This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Lancaster Conference nears decision on withdrawal

Lancaster Mennonite Conference logo

Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s Bishop Board will meet Oct. 23 to consider an updated proposal to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA, effective on or before Dec. 31, 2017.

The proposal, given as a draft to credentialed leaders at LMC’s Leadership Assembly on Sept. 18, incorporated feedback from “Listening and Vision Casting” meetings held in eight churches across the conference Aug. 15-Sept. 8.

After the Bishop Board finalizes a recommendation, LMC’s 412 active credentialed leaders will vote on it, perhaps by the end of the year.

Lancaster is MC USA’s largest conference, with 13,838 members in 163 congregations.

The current proposal specifies that LMC would “function as non-participating” in MC USA as soon as the recommendation was affirmed. The conference would help create ways for congregations to participate in other networks or groups. And congregations could continue to participate in MC USA until the end of 2017.

MC USA’s Executive Board has appointed a task force chaired by David Boshart, the denomination’s moderator-elect, to explore possibilities for fraternal relationships with conferences or groups that leave.

“We are always open to foster relationships with Christian brothers and sisters for mutual encouragement in our faith wherever we can,” Boshart said. “We are exploring avenues where we can continue to relate to Mennonite congregations with integrity where the commitment of member congregations and the agreements we’ve made in our denominational bylaws are concerned.”

LMC staff confirmed the Oct. 23 meeting but said it was unclear whether any decision would be made at that time and declined any further comment until the process is complete.

The recommendation must be affirmed by 80 percent of the Bishop Board before credentialed leaders can vote on it.

Then it would need approval from two-thirds of credentialed leaders to pass.

The timeline estimates credentialed leaders will be “invited to affirm a recommendation” by late 2015 or early 2016.

A July 2014 survey found that 46.8 percent of LMC’s credentialed leaders were ready to endorse leaving MC USA. Another 17.6 percent indicated serious reservations about the denomination.

A booklet for participants in the listening meetings cited a “cultural and theological divide” within MC USA on same-sex marriage and LGBTQ relationships and “deep differences between area conferences” on LGBTQ membership.

1,800 attend meetings

More than 1,800 attended the LMC listening meetings, and 726 attendees filled out response sheets afterward. An Affiliation Task Force helped collect the responses, which the Bishop Board took into consideration, according to a report given to credentialed leaders at the assembly.

About 60 percent of those who filled out response sheets supported the initial proposal; 30 percent did not; and 10 percent were not sure.

Credentialed leaders also received a brief summary of the Listening and Vision Casting meetings. It listed 16 questions “repeatedly raised in the counsel received.” Among them:

  • Why is the current designation available to LMC congregations as “non-participatory” not sufficient separation moving forward?
  • What are the reasons that make staying with MC USA as a member area conference unworkable?
  • Is this proposal just more of a long history of division and separation in LMC?
  • Will MC USA hear a prophetic voice if LMC leaves?

Other questions indicated concerns about conference agency affiliations, division, unity in diversity, forbearance, women’s ordination and refocusing on mission.

Lancaster Conference became a full member of MC USA in 2004. It was a provisional member before that. It was independent until 1971, when it became part of the denominational structure of the Mennonite Church, a predecessor of MC USA.

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