A Goshen, Ind., area congregation is leaving its conference and may affiliate with churches mostly in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas.
Clinton Frame Mennonite Church has withdrawn from Mennonite Church USA’s Indiana-Michigan Conference and inquired about transferring to South Central Conference, also part of MC USA.
Located five miles east of Goshen, Clinton Frame is one of Indiana-Michigan’s oldest and largest churches.
On June 4, members passed a recommendation from the congregation’s oversight board to leave the conference, with 95 percent support of 204 votes cast.
An email statement, sent by lead pastor Terry Diener and written by the pastoral team and congregational oversight board, cited differences with area leaders over same-sex marriage as a reason for leaving.
“We are located in a community where the very public stances taken by some of the other Mennonite congregations, pastors and community members — who affirm same-sex marriage and support the LGBTQ agenda — runs counter to our witness and outreach,” the statement read.
It noted the church is seeking a conference connection with a more focused conversation around a shared mission, vision and values.
“Over the years, it has seemed to us that the conversations within Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference have been more about exploring the edges of our theological diversity rather than a common vision of God’s transforming power in our lives,” the statement said.
A significant loss
Dan Miller, the conference minister for Indiana-Michigan, said it’s a significant loss for the conference.
“It’s a very sad thing for us,” he said. “Clinton Frame has been a member of Indiana-Michigan Conference for as long as the conference has existed, and it’s been strongly involved in the life of the conference for those years.”
Clinton Frame marked its 150th anniversary last fall and has around 400 regular attenders.
Miller said Diener involved the conference in the two-year discussion process leading up to the vote, so the decision was not a surprise.
“We knew it was coming, but it’s still a shock,” Miller said.
Though he hoped Clinton Frame might find a way to stay, he appreciated being invited into the conversation.
“I think it’s always better for everybody if we can find ways to be in touch with each other rather than surprising each other,” he said. “It doesn’t necessarily change the sadness part, but it helps us all to function a little better.”
Clinton Frame plans to officially end its membership June 30.
“They have made this decision based on mission and conviction, and we can always affirm a congregation that makes decisions based on their sense of mission,” Miller said. He hopes Clinton Frame will find a good place to be connected and to live its mission.
Linda Yutzy, moderator for South Central Conference, said Clinton Frame opened conversation with the conference about membership, but no decision had been made.
“If a congregation makes initial contact and invites us into such a conversation, we are and have been willing to explore possibilities,” she said.
MC USA provides guidelines for conference transfers, and South Central will use those as a structure for the process.
“We are trying to communicate as transparently and honestly as possible with our delegates, the congregations and the other conference, honoring our brothers and sisters in each of these relationships,” Yutzy said.
If Clinton Frame goes to South Central Conference, it would be the second large Indiana church since 2009 to switch conferences over issues that include sexuality. That year, First Mennonite Church of Berne transferred from Central District Conference to Ohio Conference.
Clinton Frame also would become the fourth congregation to transfer to South Central Conference recently. In 2013 South Central gained three congregations that left Western District Conference over sexuality issues: Bethel Mennonite Church of Inman, Kan., Herold Mennonite Church of Cordell, Okla., and Metro Mennonite Church of Mustang, Okla.
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