By John Rempel, TMTC Director
My third year as director of TMTC will soon come to a close. At the end of it I plan to retire from my role as director. I want to continue my bond with the Mennonite Centre as a member of thesis committees and a supporter of TMTC events.
It has been an undeserved pleasure to return to two of my alma maters, Conrad Grebel College and the Toronto School of Theology, and to rejoin their academic missions. Courtesy and friendship have been extended to me from the first day by my colleagues. There were just enough familiar faces at Grebel to make a smooth and collegial connection. Jim Pankratz and Jeremy Bergen have been excellent partners to work with. The people I had once known at TST were gone so I needed to get to know the people with whom I would be working. I discovered quickly that the Mennonite Centre had a good reputation and so I was made a welcome member of the community. Susie Guenther Loewen and Kim Penner were imaginative and congenial graduate assistants. They partnered with me to provide services that were relevant to student interests. On the TST side Jennifer Bardaggio and Eve Leyerle consistently went the second mile in providing services that made our programs possible.
The model on which TST, including TMTC, is built has much to offer. It is a graduate theological consortium with distinct theological identities combined with student access to all courses offered. The selection of thesis committees is also made from this broad range of identities and specialties. The Mennonite Centre is the smallest of the partners but its reason for being is like that of the colleges – to combine the rootedness of one’s denomination with the stimulation of other Christian traditions, to say nothing of the vast resources of the University of Toronto. TMTC provides a Mennonite and Free Church reference point, theologically, ethically, and spiritually, within an ecumenical teaching and learning environment. The fact that admissions to the PhD program for the upcoming academic year have risen significantly will also enrich us.
One of my first realizations as I began my work was that the ecology of academic community is increasingly fragile. More and more people choose not to live on campus and thus are not part of a physically present community that is available for formal and informal encounters. Events have to be planned to catch people who are on or near campus at a given time. There has been modest but steady attendance at prayer services and scholars forums but not always of the same people.
In my time here I have gradually come to the conclusion that our Centre needs to enlarge its vision to draw in people working in theology and its conversation with other disciplines. How do we draw in students and professors from other departments as well as those not presently enrolled? Our new fellows program is one way of addressing that question: there are post-doctoral students seeking an academic home, researchers looking for community, and visiting scholars looking for a home. We have all three of them this year. In the increasingly mobile scholarly world the future of this dimension is promising.
The need for broadly educated and deeply grounded theologians is more vital than ever to the faithfulness of the church. The continuing seismic shifts in values and identity in Western societies call for wise and venturesome thinkers to interpret these shifts by means of the Gospel. Mainstream Mennonites are fully part of their societies and need theologians capable of grappling honestly with the questions of the day, and through that grappling, to lead believers to authentic ways of living in Christ for others.
The Mennonite Centre has a place in this calling. Whoever becomes the next director will have exciting and rewarding challenges in old and new ways of making TMTC thrive.
Unexpected Ecumenical Experiences: Visiting Fellow Michael Stahl Reflects on his Sabbatical at TMTC
By Rev. Michael Stahl
Europeans and even the Christians among them tend to think of Canada as the “smaller brother” of the United States. That this is not a proper generalization - in particular with regard to the churches – is one of my learning experiences which I happily take back home. Spending a sabbatical as a visiting fellow of TMTC helped me to get a differentiated understanding of Canadian church and theology. In fact, my sabbatical has in the first place been an unexpected deep ecumenical experience. I was impressed by the many colleges of TST representing the diversity of theological traditions in Canada. Coming from a Lutheran church in North-Germany which is in its confession and ecclesiology inextricably related to Martin Luther, I was quite surprised to find myself in an academic surrounding not paying that much attention to the Wittenberg reformers, but more to others like Zwingli, Bullinger, Knox or Menno Simons. I am even happier that TST on the occasion of my visit initiated the panel “Reform, Revival, or Reversal” on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It helped me to understand more clearly that the Reformation with all its richness is an ecumenical heritage to be commemorated together with Christians worldwide.
This and many other experiences in Toronto will shape my further work in communicating the Christian message in Germany. I would like to thank all scholars and students of TST who warmly welcomed me to the campus and shared their wisdom and theology as well as their spirituality. In particular, I am grateful to TMTC director John Rempel for his encouragement and support. I leave Toronto with an abundance of experiences and inspirations.
Exchange Opportunities in Hamburg at the Institute for Peace Church Theology
By Jonathan Seiling, TMTC Fellow
Since September I have worked in Hamburg, Germany, through a joint fellowship between TMTC and the Institute for Peace Church Theology (Arbeitsstelle Theologie der Friedenskirchen), at the University of Hamburg. The Institute is directed by Prof. Fernando Enns, whose focus is the ecumenical theology from a historic peace church perspective.
