Former MB church joins MC USA

Willow Avenue Mennonite Church in Fresno, Calif., is considering a proposal to affirm and welcome LGBTQ people. — Willow Avenue Mennonite Church Willow Avenue Mennonite Church in Fresno, Calif., is considering a proposal to affirm and welcome LGBTQ people. — Willow Avenue Mennonite Church

A California congregation expelled by its Mennonite Brethren conference for affirmation of LGBTQ people is now part of Mennonite Church USA. Willow Avenue Mennonite Church in Fresno is believed to be the first congregation from the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches to make such a change in affiliation.

MC USA’s Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference welcomed Willow Avenue on Nov. 29 during an online special delegate business meeting. The congregation applied for membership in September. Delegates voted with 86% affirmation.

“The action by the PSMC delegates is an affirmation of our commitment to forbearance and respect for the diversity among us, which we regard as a gift rather than a threat,” said PSMC executive conference minister Stanley W. Green. “We affirmed God’s purpose for unity, which grounds healing and hope.”

The MB Pacific District Conference suspended Willow Avenue’s membership in October 2021 for considering a proposal to affirm and welcome LGBTQ people. Although the congregation had not yet voted on it, the conference carried out the action because the proposal was not consistent with the USMB Confession of Faith’s articles on marriage and discipleship. The congregation adopted the LGBTQ-affirming proposal — which had the unanimous support of the church’s council and pastors — on Jan. 9, 2022.

The PDC Executive Board voted Aug. 23 to terminate Willow Avenue’s membership.

“We do not make this decision lightly and regret the implication of separation from a church that for years faithfully supported the USMB and PDC mission,” wrote PDC moderator Dennis Fast and district minister Jordan Ringhofer in a Sept. 1 letter to Willow Avenue. “We grieve this parting as we reflect on many significant contributions Willow members have made for many years.”

Speaking on behalf of Willow Avenue, church moderator Lynn Jost expressed gratitude for leaders who have guided the congregation in ways of peace and amicability.

“We give thanks for our Mennonite Brethren heritage and for our welcome into the Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference,” he said.

It is extremely rare for an MB congregation to change affiliation to MC USA or Mennonite Church Canada or those denominations’ predecessors, the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church.

A handful of congregations in Canada have made similar switches: Dawson Creek Mennonite Church in British Columbia moved to MC Canada from the Canadian Conference of MB Churches in 2016 and changed its name to Northgate Anabaptist Fellowship. The congregation closed in October 2021. Westview Christian Fellowship moved from Ontario Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches to Mennonite Church Eastern Canada in 2017. A congregation known as Hochma began as a Quebec church plant before also affiliating with MCEC the same year.

This article was updated Dec. 12, 2022.

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

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