ELKHART, Ind. — The Mennonite Church USA Executive Board on Aug. 16-18 looked toward the denomination’s next two conventions, reviewed a strategic plan and discussed a proposal to dissolve The Mennonite Inc. to enable a possible merger with Mennonite World Review Inc.
Staff presented a proposal to design a two-year process, leading up to the 2021 convention, to gain clarity around some of MC USA’s foundational documents.
These documents include the bylaws and Membership Guidelines and describe how accountability works within the denomination.
At various times since their approval in 2001 as part of the merger of the Mennonite Church and General Conference Mennonite Church, the Membership Guidelines have been a point of contention on issues of sexuality, polity and church discipline.
“With the leadership transition, the timing was too tight to design a good process around these questions for 2019,” said Glen Guyton, who began serving as executive director May 1.
“I am aware that this needs to be addressed as soon as possible, but my priority is to help MC USA begin to think about its mission — to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace. After that we can work on documents.
“We also need to gain clarity within our system as to the power and authority that rests in conferences and congregations. Right now, confusion is making it hard to function in healthy ways. We have until 2021 to get ready and get it right.”
The board approved convention locations in Cincinnati in 2021 and Kansas City in 2023.
For the 2019 convention in Kansas City — MennoCon19 — Guyton announced proposed changes, including all worship services being held jointly with youth and adults.
The Journey Forward process will take center stage at the delegate assembly. According to the proposal, delegate sessions will feature storytelling and table discernment around questions shaped by MC USA’s three “Renewed Commitments”: Follow Jesus; Witness to God’s Peace; and Experience Transformation.
Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of operations for MC USA, presented the delegate process plan. The process will seek delegate feedback around a biennial denominational peace witness focus and resources needed at the congregational level to engage in transformative relationships across difference.
The proposed delegate schedule includes a three-part Bible study on Ephesians, unity and biblical understandings of forbearance, led by Tom Yoder Neufeld, professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel University College in Wateroo, Ont., who led a similar series for a gathering of Mennonite World Conference leaders in Kenya in the spring.
Board members talked about whether any resolutions will be brought before delegates in 2019. The board signaled affirmation to move away from resolutions if possible, but no final decisions were made.
“There are ways of working at differences besides resolutions,” Guyton said. “Our leadership role as a board is to point people to a common goal.”
The board reviewed a strategic plan proposed by Guyton for 2019-21, with three “global ends” for the work of denominational staff, based on the three “Renewed Commitments” of the Journey Forward process:
- Equipping members with resources to follow Jesus faithfully, regardless of the cost.
- Empowering members to bear witness to God’s holistic peace and proclaim Christ’s redemption.
- Resourcing members in the spiritual disciplines that can transform us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into a reflection of God’s unending love.
The board discussed the potential dissolution of The Mennonite Inc. The boards of TMI and MWR Inc. are proposing to merge the two organizations and create a new, independent media organization.
Phil Rich, the board’s representative on the task force for the merger, described the merger as “a proactive and practical decision in light of what’s happening in the church and marketplace.”
“It’s a visionary decision, trying to create something new that will serve the Anabaptist community in the future,” Rich said.
Negotiations between MC USA and TMI are ongoing, and the board plans to receive delegate feedback in November before making a decision.
The boards of TMI and MWR Inc. have approved the merger. The MWR board is asking the MWR corporation to approve it at a special meeting Sept. 29 in North Newton, Kan.
In other actions, the board:
- Approved changes to the resource “Sexual Abuse and Non-Credentialed Individuals,” developed by MC USA’s Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention. The board revised its April action to name the resource as recommendations and guidelines rather than policy.
- Approving a budget deficit of about $100,000, which reflects the fluctuations in convention-related expenses and estate gifts.
- Affirmed the reappointment of Stanley Green to a three-year term as executive director of Mennonite Mission Network.