Gulf States Mennonite Conference (GSMC) delegates will vote on Nov. 1 whether or not to remain a member of Mennonite Church USA.
Duane Maust (in photo), Gulf States conference minister, expressed his love for everyone in his conference during an interview on Oct. 2.
“I don’t want this vote to separate us or destroy our relationships,” Maust said.
When Mountain States Mennonite Conference made the decision to license Theda Good, a lesbian pastor, last Dec. 23, Gulf States church leaders questioned affiliation in Mennonite Church USA.
Several Gulf States churches asked to leave Mennonite Church USA.
“[The churches] were already processing departure,” said Dave Weaver, district minister with Gulf States, on Oct. 2. “It was pretty obvious that this had to come to a vote in Gulf States.”
Actions of other conferences within Mennonite Church USA brought division and anxiety into our conference, he said.
Gulf States Mennonite Conference was formed in the 1970s and includes 12 congregations with a total membership of approximately 700.
The conference includes four Native American churches, one African-American church, one Hispanic church and two South Louisiana Cajun congregations, said Weaver.
“We’ve got a huge diversity of cultures, and we’ve done an excellent job of being a unit,” he said. “Our biggest concern is trying to—at the end of the day—have an intact conference where our churches don’t peel off one at a time.”
On Jan. 30, Gulf States’ pastors council, led by Maust, met and sent communication to Mennonite Church USA leadership voicing their concern regarding Mountain States.
“The face-to-face meeting opened dialogue about the issues and gave voice to the diverse perspectives of conference members,” wrote Maust in a column in the Summer issue of The Fellowship, the Gulf States newsletter. “In the following weeks, however, the exchange escalated in social media and letter writing, highlighting differences within the conference.”
The pastors council met again on June 14 but did not reach an agreement about the future of its relationship to Mennonite Church USA.
Later, the leadership commission sent the following questions to each Gulf States church prior to scheduling the vote:
1. Based on recent developments, is your congregation in favor of GSMC continuing our current relationship with Mennonite Church USA?
2. If GSMC decides to leave Mennonite Church USA, will your congregation …
a. Remain with GSMC?
b. Want to stay with GSMC and stay related to Mennonite Church USA in some way?
3. If GSMC leaves Mennonite Church USA, what would your congregation think about another GSMC congregation still relating to Mennonite Church USA?
4. If GSMC decides to stay with Mennonite Church USA, will your congregation remain with GSMC?
The Gulf States leadership commission was led by Glenn Myers, chairperson, and joined by Maust, district ministers Bob Zehr, Dave Weaver and Mark Roth, and Jeff Landis, moderator-elect.
Maust resigned from his role effective Nov. 1. He will remain pastor of Jubilee Mennonite Church in Meridian, Miss.
Serving as Gulf States conference minister and a pastor within Gulf States put him in a conflicting position, he said.