We’re all in Debt – And it’s Not a Bad Thing

I’ve spent the last several days at a national church conference in British Columbia. Sadly, given the location, I only managed to escape the conference centre a few times. One of the terms I heard repeatedly over the weekend (while not getting outside) was “institutional church.”

As in, “The institutional church would do things that way, but I’m different.”

Or, “The institutional church is dying, but thankfully my friends and I have our own thing going.”

Or, “Don’t blame me, I’m only on the fringe of the institutional church.”

What was curious was that this dismissal of the “institutional church” was happening at a gathering organized and funded by the “institutional church.” The justice work many of us celebrated was initiated by the “institutional church.” The place where we advocate for change was in the “institutional church.” The schools that educated many of the conference participants were sponsored by the “institutional church.” The collection of music from which we sang was created by the “institutional church.” The digital projector showing the pictures of the “non-institutional” initiatives was rented by the . . . wait for it . . . “institutional church.”   Continue reading “We’re all in Debt – And it’s Not a Bad Thing”

Christian Organizations and Climate Change

God’s creation is now facing unprecedented destruction brought on by human activity. Attentive hunters know this just as well as vegan environmentalists. Caring for the ecosystems that God created doesn’t need to be a divisive or partisan issue. Yet it has come to feel that way. Conversations related to energy have become especially contentious. This is challenging since the generation, distribution and use of energy represents the most significant long-term threat to creation’s well-being, including landscapes that many of us love. Continue reading “Christian Organizations and Climate Change”

A Eulogy of Home: On Nostalgia and Memory

Nostalgia makes my skin crawl. I’ve seen the damage it does, the exclusivity it masks, and the lies it tells. So it is strange for me to wonder now if what I carry in my heart is that pernicious thing.

Several months ago my parents sold the home in Pennsylvania where I grew up. The house itself was simple. It was one of those split-level models popular in the 1980s, with vinyl siding and fake shutters. Half of the basement was a “family room” and half a garage, a division that trades on the assumption that families receive their identity by watching TV. When I was young the house did not have an automatic garage-door opener. I remember stepping into the humid night air, bathed in the car’s headlights, and heaving the door up high enough for the springs to do their work. My parents installed a powered opener after my brother and I went off to college. Around the same time they bought a riding lawn mower and a snow blower. Before mechanization my brother and I mowed the sloping, root-infested lawn with a push mower. We worked together with grain shovels to clear drifts from the driveway after snowstorms. Continue reading “A Eulogy of Home: On Nostalgia and Memory”

Origins of Mennonite Mission in Northwestern Ontario

[The following is an excerpt from my research article, “‘Part of the Authority Structure,’ an Organizational History of Mennonite Indian Residential Schools in Ontario,” which appears in the January 2019 issue of the Mennonite Quarterly Review]

Mennonite mission work in northwestern Ontario, an area whose current political realities were shaped by Treaties 5 and 9, began with the missionary work of a Pennsylvanian named Irwin Schantz.[1] Schantz started his work in that general part of the continent in 1938 in northern Minnesota. In the years that followed he found his way into Ontario, Canada, by moving north up the immense and fractured body of water known as Lake of the Woods. His outreach was largely funded by American Mennonites whom he kept informed through a series of letters. In one such letter to supporters, dated April 1, 1944, Shantz writes, “We are under the watchful eyes of God and the F.B.I., who are concerned about the young men to see if they are draft dodgers.”[2] Young Mennonite men, from this period through the 1960s, participated in work in “the north” in lieu of military service.[3] This is one of the reasons that many of those exposed to Schantz’s work in the following decades were Americans. Continue reading “Origins of Mennonite Mission in Northwestern Ontario”

Colonialism and Mission – A Short Case Study

Churches have histories. Or to put it more generally, the church is not just an idea, it is an actual social entity linked across geography and time. Hebrews 12 tells us that we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses: we are linked to the faithful that have come before us. The other side of that claim is that we are also linked to ventures that have been misguided, misdirected, and sometimes harmful.

Last summer I found myself doing something unusual: planning worship in an attic. I was collaborating by e-mail with one of our congregation’s worship leaders. He was near our church in Ottawa. I was in an out-of-the-way building in a small mining town on the other side of the province. I had traveled there to gain a better understanding of how mission agencies connected to our branch of the Christian family tree came to be intimately involved in a colonialist project. More specifically, for a period spanning roughly 1960-1990, Mennonite missionaries ran three schools that were a part of the government’s effort to assimilate Indigenous peoples into Euro-Canadian culture.

Continue reading “Colonialism and Mission – A Short Case Study”

Evangelical Politics

Just the other day I was going through some things my parents left behind after a recent visit. Stuffed next to some snacks in a paper grocery bag were several political flyers. They were the cardboard kind that you sometimes get in the mail or that a candidate’s supporters sometimes leave on your doorstep. We’ve recently had municipal elections here in Ontario, so I’ve seen a lot of these lately. Actually, just last week I received a visit from a campaign surrogate asking if I would support a particular candidate in next year’s federal election. He left a flyer too. Continue reading “Evangelical Politics”

A Shameful Week to Be a Member of the ‘Clergy’

I have never liked the idea of being a member of the ‘clergy’. Most weeks I’m not sure why that is. This week, though, it’s obvious. Just a few days ago a grand jury in Pennsylvania released a report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in that state. The report wasn’t only about the abuse itself, but also about the way members of the clergy worked to protect priests who perpetrated these crimes, drew attention away from these matters and generally made prosecution difficult. As helpful as the report itself is, it appears that there will be few, if any, new criminal prosecutions or civil suits. This, despite the fact that there are more than 1000 victims. The crimes simply happened too long ago for perpetrators to still be legally vulnerable. Continue reading “A Shameful Week to Be a Member of the ‘Clergy’”

Racism, the Church and the Path of Solidarity

When he was a high school student Drew Hart had begun to sense a call to ministry. For that reason, he decided to attend a private Christian college where we could major in biblical studies. Most students at the college where white. Hart was black. He had hoped that studying in a Christian context would be a positive experience. What he found, however, was that this Christian institution, like so many others, was a racialized space. The TV shows and music the majority students referenced were new to him. He sensed the discomfort of white students at his presence. He noticed their suspicion. The signs were subtle, but they were evident. White students would move to the edge of the sidewalk when he approached. Some of them referred to all black males as “thugs.” It was commonly suggested that most of the black men on campus where only there because they helped the basketball team. Continue reading “Racism, the Church and the Path of Solidarity”

Unscientific Thoughts on the Legacy of Mennonite Residential Schools

Last June I traveled to western Ontario. I headed that way in an effort to better understand the origins of three Mennonite schools linked to the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement. The first of these schools was started in the early 1960s, the second two followed in the next decade. If you know a bit about the broader history, you know that by this time … Continue reading Unscientific Thoughts on the Legacy of Mennonite Residential Schools