ARCHBOLD, Ohio — Representatives of three Mennonite Church USA area conferences — Lancaster, Franklin and North Central — reported on their processes of deciding whether to leave the denomination Oct. 19-21 at the semiannual meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council.
Keith Weaver, moderator of Lancaster Mennonite Conference, spoke with regret about the conference’s many losses over the last 15 years.
“How many congregations should we be willing to lose?” he asked. “We have already lost 70. Should we be willing to lose another 100?”
Two women who are pastors in Lancaster Conference spoke about the pain of having a limited voice in deciding whether to leave MC USA. In Lancaster, only bishops had the power to vote on the recommendation to withdraw, and only men are allowed to be bishops.
A vote of credentialed leaders will determine whether Lancaster withdraws.
“I don’t like struggle, obviously,” said Dawn Winey, associate pastor of Mount Joy (Pa.) Mennonite Church. “At the same time, I’m OK if our conference needs to struggle with what happens to those who may no longer be welcomed if this proposal passes.”
Karen Sensenig, pastor of Habecker Mennonite Church in Lancaster, Pa., pleaded with the group to “help us.”
If Lancaster withdraws, she said, its voice “will become more homogeneous, lacking the voice of women and others in diversity. What about those of us who care deeply about broader connections beyond the conference?
“Lancaster Conference is broken. Healing is always painful, but it is also hopeful. I maintain hope that in this breaking apart there will be a new kind of coming together that will invite us all to more fully be a part of the mission of God.”
Allen Lehman, conference minister of Franklin Mennonite Conference, described Franklin’s process of considering withdrawal as the result of a controversy that has been going on for three decades.
“It has fragmented us and used up our resources,” he said. “Continued dialogue is unlikely to resolve it, and Mennonite Church USA lacks polity to address the matter. Unless we withdraw, a number of congregations will withdraw from Franklin.
“This separation will allow us to focus on kingdom work.”
Jesse Swiers, moderator of North Central Conference, explained the process of consensus by which his conference chose to part ways with MC USA. He expressed the struggle of separation from a body of people he loves and from people who have been his spiritual mentors.
“The recommendation to leave is the only thing that would’ve kept us together,” he said. “If we would’ve stayed, there would’ve been four or five congregations left. After the decision, I felt a freedom that I can’t really express, even though my heart was breaking.”
In responding to conferences and congregations considering whether to leave MC USA, a summary of responses from table groups stated: “We will draw upon our committed relationships to prayerfully walk with one another, listening to understand and clarify key issues, tending to the grief and joy of all, naming our shared hopes, and, when necessary, to release and bless, always open to new possibilities.”