SCHILLER PARK, Ill. — Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leaders Council reviewed results of a survey of leaders, shared ideas about potential new relational structures and gave feedback on a leadership polity manual Oct. 6-8.
Eighty-two leaders representing area conferences, constituency groups and churchwide agencies participated in the meeting.
Themes of hope, the importance of Scripture, the reassurance of God’s presence, a call to love each other, and the power and necessity of granting and receiving forgiveness reappeared throughout the gathering.
“We heard an undercurrent throughout the meeting that we are waiting to see what will happen in Kansas City,” said Karen Howard of Pittsburgh, chair of the listening committee, referring to the 2015 delegate assembly. “And we heard that we hope to come to Kansas City with a surrendered mind and a clear sense of purpose and clarity in leadership.”
Conference leaders shared about conversations happening in response to questions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender inclusion.
Duane Maust, conference minister for Gulf States Mennonite Conference, shared with sadness that the conference’s congregations plan to vote on Nov. 1 about whether to leave MC USA as a conference.
Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister for Central District Conference, said a congregation has called a member who is gay to serve as one of its pastors and has requested licensing from the conference.
Survey, ideas for change
CLC members reviewed responses to a survey of conference ministers about how LGBT inclusion is being discussed in their conferences, as well as preliminary results from an August survey of credentialed MC USA leaders. The survey had a response rate of 66.2 percent, representing 1,323 leaders.
Sociologist Conrad Kanagy is compiling and analyzing the responses. Ervin Stutzman, MC USA executive director, sought counsel from the CLC on how to release survey data.
Leaders also gave counsel on proposed structural change. In September the Executive Board appointed a committee to explore possibilities for new structures for relationships within MC USA. Stutzman invited each CLC participant to spend time in prayer and write answers to the questions, “As you think about the possibility of restructuring Mennonite Church USA, what would you hope that we achieve? Avoid? Preserve?”
The questions, he said, have “more to do with polity and culture than structure — with the kind of church we are and how we relate to each other. . . . Ask the Holy Spirit what it would look like to begin anew.”
Stutzman recognized Terry Shue and Nancy Kauffmann, Executive Board staff members; and Karen Martens Zimmerly, Mennonite Church Canada staff member; for their work on a revision of a leadership polity manual, A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership: Polity Manual for Mennonite Church Canada and Mennonite Church USA.
Shue noted that it is a working document. In 2011, a statement about credentialed pastors not being able to perform same-sex unions was added to this manual at the request of conference ministers. CLC members were invited to discuss in table groups whether this statement should remain in the manual or be published elsewhere, and what process of approval would be appropriate for the manual.
- Three conference ministers shared about church planting in their regions: Marco Güete of Southeast, Herm Weaver of Mountain States and Gene Miller of New York.
- Willard Metzger, executive director of Mennonite Church Canada, noted the Canadian church is also engaged in conversations about LGBT inclusion.
“I don’t know where the church may end up, but I remind myself that while structures may be different, and how we are church may be different, this is not going to kill the church,” he said. “This is not a surprise to God. . . . I have confidence that the Spirit of God will guide us to faithful response.”