Major changes at Mennonite Central Committee
MCC Binational to be disbanded; some programs shift to MCC Canadaby Will Braun
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) is the largest and most influential Anabaptist organization in the world. It has nearly 1,200 workers and an annual budget of $82 million. It's reach extends to 62 countries abroad, and in North America it encompasses 14 denominations, covering the spectrum from Amish grandmothers to a Brethren in Christ megachurch.
The fact that MCC is so prominent says much about who we are as Mennonites. We are not centered around an academic institution, a geographical location (like the Vatican), a leader or even our church conferences. Rather, the closest we have to a core is a collective, practical expression of Christian care. We are people who help, and much of our helping is done through MCC.
Given the centrality of MCC, its four-year revisioning process should be of interest to us. The New Wine/New Wineskins initiative, which started in 2008, has brought together a total of 2,000 people from 50 countries at 60 meetings to give input to the evolution of MCC. To date, MCC has invested about $850,000 in its effort to make the process as thorough and broad as possible.
Though the likely outcomes of the process are fairly clear, and the consultation phase is over, final decisions have yet to be made, and implementation is only expected to be completed in early 2012.
From the beginning, Wineskins was a two-headed process accountable to international partners. The other issue at play has been how to "make more space for national differences between Canada and the [United States]," to use MCC director Arli Klassen’s words. That’s code for the fact that the Canadian branch of MCC is eager to oversee more international programming from Winnipeg, Manitoba, instead of sending two thirds of the money raised in Canada to Akron, Pa., where most administration of international programming now happens (roughly half of overall MCC income is generated in Canada). It's also code for the fact that MCC in Canada accepts millions in government money, while MCC in the United States does not accept government money, thus keeping its distance from U.S. foreign policy.
Two main outcomes have emerged. First, MCC's Canadian office will most likely be granted its wish to administer a significant proportion of MCC's international programming from Winnipeg (in addition to the smaller pieces of that work they already do). In simple terms, considerably more of MCC's programs will be overseen from Winnipeg instead of Akron. Little will change from the standpoint of MCC supporters or the people MCC works with abroad. And MCC’s provincial and regional offices will not undergo significant changes.
In insider lingo, the working proposal is that MCC Binational be disbanded, with its work given over to MCC Canada and MCC U.S. These two branches of MCC would maintain their own boards but would work collaboratively and with a single identity overseas. A new council would oversee overall governance of MCC, guide the vision, set standards and "protect MCC's brand," says Klassen. The council would have as few as seven members––including MCC Canada and MCC U.S. representatives, as well as church and international voices––and no more than five staff in a location yet to be determined.
Theoretically, the shift would facilitate smoother and closer relations between MCC's Canada office and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA)––the federal government’s foreign aid department––though changes at CIDA may mitigate this trend.
MCC's provincial and regional boards, as well as the denominational conferences that ultimately “own” MCC, will have a role in approving changes. The approval process and the complex task of figuring out how to divide the work between Canada and the United States are expected to take much of 2011. Ron Mathies, who served as MCC director for nine years, suggests three questions for assessing the value of the reorganization. First, "Will international program delivery improve or become more complex due to duplication and conflict?" Second, "Will MCC remain one organization, two or many?" He adds that ongoing scrutiny of MCC’s relationship with the federal government is important.
The rich help the poor: The more interesting Wineskins issue is about "what it means to be accountable globally in today's world," to quote Klassen. How can the people most affected by MCC decisions be more a part of those decisions? The matter could be framed more broadly. Being a rich and powerful North American organization creates an awkward imbalance between the helpers and those who are helped. The Wineskins question about global accountability was an important way of grappling with the inherent awkwardness and complexity of the rich helping the poor.
"Our temptation is to think of ourselves as possessing what other people need," says Earl Martin, who served 25 years with MCC. There is some truth in this, but how can we have authentically mutual relationships with sisters and brothers around the world when we are always the helpers and they are always the helped? This imbalance of roles can lead to self-importance and erosion of dignity.
In this context, a fundamental reshaping and "globalization" of MCC was on the table from the beginning of the Wineskins process. One of the main models considered was for a variety of overseas Anabaptist service agencies to come together under the MCC umbrella, with the expanded global MCC possibly being based outside North America.
This general concept was on the table when 27 Anabaptist church and service groups from 18 countries met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last August. The global organizations at the gathering opted not to be part of an expanded MCC.
"People were very grateful to MCC," says Pakisa Tshimika, MWC's global church advocate, but they did not want to "take MCC and turn it into a global entity." The groups decided to work toward greater collaboration within a formal network, but they did not want to become "little MCCs," says Tshimika. They did not want MCC to globalize in the way it had been considering.
It was a sobering moment for MCC. But the organization seems to have taken it well.
"It was humbling to be told we are not the center of the Anabaptist service world," Klassen says. The new global network is "not going to be within MCC [or have] an MCC identity," she says.
Tshimika, who is from the Democratic Republic of Congo, uses the word "imperialistic" to characterize the MCC-centered option that was rejected. He is also clear that the decision of the group was not a rejection of MCC itself––which received affirmation––but of the approach it had been considering. He says MCC took the message "very seriously."
