Anglicans and Mennonites in Canada haven’t historically had much to do with each other, but that could change if General Synod-which meets July 7-12-votes to adopt a resolution put forward by the faith, worship and ministry committee to enter into a five-year, bilateral dialogue with Mennonite Church Canada.
Archdeacon Bruce Myers, until recently the Anglican Church of Canada’s co-ordinator for ecumenical and interfaith relations, said this would be the first time the Anglican Church of Canada has engaged in a bilateral dialogue with a denomination from the Anabaptist tradition. In an interview with the Anglican Journal, he explained why he thinks the two groups could learn a lot from each other.
“The Anglican Church of Canada, is increasingly…becoming a church on the margins, a church away from the centres of power, when historically we were a church of empire, establishment and privilege,” he said. “Mennonites have [made]…a conscious decision to be very separate from the principalities and powers, and to take a stance that is often in opposition to empire.”
Myers said the decision to consider a dialogue has also been spurred by increasing grassroots interaction and co-operation between Mennonites and Anglicans in cities such as Winnipeg and Kitchener-Waterloo, which have large Mennonite populations.
While the Canadian church has often focused on matters of doctrine in its bilateral dialogues, with an aim to finding areas of agreement or common understanding, Myers said that conversations with the Mennonite church would be more about what he called “receptive ecumenism”-an approach to dialogue that works to learn from rather than to resolve differences.
“Doctrinal questions, like baptism-we know the differences and how we practise and understand baptism, that’s already been documented and it’s not necessarily a theological knot we need to start to untie at this moment,” he said. “[But] what is it like for a church like ours to learn to be something [Mennonites] have almost always been, which is outside the centre and increasingly marginalized?”
In terms of what the Anglican church might offer to Mennonites, Myers explained that many younger Mennonites have been drawn to Anglicanism because of its liturgical traditions and sense of “sacramental life.”
In fact, it was an increasing awareness about the amount of grassroots interaction between members of both denominations that led to a consideration of a formal dialogue in the first place, Myers said. He added that Mennonites and Anglicans sometimes consider themselves as belonging to both traditions.
“In Winnipeg especially…there are all sorts of people who happily migrate between [the Anglican churches of] st. benedict’s table and St. Margaret’s and Mennonite community churches, and are students at Canadian Mennonite University,” he said. “That creates all sorts of interesting questions for ecumenism, because all of the models of the ecumenical engagement at this point have been predicated on individuals being deeply rooted and formed in a particular ecclesial identity.”
While General Synod considers the motion in July, MCC will be looking at a similar motion during its own assembly in Saskatoon during the same week. Following the assembly’s close July 10, Myers said, MCC executive director Willard Metzger would participate at General Synod in Richmond Hill, Ont., as an observer.