GOSHEN, Ind. — Members of Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leaders Council discussed multiple perspectives on covenant relationships while dreaming of the church’s future together March 7-9 at Silverwood Mennonite Church.
Nearly 70 denominational and conference leaders discussed how the body relates to MC USA.
“This meeting matters because we have come together in the wake of losing conferences, even while others are in the process of making decisions,” said Jennifer Delanty, moderator of Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, in her Listening Committee report.
“Even in the midst of all this, we are beginning something new. There is healing going on. There is need for us to continue to be together and discern what God has in place for us.”
A statement outlining the CLC’s responsibilities as denominational elders was adopted.
It describes the council’s role as to listen, model a missional community and offer counsel to the Executive Board and broader church. It also sets guidelines for how the CLC will interact with conferences “when we are in conference-to-conference conflict” and “when conferences and congregations question their willingness to be part of their conference and/or Mennonite Church USA.”
Kurt Horst, representing South Central Mennonite Conference, presented a statement on covenant relationships in MC USA. He gave a personal testimony reflecting on the pain of broken relationships among conferences that led him to question his participation in CLC, though he said he has not “found the spiritual release to withdraw.” From his perspective, both the action of conferences licensing pastors in same-sex relationships as well as the action of conferences withdrawing “without clearly naming their unmet expectations, and without allowing other conferences to be involved in their withdrawal” constitute a violation of covenant.
CLC planners asked Leslie Francisco III, representing the African American Mennonite Association, and Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister for Central District Conference, to prepare responses.
Francisco encouraged the church to “be true to its polity” and to “trust the instruments we have to aviate, navigate and communicate.”
“The question is not if we’re in favor of or opposed to same-sex marriage,” he said. “The question is: How do we do church together? Until that question is answered, we should use our current agreements to guide us to a safe position.”
Kaufmann noted that delegates passed the forbearance resolution because there is not consensus within MC USA and that Central District leadership feels led to move in a direction that is at odds with what the Executive Board and the delegates have officially affirmed.
“We would like to see space for parts of the church to continue to test this direction,” she said. “Our decision is rooted in our understanding of the Bible, and we acknowledge that not everyone in our churches reads the Bible the same way. We also need to ask ourselves: How does change happen? Have all changes waited until there was denominational consensus?”
Members offered feedback to a proposal from area conference ministers to implement a peer-to-peer review process that the CLC would facilitate. The proposal will be revised and discussed again in October.
Members spent time worshiping together and praying for one another. Near the close of the meetings, the group surrounded participants from Kansas and prayed for all those affected by shootings on Feb. 25 in Hesston and Newton.
During open mic time, the question of dialogue with members of the LGBTQ community was raised. The Executive Board voted in February against a proposal to make the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests a constituency group with representatives on the CLC but encouraged the CLC to explore ways of inviting conversation.
A proposal from CLC meeting planners to include LGBTQ conversation partners in table groups at the CLC was turned down by BMC leadership. The CLC did not discuss other options at this meeting.
Marv Friesen of Allegheny Mennonite Conference shared a concern that LGBTQ leaders are “becoming fatigued and even finished wanting to have conversations in which their humanity is being vetted one more time.” He proposed inviting allies to participate in table group discussions at future CLC meetings.
Marco Güete, executive minister for Southeast Mennonite Conference, reflected on how Lancaster Mennonite Conference’s decision to withdraw from MC USA has affected Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church). He requested prayer for the 70-80 IMH congregations that remain full members of the denomination.
“IMH is starting over as a new organization,” he said. “Pray for the leaders; they have big dreams.”
Allen Lehman, conference minister for Franklin Mennonite Conference, shared that the conference’s board has adopted a recommendation to withdraw from MC USA, and congregations are being given time to process the matter. A final vote is scheduled for April 18.
Jessica Schrock Ringenberg, a member of the pastoral team of Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, Ohio, shared her dreams for the denomination’s future.
“I love the church. I love this group. I recognize that I feel like we are being very short-sighted,” she said. “We spend all our time holding onto the golden age of the past, but we have an opportunity to be much bigger.
“I know we don’t all agree, but I look forward to being part of a group that loves the church. Can we see this as an opportunity to reinvent ourselves?”