News

New name? MWC considers identity and brand

Photo: Aubrey Kreider
Release date: 
Friday, 19 May 2017

Bogota, Colombia – When someone mispronounces or misspells your name, does it seem as though they aren’t quite addressing you? We choose names carefully – perhaps to honour someone or express a hoped-for characteristic; they form part of our sense of identity.

Changing a name is not a process entered into lightly: there are legal steps, and friends and acquaintances must learn to use the new name. More importantly, the change says something about identity: something significant has changed, or the new name better describes who you have always been.

Over the past 30 years, the leaders of Mennonite World Conference (MWC) have been in conversation around the possibility of a name change. In 2016 the Executive Committee tasked the Faith and Life Commission to lead a process to bring a recommendation to the General Council in 2018 and for decision in 2021. Regional representatives will pursue conversations and gather feedback.

A formal request from leaders of the Brethren in Christ Church in the USA who experience a sense of exclusion motivated the current conversation. They observed that when the MWC assembly was held in Pennsylvania, USA, in 2015, the news media reported on the event almost exclusively in terms of “Mennonite” despite the many Brethren in Christ congregations involved.

The identity of an organization can change over time. At its beginnings, MWC was a conference that European church leaders convened in 1925, 1930 and 1936 to address specific issues, particularly the refugee crisis among Mennonites in Russia. By 1948, an organizational structure had emerged using the name Mennonite World Conference. In 2003, the official name became: “Mennonite World Conference: A Community of Anabaptist-Related Churches.”

Building widespread recognition of an organization’s identity (or brand) requires time and energy. MWC (CMM in Spanish and French) is widely known by its acronym; a name change would need to consider the linguistic consequences in its three official languages (English, Spanish, French).

Possible alterations to MWC’s name trend in two directions: replace “Mennonite” with “Anabaptist” and replace “Conference” with “Communion,” “Community,” or “Alliance.”

“Mennonite”

Historically and in the context of the global church, “Anabaptist” includes a broad spectrum of groups with a commitment to believers baptism, a view of the church as a visible community, and an earnest desire to follow the teachings of Jesus in daily life. Theologically, “Anabaptist” is often used to denote an ideal or standard, a belief tradition separated from the cultural ties sometimes attached to “Mennonite.”

Of the 105 national member churches in MWC, 76 use Mennonite, 13 are Brethren in Christ conferences and some 11 employ “Anabaptist” in their title, often in conjunction with “Mennonite.” Rather than using a form of “Mennonite” for their name, some national churches take a concept (e.g., Meserete Kristos [Christ the foundation] in Ethiopia) or an association for their name (Gereja Kristen Muria [Christian Muria churches] in Indonesia).

The Global Anabaptist Profile research project found that churches in North America had the highest preference for “Anabaptist” as a self-descriptor (58 percent) compared to 41 percent in Europe, 38 percent in Africa, 23 percent in Asia and 21 percent in Latin America. For

“Mennonite,” the numbers were as follows: 62 percent Europe, 60 percent – Asia, 55 percent – Africa, 33 percent – Latin America and 31 percent – North America. (Note that groups could choose more than one designation).

A drawback of the word “Anabaptist” is that it is both too broad and too limiting: the descriptor is claimed by a much larger group than associates with MWC; but it also focuses on believers baptism as the marker of Mennonite identity to the exclusion of other important theological emphases like discipleship and the mission of reconciliation.

“Conference”

Almost 100 years after its first convening, MWC is best known for its once-every-six-years Assembly. Today, however, the organization functions year-round to foster relationship and support among diverse members of the Anabaptist family.

In 2012, the General Council affirmed a document from the Faith & Life Commission that provided extensive theological reflection on the Greek concept koinonia as a descriptor of MWC. It highlights the centrality of “shared identity and life as the ‘body of Christ,’” writes Thomas Yoder Neufeld. Koinonia is “both the reality undergirding our life together, and…a goal toward which we are moving…both fact and vision.”

The word that most closely expresses this concept is “communion,” used in MWC’s constitution and other documents. “Communion” suggests a body committed to relationships of sacrificial love, accountability, and mutual aid for the purpose of fellowship, worship, service and mission.

Alternatively, “community” or “fellowship” suggests a gathering of shared interests, goals and activities, while “alliance” or “federation” suggests a legislative body made up of independent groups that gather to pursue common goals.

A final option is simply to retain the name. Mennonite World Conference remains a strong brand, and though it does not fully convey all aspects of the family’s identity, other names are also a partial description.

Whatever the outcome of the conversation, MWC will continue to serve the family of Anabaptist-related worshipping communities around the world with prayer, support and mutual submission as we follow Christ’s example of sharing and living good news to the world.

