Vietnam's national Religious Affairs Committee has announced that it will present a 'Certificate for Religious Activities' to the Vietnam Mennonite Church in early October 2007, following concerted attempts by the church to gain recognition - reports Mennonite World Conference (MWC).
The document recognizes the church's purpose to "Worship the triune God and love all people according to the Word of the Lord in the Holy Bible, live the Gospel, serve God, serve the country and the people."
This is a significant development in a process that church president Pastor Nguyen Quang Trung has pursued for two decades.
Pastor Trung has invited representatives of Mennonite World Conference, North American Vietnamese Mennonite Fellowship, and Eastern Mennonite Missions to attend the ceremony in the Binh Thanh District of Ho Chi Minh City on 2 October 2007.
Trung has been related to this church since 1965. Political developments after the 1975 revolution made it difficult for the church to continue meeting. When government control relaxed in the late eighties, Trung attempted to gather the members together and to seek recognition from local and national authorities. The Religious Affairs Committee at that time was in no position to respond.
There are several stages to church registration in Vietnam. The first stage is approval by local authorities for individual congregations to conduct religious activities. A second stage grants approval for a church to conduct religious activities in a given geographic area or over the entire country. In early 2006 the Adventist Church, the Grace Baptist Church and the Mennonite Church were told they could be active in the Ho Chi Minh area.
The certificate now being presented allows the Vietnam Mennonite Church to function throughout the country and to organize an official national conference within the coming year. Should this process proceed normally and a national conference be held, a constitution and statement of faith adopted and officers elected, the church might be granted legal status permitting the church to purchase property, organize an official training school and publish materials.
The much larger Evangelical Church of Vietnam was granted official legal status by the prime minister in 2001.
This new recognition does not cover all the Mennonite churches in Vietnam, only those registered with a formal relationship with Pastor Trung, which is about 80 congregations with 5,000 members.
In the late 1990s, a few other Mennonite congregations and groups were independently formed. All these groups met in July 2003 to form a united Vietnam Mennonite Church with Pastor Trung as president and Pastor Nguyen Hong Quang as general secretary. However, the arrest of some church leaders in early 2004 triggered developments that led to a division late that year. Each of the two groups represented themselves as the Vietnam Mennonite Church. Recently a significant number of congregations have chosen not to relate to either group.
The National Assembly passed a law governing religious groups a couple of years ago. During this past year, a significant number of Mennonite congregations - unaffiliated as well as churches related to the two main groups - have been able to register with local authorities, the first step in recognition.
Authorities have generally been more accommodating to local congregations in the past few years. Both main groups have held pastoral training courses in early September without incident. Some of the rural churches of the ethnic minorities continue to experience harassment, however. - Mennonite World Conference release
Mennonite World Conference is a communion (Koinonia) of Anabaptist-related churches linked to one another in a worldwide community of faith for mutual spiritual support, worship, service, and witness.