Photo: Byron Pellecer of Wichita, Kan.; Shannon Walker Dycus of Indianapolis, Ind.; and Rodger Schmell of Perkasie, Pa., portrayed the disciples and Jesus on the Emmaus Road during a dramatic reading Oct. 8 at the Constituency Leaders Council meeting in Schiller Park, Ill. CLC participants then shared communion before the meeting concluded. Photo by Annette Brill Bergstresser.
In the midst of uncertainty about the future, the presence of a monarch butterfly on the wall was a sign of hope for those gathered at the fall meeting of Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) Oct. 6–8 in Schiller Park, Ill.
Eighty-two leaders representing area conferences, constituency groups and churchwide agencies participated in the meeting, which was chaired by Patricia Shelly, moderator-elect of Mennonite Church USA.
Area conference updates regarding LGBT inclusion
Conference leaders shared about conversations happening in response to questions of LGBT inclusion.
Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister for Central District Conference, shared that a CDC congregation has called from within a gay member of the congregation to serve as one of their pastors and has requested licensing from the conference.
“Our leadership groups have prayerfully discerned that they are feeling called to license the pastor, and we are seeking counsel from the larger church about the timing of the licensing,’ Johns Kaufmann said.
Duane Maust, conference minister for Gulf States Mennonite Conference, shared with sadness that the conference’s congregations plan to vote on Nov. 1 about whether to leave Mennonite Church USA as a conference.
CLC members reviewed responses to a six-question survey of conference ministers about how LGBTQ inclusion is being discussed in their area conferences, as well as preliminary results from the August 2014 survey of credentialed Mennonite Church USA leaders.
The survey had a response rate of 66.2 percent, representing 1,323 leaders.
Sociologist Conrad Kanagy continues to work on compiling, tabulating and analyzing the responses. Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA executive director, sought counsel from the CLC on how to release survey data.
CLC members raised concerns that those who completed the survey represent particular segments of the church and not the full diversity of the church in terms of age, educational background and Racial/Ethnic background.
“We have a snapshot, which is not perfectly focused,” Stutzman noted in response. “It is valid data, and we rejoice at having a high response rate, but it doesn’t tell us everything we need to know.”
Ideas for changes to the structure of Mennonite Church USA
At the September 2014 Executive Board meetings, the board appointed an ad hoc committee to explore possibilities for new structures for relationships within Mennonite Church USA. Two members were present at the meeting.
Stutzman invited each participant to spend time in prayer and provide written feedback to the questions, “As you think about the possibility of restructuring Mennonite Church USA, what would you hope that we achieve? avoid? preserve?”
“The idea of structure is broader than structure,” he said. “It has more to do with polity and culture than structure—with the kind of church we are and how we relate to each other. Tell us your longings. Ask the Holy Spirit what it would look like to begin anew.”
A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership
Stutzman recognized Terry Shue and Nancy Kauffmann, Executive Board staff members; and Karen Martens Zimmerly, Mennonite Church Canada staff member; for their work on this fourth revision of the leadership polity manual.
He noted that it is a working document and that its purpose is to “name a common understanding of ministerial leadership.”
The revised document contains a statement taken from the Membership Guidelines about credentialed pastors not being able to perform same-sex unions.
It was included in 2011 in response to a request written by the conference ministers, who felt that this piece of ministerial polity should be part of the leadership polity manual.
CLC members were invited to discuss in table groups whether this statement should remain in the manual or be published elsewhere, and what process of approval would be appropriate for the manual.
Presentation by Jewel Gingerich Longenecker
Jewel Gingerich Longenecker, associate dean for leadership education at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Ind., shared from her doctoral dissertation about rethinking relationships with each other and the Bible.
She challenged the group to advocate for a deepened commitment to communal Bible study across the church as a way of reclaiming our shared language and learning to speak with each other again.
“I would very much like to be part of a church where studying the Bible is more central to our identity than our conservative and liberal labels,” she said.
The Listening Committee heard many expressions of gratitude for Gingerich Longenecker’s presentation and an eagerness to share her ideas with their congregations.
The group reviewed results of recent surveys of leaders across the church, shared ideas about potential new relational structures within the denomination, and gave feedback on a leadership polity manual.
Themes of hope, the importance of Scripture, the reassurance of God’s presence, a call to love each other, and the power and necessity of granting and receiving forgiveness reappeared throughout the gathering.
Donna Mast, conference minister for Allegheny Mennonite Conference, and Chuck Neufeld, conference minister for Illinois Mennonite Conference, led worship each day, inviting the group into the Emmaus Road story (Luke 24)—the theme text for the 2015 convention in Kansas City.
“We encountered the Spirit in prayer, song and Scripture, which helped us to bear the overall heaviness of this meeting,” said Karen Howard of Pittsburgh, Pa., chair of the Listening Committee. “We heard an undercurrent throughout the meeting that we are waiting to see what will happen in Kansas City [the 2015 Delegate Assembly]. And we heard that we hope to come to Kansas City with a surrendered mind and a clear sense of purpose and clarity in leadership.”