HARRISBURG, Pa. — Leadership of Lancaster Mennonite Conference unanimously recommended withdrawing from Mennonite Church USA “to best strengthen LMC’s shared future in God’s missional calling,” less than a month after the denomination’s convention in early July.
In a July 23 letter to credentialed leaders in LMC, conference moderator Keith Weaver shared that the conference’s Bishop Board and Conference Executive Council agreed on the proposal, which would call for developing a model that allows member congregations to maintain relationships with other groups.
A series of regional meetings Aug. 15-Sept. 8 will lead to a final recommendation to be sent to credentialed leaders by November.
“Even as LMC tends a strong conference identity, including governance oversight and accountability, LMC congregations will be free to network broadly in partnerships that pursue missional faithfulness,” Weaver said in the letter. “For example, some LMC congregations may wish to maintain relational connections in MC USA. We are in conversation with MC USA about how that might be possible.
“Other LMC congregations may wish to network with Evana [Network] and more clarity will emerge about how that can work.”
MC USA currently requires congregations to be part of an MC USA area conference in order to be part of the denomination.
LMC is MC USA’s largest conference. The denomination’s online directory counts 13,902 members in 168 churches. Based on membership statistics from 2013, a total departure by Lancaster Conference would result in a membership loss of 14 percent or more for MC USA.
One of the oldest Mennonite groups in North America, LMC first took shape in 1710 when 29 Swiss Anabaptist immigrants arrived in Philadelphia. It reached a high of more than 20,000 members in 248 churches in 1998 but later decreased in part due to departures of congregations over decisions to join MC USA and allow the ordination of women.
LMC did not join the (Old) Mennonite Church until 1971 and was one of the last to join MC USA, becoming a full member in 2006 after five years of provisional membership.
LMC moderator Keith Weaver had no comment beyond the letter’s contents.
Next steps include distributing a proposal document to LMC congregations so members can study it and attend regional meetings taking place in August and September. The CEC and Bishop Board will consider feedback from meetings and work with credentialed leaders in the LMC Leadership Assembly before reframing the proposal into a recommendation to be sent to LMC credentialed leaders for affirmation and final approval in October and November.