—Mennonite World Conference release

What comments, affirmations or concerns would you like to give to MWC? Email info@mwc-cmm.org.

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Comments

My hunch is that Mennonite World Conference will lose more than you gains with a name change.

I would be content with either Mennonite or Anabaptist being in the name. I like Communion as an alternative to Conference as MWC is really a worldwide body of believers whether they are gathered (at conference time ) or scattered (in between). Community could work too. I don't really care for the word Alliance...it makes me think military alliances first of all.

In your report you didn't mention how many people from Africa and Latin America even recognize the name MWC. If there was a name change, there would need to be a great deal of education to those who don't know what they are a part of. Which would not be an altogether bad thing just difficult.

I encourage a name change and I look to the name chosen by our sister church in Ethiopia for inspiration. Translated into English it is "Christ the Foundation Church". This reflects our core identity as a church claiming Christ as its foundation - and it subtly reminds us of the theme verse of one of our Anabaptist forebears, Menno Simons, namely "No other foundation can be laid that that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ". So I would suggest finding and considering a variation of "Christ the Foundation" though the options that occur to me are awkward phrases in English ( and possibly in french and Spanish). Perhaps others can come up with a good distinctive name based on "Christ as the Foundation" and perhaps English speakers should be ready to accept a name which rings well in other languages and cultures even if not in English.
"Communion" seems to be a very appropriate term for a global ecelesial body which brings together national churches / denominations from one stream of the universal Christian Church.

While I can see their point, I laughed out loud that the Brethren in Christ Church in the USA "experience a sense of exclusion" from the MWC name. Did anyone let our brothers down south know how ironic that is? [Also, while you are at it, give them a heads up that their brothers and sisters in BIC Canada just made some simple yet significant changes to their name...something they might want to consider].

Regardless, I do feel that Anabaptist is more inclusive and more accurately reflects who is gathered in MWC. Thanks for your work on this.

This is a superb piece in that it provides important context and attention to care. More than the spirit of the time must guide this important discussion.

Solo quiero agregar que en Sudamérica, especialmente en Paraguay, la palabra Menonita es asociada a las colonias, los mamelucos, y las personas ponen una cara muy rara al escuchar a una persona latina decir "yo soy menonita". Las iglesias Latinas en Paraguay van mudando sus nombres, sacando la palabra menonita, aún perteneciendo a una Asociación o Convención Menonita. Personalmente me gustaría que se utilice el término Anabautista, aunque habrá que enseñar historia Anabautista a las personas, ya que los menonitas latinos, ni siquiera conocen esta palabra.

One comment if you change the name you lose. First we will no longer donate money to the new named organization.
Two, you lose a valued history and show disrespect to a long line of people committed to support Mennonite causes.
Three, you action sounds like following a fad, not worthy of you.

Any name change is fraught with emotional backlash, as quite a few across the globe have for centuries been content and cozy with the nametag of Mennonite..needs lot of education and awareness before considering any name change.

For the former BIC folks to be the drivers of this process is a touch humorous! The rationale for this name change must be convincing when after many decades the name MWC has such wide recognition, such brand strength and appeal. Bottom line, what Is it that makes this a critical issue for MWC at this time? Anabaptist, communion or alliance are fine descriptors; the challenge will be to fill them with meaning, new meaning. Will this process ùltimately strengthen MWCs mission and focus of fritter away energy?

Problem with "Anabaptist" is that is was a term used by the opponents of those people in the 16th century. It took some time to get rid of that labeling, introducing "Täufer" (Baptists") instead of "Wiedertäufer" (Anabaptists). It would be ironic to choose that term now ourselves.
In Addition: in ecumenical circles the term "Anabaptist" causes lots of irritation and suspicion, specially among those who do not know us very well. Whereas "mennonite" has a very good reputation, thanks to the worldwide work of MCC over the decades.
And: yes, we are a communion (at least a community). We have grown out of simply being a "conference".

Let me convey my idea. MWC is not necessary to be change but add some phrase. For example : : MWC and their brothers " . Or "MWC and his brothers " something like that. Thanks.

Good morning.
We pray for this issue, we mean it.
What about " ECCLECIA COMMUNITY " ?
( the spelling of " ecclecia " may be wrong,sorry)

These two words possibly will not give any frontier from what church denomination sone people.
Other options :
- peace community
- loving kindness community
- Jesus Christ -witness- Community
-Witness Community

Thanks.

Con saludos,
Tri gunanto

Investing energy into the actual operating of the MWC would be more worthwhile than fiddling with its name. Too much history would be lost in a change at this point.

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