Photo: Southeast Mennonite Conference delegates gathered Oct. 4-5 in Sarasota. Photo by Lee Miller.
After several years of discernment on church affiliation, 13 of 15 congregations in Southeast Mennonite Conference, previously part of Mennonite Church USA, have voted to join LMC, formerly known as Lancaster Mennonite Conference. In addition, at least one congregation expressed an intention to affiliate with MC USA.
Delegates and pastors representing the conference’s congregations met Oct. 4-5 at Sarasota (Florida) Community Church. At the gathering, 19 of 23 delegates voted for their congregations to affiliate with LMC. Additionally, one delegate abstained from voting, and one congregation is still determining where it will affiliate, along with the congregation intending to affiliate with MC USA.
In October 2018, following a three-year discernment process, the delegates of Southeast Conference voted for the conference to leave MC USA. At that time the conference had 25 congregations. The vote also directed the conference’s Leadership Board to bring new affiliation options to delegates by March.
When delegates met in March, after much discussion, Southeast Conference moderator Michael Zehr made a recommendation, and delegates agreed, to delay taking action on where to affiliate collectively until later this year.
Six Florida congregations decided Aug. 10 to leave Southeast Conference with an intention to join Franconia Mennonite Conference in an effort to remain part of MC USA. A church plant that was in the process of joining Southeast Conference also intends to join Franconia Conference.
The congregations that had most recently comprised Southeast Conference exited MC USA on March 16. For pastors who wish to remain a part of MC USA, the denomination will hold their ministerial credentials for a period of one year upon request as they discern future affiliation.
Regarding the congregations represented at the gathering last week, Zehr said in an Oct. 8 phone interview that the next step is for the LMC bishop board to accept them as members of LMC. After that ministerial credentials will transfer.
“LMC has been very flexible in terms of how much of our structure we keep and how much we don’t,” Zehr said. “LMC is going to push us toward figuring out how to have staff again. That’s important for us in terms of our identity.”
In March, Southeast Conference made a bylaw change to allow congregations to be partners in ministry with the conference, Zehr said. This would allow the former Southeast Conference congregations that have decided within the last year to affiliate elsewhere to maintain a formal relationship with the congregations that are intending to join LMC.
LMC moderator Keith Weaver in an Oct. 10 email said “LMC is eager to forge a dynamic partnership with Southeast Mennonite Conference and their partners in ministry for the multiplication of disciples and churches.”
Zehr said Southeast Conference plans to develop a task force to work with LMC on the transition, Zehr said. “The conference’s current Leadership Board will continue its work for probably another year.”