This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Central District Conference annual meeting full of learning; celebration

Comforters, knotted to send to Mennonite Central Committee for sharing with refugees, lined the Columbus Mennonite Church sanctuary. Photo by Lavonne van der Zwaag.

Photo: Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister for Central District Conference, lit one candle for each CDC congregation during June 24 evening worship at the conference’s annual assembly in Columbus. Photo by Lavonne van der Zwaag. 

Central District Conference (CDC) held its 60th annual meeting June 23-25 at Columbus (Ohio) Mennonite Church. The conference theme was “Abounding in Love, Abiding in Grace”. Participants meditated on this theme in song (“The Lord lift you up”), in Scripture (Luke 8:1-39) and in spoken word (sermons by Charles Bontrager, pastor at First Mennonite Church, Wadsworth, Ohio; Mark Rupp, pastor at Columbus Mennonite; Brenda Sawatzky-Paetkau, pastor at Eighth Street Mennonite Church, Goshen, Ind.; and an African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”).

Conference attendees sat on benches abundant in color, covered with more than 180 comforters ready for Mennonite Central Committee distribution to refugees around the world, andheard about the life of scholar C. Henry Smith, who spent his life advocating for toleration and community over differences of opinion.

The conference’s keynote speaker was Alex Awad, a Palestinian and  Methodist minister. Awad shared the history of Palestine to help listeners understand the complexity of the current Israeli-Palestinian relationship. He addressed many Christians’ belief that God promised this land to Israel and that their possessing it fulfills prophecy. He offered “The Two Covenants” chart to compare the Old Testament covenant with the New Testament covenant in Christ as a new way of looking at this conflict.

In 2015, Mennonite Church USA delegates tabled a resolution on Israel-Palestine for two years. Congregations and conferences were urged to spend time learning about the situation in the region prior to the 2017 Delegate Assembly.

Comforters, knotted to send to Mennonite Central Committee for refugee relief efforts, decorated the Columbus Mennonite Church sanctuary during the CDC meetings.

Conference attendees expressed appreciation to Lois Johns Kaufmann for her eight years of service as

CDC conference minister. Kaufmann will retire later this summer. Doug Lugibihl, Bluffton, Ohio, will become CDC’s new conference minister at that time.

CDC celebrated a year of blessings. Open Table, an informal, interactive house church in Goshen, requested conference membership.

CDC ended the fiscal year with a healthy budget, and new projects are underway, including a three-year, $1 million grant/partnership with Everence that will seek to help pastors get rid of debt and provide financial education and comprehensive planning for them. A study guide, Human Sexuality in Biblical Perspective, growing out of the conference’s discernment processes and edited and produced by Carrie and Gerald Mast, Bluffton, Ohio, will be published later this year.

A peer review performed by a committee appointed by Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leaders Council is slated to take place later this summer because of CDC’s decision to credential people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ), which puts the conference “at variance” with the Membership Guidelines Resolution passed by Mennonite Church USA delegates in 2015.  Kaufman reminded attendees that this review is an opportunity to share the CDC story, to give and receive counsel and to bear witness to God’s working within CDC.

Worship services were a highlight for many. Each service provided a challenge to those in attendance. Thursday evening’s worship service began with Kauffman lighting a candle as each congregation was named. Rupp then spoke and dared the conference to trust in a God of abundance, to trust “that there is fruit we might not be able to recognize until we allow ourselves to abide in foreign soil…[and] help all of us in the LGBTQ community believe in the kind of God who is able to turn all our mourning back into dancing.” And then he invited attendees to dance. And the Mennonites danced!

On Friday, Sawatzy-Paetkau urged the group to use “kingdom eyes and ears” to agitate. And on Saturday, Bontrager examined the ways expectations of being a “manly man” impact men’s lives and can prevent a deeper spiritual life and quality relationships.

The conference opened with a “Family Day,” including a variety of activities, such as golfing and knotting comforters.

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