Some historical words from Norm Voth, Director of Evangelism and Service Ministries (Mennonite Church Manitoba):
Various churches affiliated with the Mennonite Church Manitoba conference have been connecting with northern First Nations communities in Partnership Circles for several years. “The genesis of the Partnership Circles (which includes all the specific ministry circles from the different communities) was the Mennonite Church Canada budget cuts in 2003 that ended the field staff placements in these communities. The circles were a way to build relationships between congregations with a couple of goals. One was to shift from First Nations congregations as mission work to seeing them as sister congregations who had needs and but also resources to share. The circles were designed to share resources and develop relationships to grown in our understanding of the Gospel. These relationships have certainly helped challenge some of the assumptions and stereotypes about First Nations people and their communities.
It would be unfair, though, to present the circles as a first contact. Under the old Mennonite Pioneer Mission of the 1940s-1970s many southern Manitoba congregations had relationships with northern communities as they sent missionaries, teachers and others to work and live and serve there. While the structure was different, the northern congregations developed some strong ties to their southern sister congregations.”
Lessons in Post-Colonialism from Matheson Island:
Matheson Island summer camp is a partnership between Springfield Heights Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, MB and Matheson Island Log Chapel. Located near the southern shore of Lake Winnipeg, Matheson Island is a metis fishing community of about 100 people.
In 2006 the Island invited members from Springfield Heights Mennonite Church to partner with them to put on one week of summer camp for the local children. So, on an early Sunday morning in July, youth and young adults piled into an old school bus and drove up to the island. Not knowing what kind of resources we had, how many campers would come, or what exactly we would be doing, we embarked on a new adventure only knowing that God was calling us to build new relationships in a new place.
Matheson Island has invited us back every year since then and the summer camp program has developed into a wonderful and challenging week. Returning staff are taking on leadership roles and have had the opportunity to watch campers grow up, while new staff are stretched and encouraged by this powerful ministry. The camp has become a place for building friendships across ethnic, cultural, and denominational barriers. This happens through chapel and group singing, activities such as swimming, games, and crafts, as well the annual Thursday evening community potluck. Just last week I spent my 6th summer on the Island. One highlight of this year was that our oldest campers in 2006 are now growing into young adults and they came to help out at the camp. Conversations with them showed us that a new group of local youth were growing into camp leaders. We will be working closely with these youth to develop a staffing team comprised of youth from both sister congregations for next summer.
Now for my short lesson in post-colonialism. Since the beginning of the partnership, Springfield Heights has insisted that we will not come do camp with the Island until they extend an invitation for the next summer. This was, of course, an honest attempt to restrain our desires for control over the partnership in the camping ministry. That is, it was an attempt to guard against our colonial tendencies. In a recent conversation with one of the Islanders I highlighted this intention as an example of post-colonialism. The Islander, understanding the intent, informed me however that extending invitations annually isn’t actually part of their culture. If they have extended it once, it is valid until they say they don’t want us to come anymore. Post-colonial fail for me. Don’t get me wrong, I think it was good for Springfield Heights to think about these kinds of things and to try to be receptive in our encounters with difference rather than imposing. And this is part of that conversation. Hearing that what we thought was one thing is actually another is part of our journey together towards post-colonialism. It also brings me great joy to hear an Islander say that they will tell us when they don’t want us there anymore. What that means to me is that our relationship is such that the people of Matheson Island do feel empowered over their land and community; that we are becoming friends and neighbours first, not missionaries or teachers such that “we” somehow possess knowledge/truth/power to distribute to “them”.
Current MCM Partnership Circles include:
Riverton Fellowship Circle (Riverton), Douglas Mennonite Church (Wpg), Bethel MC (Wpg), and Home St. MC (Wpg)
Matheson Island Log Chapel (Matheson Island), Grace MC (Winkler) Springfield Heights MC (Wpg)
Pine Dock (Pine Dock), Grace MC (Winkler)