This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Iglesia Menonita Hispana envisons a new future

Photos: Attendees at the Nov. 17-19 Iglesia Menonita Hispana consultation in Dallas take time for prayer. Photo by Andrew Bodden. 

Expanding its reach and the nature of networks were primary on the agenda at a Nov. 17-19 consultation of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) at Iglesia Menonita Monte Horeb and the La Quinta Inn & Suites Dallas Grand Prairie South in Dallas, Texas. In their second meeting following the loss of one third of their member congregations, 37 IMH leaders met to dream up a new way forward for their organization.

“We needed time together to celebrate what God is doing and to celebrate that we want to do this work together. We are in the right place to contribute to God’s purpose and we are called to be witnesses and called to be united in Jesus’ love,” said Sandra Montes-Martinez, interim moderator for IMH and pastor at Monte Horeb, in a Nov. 23 phone interview. “We want to be moving towards the future, working with our differences and celebrating where we are united.”

In November 2015, 30 congregations of the “Concilio Hispano,” the Spanish Mennonite Council of Churches (SMCC) of Lancaster (Pa.) Mennonite Conference (LMC), including 22 congregations from Pennsylvania and eight congregations from the New York region, announced that it would leave IMH and Mennonite Church USA, in keeping with LMC’s decision to withdraw from the denomination in two years. This exit also meant that IMH lost its moderator, moderator-elect and the coordinator of its annual women’s conference.

Today, IMH has 66 member congregations, and the group is looking to expand its organization to include even more Hispanic members of Mennonite Church USA. Currently, in order to be a member of IMH, an individual needs to attend a Hispanic Mennonite church. This has excluded Latinos who attend other congregations and even some who work in national resourcing roles with denominational agencies.

The future of IMH

During their consultation, IMH members heard from Marvin Lorenzana, Discipleship Initiatives director for Mennonite Mission Network and Latino Ministries coach for Virginia Mennonite Missions. Lorenzana led the group in a process of dreaming about what moving from a hierarchical model toward a more organic networking model might look like. Currently, although he attends a Latino Mennonite church, Lorenzana also could not participate in IMH meetings unless his church named him as a delegate, even though he works at resourcing Hispanic Mennonites at the denominational level.

“I think IMH leaders are sensing that we’ve been working in a silo and we really need to open it up so we

Some of the IMH leaders gathered for a photo at Iglesia Menonita Monte Horeb in Dallas. Photo by Andrew Bodden.
Some of the IMH leaders gathered for a photo at Iglesia Menonita Monte Horeb in Dallas. Photo by Andrew Bodden.

get more resources throughout the church and so we are more connected and can accomplish more through the connections that are already in place,” said Lorenzana in a Nov. 28 phone interview.

Ideas for networking include partnering as IMH conferences to sponsor a national ministry project or working alongside area conferences to sponsor new church-planting initiatives. The group is also interested in building connections with congregations across MC USA that are beginning to connect with members of the Latino community and offering support and resourcing for these congregations as they welcome new members.

Lorenzana also senses new energy among those in IMH for helping Hispanic pastors get connected with the Instituto Biblico Anabautista (IBA) program through Mennonite Education Agency, which provides Anabaptist biblical and theological training in Spanish. Lorenzana noted that sometimes congregations would get connected to MC USA, but pastors would not have access to training that helped them understand the church’s beliefs and polity.

“It’s not until you understand what it means to be an Anabaptist believer and why it’s important to work with other Anabaptists in the city and the country and the world that you really commit to this Anabaptist vision,” said Lorenzana. “You have to really understand the theology and understand the kind of Christian that you are to really make sense of the church.”

Although the group is interested in exploring a network identity, there is not clarity yet on exactly how a new structure would look. Some attendees expressed concern about undoing all the current hierarchical organizational structures and moving toward a completely flat leadership structure.

Montes-Martinez said the group expressed energy for moving forward and continuing to live into a new network identity. IMH leaders are planning for three communications campaigns to help get the word about these ideas out to all congregations and to host listening sessions at congregations across the country to gather feedback about the future of IMH.

According to Yvonne Diaz, a member of the IMH board and the IMH representative to the MC USA Executive Board, IMH leaders are committed to lots of communication between now and their next meeting in July 2017. The group wants to work hard to get the word out about the changes afoot and to get a large number of IMH attendees to attend not only the next IMH meeting but to participate in the 2017 MC USA Delegate Assembly. Diaz also noted that IMH members hoped to have a conversation with other Latino members of MC USA at the next Hope for the Future event, Feb. 2-5 in Hampton, Va.

Drawing on this feedback, a working group of leaders will also begin to formulate recommendations for changes to the IMH bylaws, to be voted on at the next meeting of IMH leaders prior to the MC USA convention, July 3-4 in Orlando, Fla.

Theological disagreements

Concerns about acceptance of same-sex marriage have been at the forefront during past IMH conversations and represented some of the rationale for congregations leaving IMH and MC USA. In November 2015, IMH leaders released a statement noting that the other two-thirds of IMH will plan to stay connected to Mennonite Church USA as long as the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, which states that marriage is “between one man and one woman for life,” is not changed.

Members of IMH are not of one mind theologically, said Montes-Martinez, but she was encouraged by the ways she saw people striving to collaborate on common projects across differences in beliefs.

“The spirit of this event was very positive and had a strong feeling of empowerment and cooperation,” she said “It was a reaffirmation that IMH is a very needed and important entity in the denomination. And it was a [reminder] that we still have a lot of work to do, and people still wanted to do it together, even working in our theological differences.”


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