There are many unique opportunities for collaboration, both with the Institute in Hamburg, and also in Amsterdam where Prof. Enns also teaches at the Dutch Mennonite Seminary (Vrije Universiteit) and there is developing programs (e.g. a new Masters in “Peace, Trauma and Religion”). There are some opportunities already, and others that are being developed as the Institute continues to respond to the growing demand for contemporary theological reflection in the face of the changing nature of conflict and peace building in Europe and worldwide. The Institute is at once steeped in ecumenical relationships, while also undertaking several projects that attempt to more clearly define or develop an Anabaptist-Mennonite identity for today.
For graduate students who might seek affiliation with a European institution in order to carry out research, both Hamburg and Amsterdam offer opportunities, even for those who have little or no German or Dutch knowledge. In Hamburg there would also be an opportunity for a sabbatical, in which visiting faculty could even teach a course at the theology faculty (potentially in English). In Amsterdam there are also many Mennonite doctoral students who meet for a regular colloquium, in particular to discuss dissertation proposals among peers. Several translation projects are also underway in Hamburg, for example, J.D. Weaver’s Nonviolent Atonement, papers from the conference in 2011 called Just Peace (from English into German) and the collection of Mennonite ecumenical dialogue reports, Fernando Enns’ book Ecumenism and Peace, and a new collection of articles summarizing global Mennonite faith and practice (from German into English). Both in Germany and the Netherlands there is a high degree of ecumenical engagement in which the Mennonite “voice” is constantly invited to contribute to projects, conferences and consultations concerning peace and justice issues.
Further opportunities for Mennonites to engage in the activities would include the yearly theological study conference organized by the Swiss, German and Dutch Mennonite institutions, which generally uses English as the common language.
We have also developed a new theological education programme for lay Mennonites in Germany (“Formatio Mennonitica”), which in May-June 2015 will focus on missions from a peace-church perspective.
As for my own experience, aside from the translations into English noted above, I have taught a course each term (“The ‘Sword’ in the Early Reformation” and now “Reformation Commemoration as Ecumenical Opportunity and Challenge”), which has been a rewarding challenge for me. In addition to conference presentations, assisting at the Trilateral Dialogue on Baptism (Mennonite-Catholic-Lutheran), publishing research articles and doing further archival research, it has been an extremely busy year. The commemoration of World War One and the Reformation have occupied much of my past year as well. The steady flow of work coming and going from the port-city of Hamburg, nicknamed the “gateway to the world”, requires many more hands on deck! For more information please contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reporting on the Toronto School of Theology Event "Reform, Revival or Reversal: The Reformation 500 Years On"
By Layton Friesen, TMTC Student
The 500 year anniversary of the Reformation is approaching in 2017. What is the appropriate posture for the various church traditions commemorating this 16th century era? To begin this discussion the Toronto School of Theology hosted a lecture by Wycliffe College historical theologian Ephraim Radner, author of the recent book A Brutal Unity.
Radner argued that while leaders of various traditions still tout their distinctives and invest energy in promulgating them to followers, “this is all epiphenomenal; these post-Reformational echoes…are but the debris, the flotsam left behind by a tide that has long since been sliding back out into the ocean of God’s providence.” The ground has shifted in the last century, not so much in the content of the distinctions between traditions, but in the meaning we give to such distinctions. Most heirs have ceased to imaginatively identify their faith with the issues that defined the Reformation.
How did this shift happen? “Suffice it to say that, from 1517 to 1948…the rise of political and social toleration, mutually stoked by territorial compromise, shifting patterns of family and marriage, proximity and local cooperation, and, of course, the rule of money and trade that crosses all boundaries…all of this led to a diminishment, a forgetfulness, for some even a disdain of Christian difference and distinction.” It is to the point, Radner observed, that we now “are separated because we have become people who exist in separation; that is, our Christianity is thus founded on such a relational posture. But on nothing else!” This shift to a new way of forming identity, according to Radner, is something to be embraced.
Where the heirs of the Reformation were consumed by the question of what was a Christian, we can now attend to who is a Christian. It is increasingly baptism that should carry the weight of depicting the “who” of being a Christian. Radner ended with a call for mutually recognized baptism to be the hallmark of this new catholicity in the Church.
John Rempel, one of the initiators and an official respondent of this lecture, suggested that free church resistance to recognizing infant baptism would largely be overcome if all churches ended indiscriminate baptism.
The lecture was presented to a full house, suggesting that its question is a live one.
Campbell, Laura, Michael Dawson and Catherine Gidney, eds. Worth Fighting For: Canada’s Tradition of War Resistance from 1812 to the War on Terror. Between the Lines, March 20, 2015.
