Three Canadian Mennonite Brethren congregations have been removed from that denomination due to their stance on LGBTQ inclusion and same-sex marriage.
On March 4, delegates to the Mennonite Brethren Church of Manitoba annual convention voted to remove Jubilee Mennonite Church in Winnipeg from membership.
On Feb. 25, Southridge Community Church and FreeChurch Toronto were removed from membership in the Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.
That brings to four the number of congregations that have been removed or left the denomination over LGBTQ welcome and inclusion. Artisan, a church in Vancouver, left the British Columbia conference in 2021 before a vote could be taken to remove it.
Termination of membership in a provincial conference automatically results in loss of membership in the Canadian conference.
In addition to those churches, in February, River East Church in Winnipeg received a notice of suspension from membership. Unless the church reverses its decision to welcome and include LGBTQ people and affirm same-sex marriage, it will lead to removal as well.
The motion to remove Jubilee passed by a vote of 74%, exceeding the two-thirds majority needed.
After the vote, Jubilee’s former pastor Ken Warkentin offered a blessing to the conference and then indicated that members of the church at the meeting would like to leave. As members of Jubilee left the meeting, everyone was asked to stand so they would not be so conspicuous in leaving.
Members from at least two other churches exited with them into the foyer to offer personal words of care and farewell.
In response to a request for comment, Jason Dyck, director of church ministries for the Manitoba conference, acknowledged that members of the LGBTQ community have experienced exclusion and rejection in MB churches and that churches need to commit themselves “to a future where better stories are experienced.”
At the same time, such care can “come into tension with our shared Confession,” he said, noting that each church “has voluntarily joined the MBCM and committed themselves to the convictions outlined in our shared nationally held Confession of Faith.”
The conference’s task is to “maintain theological alignment among member churches,” he said.
In Ontario, a prepared statement from Southridge was read before the vote. In it, the church acknowledged it understood that the Confession of Faith was something member churches were expected to align with and that there were consequences for being out of alignment.
However, it went on to say, the congregation has “never understood the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith to be an air-tight set of absolutes or the single center of what binds us together.”
The statement went on to say that Southridge believes the conference to be a family and that divergence “on one or a couple articles of shared belief shouldn’t result in full removal from the family, because we feel like our family identity is about more than this one or couple articles.”
Motions to expel Southridge and FreeChurch passed. No vote totals were released, but later it was learned the vote to remove Southridge passed with 87% voting in favor.
In response to the vote, Southridge lead pastor Jeff Lockyer said he sympathized with conference leaders.
“They were in a bind with some churches threatening to leave if they created space for this conversation,” he said.
As for Southridge, “we just want to incarnate Jesus in our community. We want to be for the people Jesus was most for,” he said.
The congregation will continue to relate to the Ontario conference, Lockyer said, adding: “You can take the church out of the conference, but you can’t take the conference out of the church.”
Speaking personally, he added: “In my heart I am Anabaptist. I see it as a wide-tent way of doing church, of welcoming all to the table.”
No representatives from FreeChurch were at the convention to make any remarks. Neither FreeChurch nor Ontario conference leadership responded to requests for comment.