So MCC will not "take on an entirely different shape," a hope Klassen expressed in 2008. International representatives will likely be added to the MCC Canada and MCC U.S. boards, and the global entity envisioned at the Addis Ababa consultation will provide another element of international accountability, but MCC will remain a North American organization, something Mennonite World Conference (MWC) had been advising for years.
Elephant and mouse: Mathies says that in terms of MCC's global accountability, the key question now is the future relationship between MCC and MWC. MWC is the only Anabaptist body, Mathies says, with a truly global mandate. Despite its unmatched mandate, it is dwarfed by MCC in terms of budget and capacity (MWC's annual budget is $1.4 million and has 26 staff, 22 of whom are based in North America or Europe).
Tshimika uses the elephant and mouse metaphor to describe MCC’s prominence in the realm of global Anabaptist organizations. Despite this, he says that in Addis Ababa, it felt like "everyone was on the same level." This speaks to the potential for MWC to create a forum in which MCC can practice genuine mutuality.
Though the global Anabaptist church, in the form of MWC, provides the most logical forum of international accountability for MCC, it also has limitations. First, not nearly all of MCC’s overseas partners or aid recipients fall under the MWC umbrella. MWC cannot represent MCC partners who are not Mennonite or Christian. A further limitation is expressed by some people within MCC who feel closer ties to MWC that in certain circumstances MCC would give preference to MWC-affiliated partners rather than non-Mennonite partners who may be better suited to particular initiatives.
In a presentation at MCC's 90th anniversary, Mathies articulated something of this tension by asking, "Will MCC try to become a more effective NGO, or will it serve the church?" Stated differently: Is the mission of MCC to raise as much money as possible and help as much as possible, or is it to foster mutually enriching exchanges between the two halves of what Mathies calls MCC's "twofold constituency": the North American donor churches and the "program partners and participants around the world?"
The answer is some of both, but sometimes the two conflict. For example, an effective way for MCC to maximize donations is to tell feel-good, noncomplicated stories that cast North Americans as noble helpers. But such stories maintain the divide between helper and helped.
A humble, unifying role: MCC also has an outstanding record of fostering unity and exchange among an exceptional diversity of people. This ability is surely one of MCC’s greatest strengths. Perhaps MCC can address the global accountability question––which is also a question of authentic human equality and mutuality––not only by adjusting organizational charts but by doing more to show North Americans how much the rest of the world has to offer them.
Ron Mathies and Earl Martin are passionate when speaking about how the different parts of MCC's twofold constituency "desperately need each other," as Mathies puts it. He says people "in the Global North have material resources, and those in the Global South have spiritual resources that require exchange for their mutual benefit."
While MCC has been good at listening, the Addis Ababa gathering called the organization, and by extension its North American supporters, to a deeper humility. Part of the lesson was that the awkwardness and complexity of its role as the "elephant" will not be done away with by simply globalizing organizational structures. A shift in posture here at home may be the more important factor.
Klassen says that in Addis Ababa, MCC personnel were challenged "to let go of some of [their] ideas." Perhaps that also captures what MCC's North American supporters can take from the Wineskins process and the Addis Ababa gathering.
Will Braun is a freelance writer. This article first appeared in the Nov. 29, 2010, issue of Canadian Mennonite and is reprinted with permission.
- On a different track
- Reclaim the wisdom of Hans Denck
- A long life of witness and service
- Still dreaming
- Confessions of a modern day pacifist
- Not on the road to Damascus
News stories, digests and Meno Acontecer
- International workers return to Egypt
- Church experiments with extending the table
- Denominations invite MWC to Farm Show building in Harrisburg
- Bomb scare at MC USA Archives
- MCC suspends work in Egypt
- Mennonite Church USA invites topics for Prayer and Conversation Room
- Website opens for discussion surrounding Phoenix 2013 decision
- Mennonite Central Committee monitors Egypt situation
- The do's and don'ts of e-mail and Facebook
- Indian hospital turns 100
- 'Mennonite rabbi' shares learnings
- Mennonite farmer travels to North Korea
- Eisenhower, King and the military industrial complex
- Binational organizations balance national dynamics
- MMN SOOP volunteer turns rags into blankets
- This is a first: seminary courses at convention
- Friesen rides through 48 states for MDS
- Major changes at Mennonite Central Committee
- Three charges filed in death of Chloe Weaver
- Elevated gardens offer food sustainability
- ¡Bienvenidos al Meno Acontecer de febrero, 2011!
- Educación Integral
- Retiro de tutores de IBA
- Soto Albrecht recibe nominación para moderadora electa
- La Iglesia está escuchando
- ¿Pittsburgh 2011? ¡Allí vamos!!
- Del doctor Nuñez …
- Silence over sexuality issue creates confusion
- Rethinking the prosperity gospel
- Class conflict at the movies
- Habits of peace, habits of violence
- Lessons learned as a teenager
- Farmer Ken
- Pop's encore
- Mennonites and alcohol
- Investing in hope: Seeds of hope
Births and Marriages
- Force public to pay for war
- Winery in Virginia
- Phoenix decision
- Chloe's friends say thanks
- Quilts not used to guide slaves
- Logan responds to Beck
- Peace churches work at roots
- Unhappy about silence
- Serious misconceptions
- More with less
- Beyond Islamophobia