While Central District Conference has broadened its geographical reach, its long-distance relationship with Allegheny Mennonite Conference will not result in a merger for now.
Allegheny Conference Minister David Mishler cited geography as a key reason for the decision to remain two separate conferences within Mennonite Church USA.
“What we’re calling our relationship is a strategic partnership right now,” Mishler said.
CDC is a Midwest-based conference of 43 congregations that has been attracting churches from the Southeast with its tolerance for diversity of views on controversial subjects such as same-sex marriage.
In a previous interview with MWR, Mishler said Allegheny lost about half its congregations in 2015 after a decision to view the Confession of Faith as a guiding document rather than a disciplinary document. It now has 12 churches in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland and Delaware.
Mishler said that while there was a resonance between the two conferences, Allegheny’s renewed sense of internal cohesion, along with its geographical distance from CDC, influenced the preference to remain independent.
Over the past year, an affiliation task force made up of three representatives from each conference looked at various types of relationships, including an affiliation that might lead to a merger.
“Our clear sense was that the Allegheny Conference delegates were saying, ‘We want to remain an independent conference if we can make that work,’ so that was the voice we were paying attention to,” said CDC Conference Minister Doug Luginbill.
Allegheny Conference delegates will meet Nov. 3 in State College, Pa., to further discuss the partnership with CDC.
Mishler said Allegheny will receive counsel and financial assistance from CDC, and discussion is ongoing about how the two conferences might share resources.
A priority for Allegheny is to balance its budget, which Mishler said should happen by 2021. The conference has been dipping into financial reserves over the past few years and is receiving financial support from CDC and Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.
Mishler said there’s a hope that Allegheny might attract congregations. The conference is in the process of adopting an identity and polity statement borrowed from CDC.
“We’re trying to be a conference that welcomes diversity,” Mishler said. “. . . I think it’s a goal for everyone to remain at the table regardless of ideology.”
In Allegheny Conference, Mishler said, congregations have a good deal of authority and autonomy in the context of mutual accountability.
“Both of our conferences are living into that right now,” he said.
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