ST. BONIFACE — The keynote speaker at St. Boniface Diocesan Council 66th annual convention was Erwin Warkentin, who works for Mediation Services in Winnipeg. Warkentin practised law for 25 years, was a pastor in a Mennonite congregation in southwestern Manitoba and held various other occupations that eventually led him to his current path.
Mediation Services was formed in 1979 as a program of the Mennonite Central Committee in an attempt to introduce an alternative to criminal charges in resolving conflict. The program based its work on the principles of restorative justice, not retributive justice, along with practising and teaching mediation. Their work encompassed three basic program areas: criminal diversion, community mediation, and training in conflict resolution. In 1992, the Mennonite Central Committee released Mediation Services from its control and it now operates as a community based charitable organization in its own right.
Warkentin shared some of the history of the Mennonite and anabaptist groups in North America. He referred to a book by Palmer Becker, What is an Anabaptist Christian? The book suggests three key statements that are at the core of their faith: (1) Jesus is the centre of our faith; (2) community is the centre of our lives; and (3) reconciliation is the centre of our work.
Warkentin stated: (1) We are to help reconcile people to God. God is asking us to take the initiative to do our part in reconciling others to God wherever we are. (2) We are to help people reconcile to each other. (3) We are to be ambassadors of reconciliation in the world.
“Reconciling people not only to God but also to each other is at the centre of our work. This may mean exploring the cause of a conflict and healing the parties to reconcile that conflict through careful listening, honest confession, unselfish forgiving, and appropriate restitution,” he said. When we encounter conflict we are to “think reconciliation” rather than judgment.
“At all times and in all situations, we are called to imitate the example and spirit of Jesus,” he said. Reconciliation is hard work, but it also “calls us to be willing to give our lives so that people in our world can be reconciled to God, to each other, and even to their enemies, and there is no greater joy than to live a reconciled life and to bring others into a reconciled relationship with God and each other.”
When he thinks about reconciliation, he said, he usually thinks about the end result of a process that addresses a broken relationship. Three stages could be identified in the process: (1) acknowledgement of having wronged someone, or repentance; (2) acknowledgement of having heard the repentance, or forgiveness; and (3) actual healing of the relations, or reconciliation. The process is not always a straight path.
At times in a painful episode there is no repentance, no real apology, and yet the offended party needs closure, and the only way to do that is to forgive the offender. A sincere apology will acknowledge harm has been done and the offender was the cause or part of the cause. “A real apology will try to address the pain and make right the harm that has been caused. True repentance is expressed when an offer to make amends is offered,” explained Warkentin.
At times there is no repentance because the offender has died or moved away or still don’t realize they have offended. The offended party has been traumatized by the act and needs to close that chapter of their lives. “We find such situations especially in cases of abuse — whether sexual, physical, emotional, spiritual or otherwise. There is a need to forgive the offender, independently of whether or not the offender has apologized,” he said.
Warkentin ended his presentation by saying, “We humans can only go so far along the road to reconciliation. God does the actual healing. God restores the relationship. God restores our hope for the future.”