to pursue the objective of planting more churches.
Our staff situation continues to change. Within the past two years we have hired two new support staff: Andrew Harder as our bookkeeper and Joyce Harnett as an Administrative Assistant. We have also recently hired Kelly Lesser as our Pastor of Care and Mission. He began this new ministry on June 1. Al Kehler and Kelly will have a one month overlap so that there can be a good transition. I personally want to say thanks to Al Kehler for his many years of service to us as Conference Pastor. His steady, positive, focused, and Godly influence has been a mainstay in our Conference. He will be missed.
Recently we have begun planning for Ministry Leaders Forums. For some time now, we have realized that some of what our former Ministries Resource Council used to do is left undone. A few years back a Theology Committee was started but its ministry has slowly dwindled. One of the jobs that it and the former MRC did was to work through the theological challenges of the day and develop position statements on the various issues. Today we had a Ministry Leaders Day focused on getting us ready for the conversations to come with our Pastors and Churches. We heard about our roots, took some time to understand who we are, what our DNA is and had an interactive session on laying a foundation for dealing with the theological and practical issues of our day.
I continue to be impressed with our General Council and General Board. Our General Council which meets twice a year is made up of 5 members from each region. From this group, a smaller body is chosen for our General Board which meets 6 times a year. The General Board is the body tasked with managing the work of the Conference on behalf of the General Council. We have an excellent group of leaders from every region. They are engaged and willing to tackle the hard things. This year we welcome four new members to our General Council; Dawson Reimer from Nassau Street Church, Winnipeg; Dan Buhler from Morrow Gospel Church, Winnipeg; David Friesen from Altona EMMC; and Jake Wall from Deer Run Church, Leamington. We also welcome Steve Miller from Hague Gospel Church to the General Board. Steve has been on the General Council for the past two years.
On Sunday, we are having a Conference wide worship service. The main focus of the morning will be the passing of the baton from Al Kehler to Kelly Lesser. We will be commissioning Kelly to minister to and for us as Pastor of Care and Mission. Kelly will also be sharing a devotional. (you can find the link to this service at www.emmc.ca)
We were saddened to share the news that Benny Fehr, one of our MEM missionaries in Bolivia has died of complications due to COVID-19. Benny and Ester’s passion and love for the Mennonite people was evident. They were the answer to the MEM Board’s prayer for a radio pastor. Benny was loved and appreciated by the whole MEM team. He will be deeply missed by Ester and their four children, by their extended family, by his home congregation, the Mount Salem Community Church, an EMC congregation in Aylmer, Ontario, by the MEM team in Bolivia and by his 'congregation' in the colonies.
When COVID-19 struck Bolivia, our team members each could have come home, they all chose to stay. Benny sacrificed his life for the colony Mennonite people he went to serve. Ester and his children will bear the impact of the cost. May God grant them his never-ending supply of mercy and grace. I urge you to pray for Ester and their children, their extended family and our MEM team in Bolivia. Pray also for the MEM and EMC leadership as they help Ester and family through this difficult time.
May God bless us as a Conference as we work together to advance his kingdom in the places to which he has called us.