A version of this article originally appeared on Mennonite Church USA’s Menno Snapshots blog. This article is the first part of a three-part blog series in which Glen Guyton is exploring MC USA structure while challenging members of the denomination to Journey Forward together.
Who and what is Mennonite Church USA? That is a question we must continually ask ourselves as we seek to fulfill our mission as a denomination. The answer is complex, and the answer you receive may vary, depending on who you ask.
If you ask an attorney, they may point to the bylaws of MC USA that say this:
“The area conference is the basic membership unit of Mennonite Church USA, and through which the member congregations of the area conference also are members of Mennonite Church USA. The area conference is an affiliation of congregations that join together in common life and mission. In coming together, congregations recognize their interdependence and their need for mutual exhortation and admonition, and their strength to fulfill the church’s mission in the world.”
But if you ask a person in Kalona, Iowa, or San Antonio, Texas, you may get an entirely different answer. To that person, MC USA may have more to do with what happens in the local church, which is not a bad thing. Developing and nurturing missional congregations is part of why MC USA exists. And congregations are connected to MC USA through the area conference. Area conferences are at the core of who we are as MC USA, combined with an Executive Board and its agencies. That is our structure.
Conferences were at one point more regionally based—geographic conglomerations that could serve congregations in close proximity to one another. The area conference is the middle adjudicatory of our denomination, responsible for credentialing, resourcing and equipping the local church and its leaders. With the rise of congregations joining conferences based on political or ideological affinity rather than geographic proximity, we may be losing a key strength in our denomination, regional diversity. Our middle adjudicatory could move from small, diverse bodies that have to deal with differences on the micro level to ideological monoliths steeped in identity politics. Our denomination will suffer if issues of diversity aren’t first lived out in the local context. If we can’t struggle and forebear regionally with those in close proximity to us, we will never be able to do so at the national level.
A key strength of MC USA’s structure lies in our relationship with our program agencies. The task of the churchwide program agencies and other designated entities is to arrange for the delivery of programs and services that carry out specific churchwide goals. Agencies and entities cooperate and network with each other as well as other parts of the church around common goals. Our agencies connect our denominational capacity to conferences, congregations and individuals.
- Everence[i] is a program agency of MC USA, part of the fabric of this denomination, meeting the financial service needs of our members and others.
- Mennonite Mission Network is a program agency of MC USA, part of the fabric of this denomination, working in and through congregations to spread God’s message of grace, joy and peace.
- Mennonite Education Agency is a program agency of MC USA, part of the fabric of this denomination, meeting the educational needs of our members and others.
- MennoMedia[ii] is a program agency of MC USA, part of the fabric of this denomination, shaping church and society with resources for living Christian faith from an Anabaptist perspective.
- MHS is a program agency of MC USA, part of the fabric of this denomination, meeting the health-care needs of our members and others.
- The Corinthian Plan is a program, part of the fabric of this denomination, that helps us provide mutual aid to our pastors.
- Hispanic Pastoral and Leadership Education programs are part of the fabric of this denomination, providing Anabaptist Mennonite theological training for Hispanic Mennonites.
- The Mennonite is an entity, part of the fabric of this denomination, tasked to provide a forum for the voices of MC USA.
There are many other programs developed by generations of Mennonites, too many for me to try to name, that work locally, across the nation and around the world in many ways and forms.
MC USA is a collective of people, programs, area conferences and other structural components offered by and through this denomination that serve as witness to our capacity to do more good together and ensure that the message of the gospel is effectively preached.
MC USA has never been one person or group of people. MC USA is not exclusively the executive director or the Executive Board. In fact, MC USA works best when each part of the system works collaboratively to enhance the mission of the whole. Though we have separate boards and staff, we must never forget that we are one church.
Glen Guyton is executive director of Mennonite Church USA.
[i] Everence is made up of numerous corporations. The stewardship agency is the primary connection to MC USA.
[ii] MennoMedia is a binational organization jointly owned by MC USA and MC Canada.