Worth Fighting For is a collection on Canadian war resistance. It includes a chapter by TMTC Fellow and Alumus, Jonathan Seiling titled, “Scruples of Conscience’ and the Historic Peace Churches in the War of 1812” and a chapter by TMTC Alumus, Conrad Stoetz titled, “‘This thing is in our blood for 400 years’: Conscientious Objection in Canadian Historic Peace Churches During the Second World War”. For more information about the book visit the webpage: https://btlbooks.com/book/worth-fighting-for
Upcoming Course with John Rempel
TS Seminars, 690 Section 2, Baptism: Ecumenical Perspectives
“Baptism: Can the Historic Divide Be Overcome?”
Spring Intensive Course, May 19-29, 2015, 8:30 am -12:00 pm
Conrad Grebel University College
John Rempel, Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre, Professor
Course description: The church of Christ can’t agree whether infants can be baptized or only those who confess a personal faith. The biggest reason for this is that each side has a different view of the church. Through recent dialogues Lutherans, Catholics, and Mennonites are learning to trust one another. The goal of this course is for the class to enter the dynamic of these dialogues, to listen deeply, and to criticize honestly. A Catholic and a Lutheran guest will help us do this. We will probe these encounters from a Mennonite understanding of the NT and tradition and especially address the question of accepting believers from infant baptism denominations.
Students Currently Associating with TMTC
- Michael Buttrey, Comprehensive Exam Stage – Regis College
- Isaac Friesen, Coursework Stage – University of Toronto
- Layton Friesen, Thesis Proposal Stage – Wycliffe College
- Susie Guenther Loewen, Thesis Stage – Emmanuel College
- Susan Kennel Harrison, Thesis Stage – Emmanuel College
- Ryan Klassen, Thesis Stage – Wycliffe College
- Andy Martin, Thesis Proposal Stage – Regis College
- Allison Murray, Coursework Stage – Emmanuel College
- Kim Penner, Thesis Proposal Stage – Emmanuel College
- Jessica Reesor Rempel, Finishing Masters of Divinity, Emmanuel College
- Darrell Winger, Thesis Proposal Stage – Wycliffe College
Jeremy Bergen, Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Theology and Director of Theological Studies at Conrad Grebel University College, is currently a member of two thesis committees at TMTC.
Outgoing Director John Rempel, Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre, will remain a member of three thesis committees and a co-director of one thesis.
“Engaging Women’s Voices on the Church, Theology, and Mission: A Task for the Church and the Academy”
One-Day Symposium, May 9, 2015, 9:00 am – 1:00 pm
Hosted by the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre and Mennonite Church Eastern Canada
The topics of mission and the church continue to gain interest in recent years with declining church membership in many older congregations and the need to re-articulate what it means to be missional in a post-Christendom context. While interest in the topic is increasing, Brian Bauman, MCEC Missions Minister, notes that in his ministry, which oversees new church planting and church adoption, he has not had the opportunity to work with many women. This observation suggests that women make up a distinct minority in new church development within a Canadian context. While Bauman’s experience is specific to new church planting, the absence of women’s voices in that particular context raises questions about women’s perspectives on the church, theology, and mission in general. The purpose of this symposium is to offer a platform for several women in the academy (students from TMTC) and women in the church (MCEC) to engage with key leaders at MCEC and to offer their perspectives on the topic of the church, theology, and mission.
Examples of some of the questions and themes that will be raised by the four scheduled speakers include:
- What is the church’s “mission” and what is the significance of embodying an understanding of mission that seeks liberation within a feminist framework? (Kimberly Penner, Th.D. student Emmanuel College, and Allison Murray, Ph.D. student Emmanuel College)
- What does missiology look like if we take seriously our ecological crisis? (Abigail Lofte, Ph.D. student St. Michael’s College)
- A case study of the suffering and witness of Javanese Christian women (Ajeng Chrissaningrum, Th.M. student Wycliffe College)
- Can the cross be “Good News” for women? (Susie Guenther Loewen, Th.D. Candidate, Emmanuel College)
Mennonite Scholars and Friends at the AAR/SBL will host a forum Friday, November 20, 6:30-8:30 p.m. (time not yet confirmed and location TBA) on the 2015 theme: “Human Being and/as Creation: Biblical, Theological, and Historical Perspectives” and a reception Friday, November 20, 8:30-10 pm (time not yet confirmed and location TBA). These events are coordinated by the Toronto Mennonite Theological Centre and are open to any who wish to attend.
TMTC Seventh Semi-Annual Graduate Student Conference will take place in June 2016 at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary focusing on the theme of power, from the diverse perspectives of Anabaptist-Mennonite graduate students. A call for papers will be circulated closer to the date.