Single family housing model challenged
Fifty-six U.S. attendees at the People’s Summit in Winnipeg, Manitoba.by Anna Groff
Does it matter where and with whom Mennonites live? Yes, according Tom and Christine Sine, authors and futurists, who proposed alternatives to the “single family detached house” at the Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada gathering called, “At the Crossroads: Promise and Peril.” The binational convention was held in Winnipeg, Manitoba, July 8-10.
The band “Secondhand Pants” performed July 9 at the “Peoples’ Summit” in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Band members are Curtis Wiebe (left) and Marlon Wiebe; both are from Hope Mennonite Church, Winnipeg.
“The [single family] model has become normative—as if that’s what God had in mind for us,” Tom Sine said. “Our houses do reflect our values.”
His concerns with the model are three-fold: the environmental footprint, the economic cost to young adults and the costs for the poor.
"Jesus spent more time forming community than in ministry," Christine Sine said in a workshop.“To fully understand God,we have to be involved in community.”
A number of young adults at the summit also shared their concerns about housing and offered new ways to live in community.
Alissa Bender, associate pastor at Calgary (Alberta) First Mennonite Church, said this is her first year not living in community—as she did as a college or seminary student—and she is surprised by how much she has missed it.
Bender said she seeks a “a living arrangement where we’re not just sharing space but we’re a part of each other’s lives … [and] the sustainability questions are definitely big for a lot of people ... I think those [sustainability] questions are gaining momentum."
Regarding intentional Mennonite communities in the past, Bender said there were painful consequences for some, partly due to “a lack of shared vision from the beginning.”
Tom Sine also addressed that issue.
“(The shared purse) is a land too far for many people today, even the younger folks, ” he said. However, he called on Mennonite colleges and universities to address how school debt generated through high housing costs will affect stewardship activity for young adults.
“The costs for our young people are enormous,” Sine said, “and no one’s talking about it.”
Regardless of the economic challenges young people face, Tom Sine described them as the “creative edge of your church.”
Young people are starting their own web businesses but have no leadership or say in church, he said.
“If you want to keep them around, then you need to invite them to own the program,” Sine said.
The Sines also described their work with the Mustard Seed Associates and with emerging church leaders.
At a talkback session, Heidi Regier Kreider, pastor of Bethel College Mennonite Church in North Newton, Kan., asked the Sines about the majority white, male leadership of the emergent church.
Regier Kreider said she was pleased with Tom's response that indicated he is aware of the dynamic and talking with leaders. Christine also mentioned a blog of female emerging church leaders.
After the session, Regier Kreider said she was "referencing conversations I've heard expressed from others." Her purpose in the question was to find more information not to "discredit the movement."
April Yamasaki, pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C. and speaker on July 9, has been in the Mennonite church for almost 30 years.
She named two things that drew her to the Mennonite church: the "invitation of our friends and the community that led to" and the "Anabaptist distinctives of discipleship, simplicity, peace.”
But she reminded the audience that those values are not in the “center.”
“When it comes to God’s new community and new way of kingdom living, it’s all about Jesus," Yamasaki said. "On one level, my own journey into the Mennonite church was about community and about the values of discipleship and simple living and peace. And yet at a much more basic level, I realize that it was really not about those things. It was all about Jesus … That’s what makes us a church and not just another social club or service organization.”
Tom Yoder Neufeld, professor at Conrad Grebel University College, Waterloo, Ontario, gave the closing message.
“We in Canada and the U.S. are being tested,” Yoder Neufeld said, “not quite like Jesus—who didn’t have enough food—but on what we will do with the too much food that we have.”
During the plenary session, Darren Kropf of
On July 10, Christian Peacemaker Teams, Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA sponsored a vigil for Robin Long, a war resister seeking refuge in Canada held in detention with plans for deportation.
Death of binational events?
Five-hundred and seventy people attended the summit—56 from the United States. Jim Schrag, executive director for Mennonite Church USA, acknowledged the low number of Americans in attendance
“Usually the ratios are different than they are today,” Schrag said. “There’s far more Canadians here today than there are Americans. That presents a good deal more promise than peril.”
Peter Epp, 27, a dual citizen who lives in Portland, Ore., said the low numbers at the summit “could signal the death of binational events.”
The denominations keep identifying the decreasing trend in numbers with young adults without acknowledging the smaller pools, Epp said.
“We don’t realize that with this decline,” he added. “We’re going to need each other more and more.”
Epp’s reasons for continuing binational relations include: accountability for the denominations, the ability to hear unique perspectives from both countries, and opportunities to practice the same kind of bridge-building both denominations prioritize with Mennonite World Conference and racial/ethnic groups.
“It seems a little empty when we can't cross this small divide,” Epp adds.—Anna Groff
Scripture for the gathering:
"You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, 'Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!'" Deuteronomy 4:6
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