Hope Mennonite Church
Thursday, January 17, 2019

An Insider’s History of Hope Mennonite Church

by Bill Block

 

In 1986 Bethel Mennonite Church in Winnipeg commissioned seven of its members to explore the possibility of birthing a new congregation. Bethel was crowded and was looking for ways to reach out in new directions. It gave the “Group of Seven” a lot of latitude to pursue a creative vision. This they did with excitement and numerous meetings, times for prayer, worship and planning over a period of eighteen months.

 

COVENANT MAKING

 

It was time to develop a vision. Should a certain specific audience be targeted? Should the people who would come be given rights to shape the congregation? Or should the Group of Seven set out the ideals for the new church and invite those who shared that vision to people the congregation? In the end it was a combination of all three that took hold. The resulting vision came out of, in part, a reaction to larger, more hierarchical congregational models. It emphasized broad participation, more democratic decision making, and more opportunities for leadership development. An interest in social justice and the idea that "small is beautiful" also formed part of the ethos.

 

The group was unanimous in finding its theological and historical locus in the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. This included a sense of belonging to and commitment to the Mennonite denomination (now called Mennonite Church Manitoba and Mennonite Church Canada) and broader organizations such as Mennonite Central Committee, and Mennonite World Conference.

 

Early on we cast about to find a name for this budding congregation. Should it be geographical--identified by some neighbourhood or street? Should the word Mennonite be included in the name? Should the name have a doctrinal aspect, such as Faith, Grace, Covenant, or Peace? Grace sounded good but was well-used within the denomination. Peace was appealing but seemed to set the bar too high. In the end, Hope Mennonite sounded more humble, forward- looking and had a pleasing ring.

 

In order to actualize the vision a "Covenant" was needed. The writing of it was a healthy and exciting exercise with fairly broad participation--although the outlines were drafted by the Group of Seven. This document attempted to understand and state our relationship to God and how that should affect our life of faith in the community and world.

 

 

ORGANIZING OURSELVES

 

A formal constitution never became a reality. Instead polity was developed in segments. A basic issue concerned decision making: how will we govern ourselves and develop direction? Consensus--a concept still somewhat new in Mennonite congregational polity--soon became the method for making all major decisions. The essential idea was that every member would be given opportunity to speak to the issue at hand and that no major decision would be taken until all agreed to it. Allowance was made for individuals to say: "I am not satisfied with this direction but will not stand in the way if the vast majority is ready to move." In early years all major decisions were first examined and studied in small groups and then brought to the whole congregation.

 

A major concern was leadership. It was decided that we would not hire a pastor. Instead the gifts of various persons in the congregation would be exercised in preaching, leading worship, and pastoral care. A committee in charge of pastoral care was in place for some years. Leadership development was and remains a goal. However, in the mid-1990’s there developed a growing desire to call a pastor. What might be called service fatigue had set in: At one point we had more committee positions to fill than we had adherents. One member served as part-time Interim Pastor for one year at the end of the 90's. Then, after numerous meetings both in small groups and as a whole, it was decided to call a pastor for a three-year “pilot project.” We found a pastor within our congregation and have not looked back since. She served for seven years and then, after a period of searching again, we called our current pastor in the Spring of 2009.

 

Small groups have always been important in the life of Hope Mennonite Church. Early on, every adherent was encouraged to join a small group for fellowship, study, pastoral care and processing congregational decisions. In recent years, some small groups have been formed around themes and activities such as “faith and film”; connecting scripture and life; the Enneagram; and eating together.

 

LOCATION

 

From the beginning there was a shared sense that we did not belong in the suburbs. Buying or building a facility was beyond us. Our first meeting place was the rented, multi-purpose auditorium at Westgate Mennonite Collegiate in the Armstrong’s Point neighbourhood. There we had our first public worship service in February 1987 with just under 40 persons present.

 

Renovations at Westgate a few years later set us adrift. Reasonable rent and adequate space at Canadian Mennonite Bible College, at Shaftesbury & Grant in Tuxedo, lured us thence. Physically we were comfortable there but we were restless. Around 1990 contact was made with Young United Church, which was planning to rebuild after arson had destroyed most of their original landmark building. They were planning a multi-purpose facility that would serve the West Broadway community and were looking for a second congregation to share the facility.

 

After serious deliberation--including passing around a "talking stick"--we decided to accept the invitation to move to Broadway & Furby streets near the centre of Winnipeg. Behind this move was a sense of obligation to the inner city. We became both renters (of the common areas) and owners of a tiny portion (constituting our office) of the multi-use structure. The planning and building took several years and in November 1993 we had our dedication service.

 

At times we struggled with the possibility that we could rent facilities elsewhere for less cost. However, we remain here, committed to, and part of, the vision called Crossways in Common.