The Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA has formed a Membership Guidelines Advisory Group to recommend a process for continuing the church’s conversation on its Membership Guidelines. Iris de León-Hartshorn, associate executive director of operations, and Michael Danner, associate executive director for church vitality, will co-lead the 21-person Membership Guidelines Advisory Group, which will meet for a one-time working session Nov. 15-17 in Chicago.
The advisory group will engage in structured dialogue to review the history of the guidelines and how they are functioning in the church, develop insight needed to frame issues arising from these guidelines and consider options for how the church might address them, de León-Hartshorn says. The group also will consider feedback from the Delegate Assembly at MennoCon19, the denomination’s national convention, held July 2-6 in Kansas City, Missouri. Catherine Barnes of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Harrisonburg, Virginia, will facilitate.
“The primary goal of this gathering is to generate options for how best to discern the future of the Membership Guidelines in a way that strengthens the church and embodies the Renewed Commitments of MC USA, including our shared values of diversity and inclusion,” says de León-Hartshorn, noting that this is not a decision-making group.
“We will employ a participatory process in which all group members will have an opportunity to give input and share. Our agenda is flexible to allow us to be led by the Holy Spirit,” Danner says.
The Membership Guidelines Advisory Group is expected to deliver its written recommendations to the EB within 15 days following its meeting. These will be formally presented for discussion at the EB meeting Jan. 17-19, 2020. Moving forward, the EB will decide how best to lead the denomination through the discernment.
“It is our desire to have a transparent process,” says Michael Danner, noting that the advisory group’s report will be made public. “However, in order to provide the advisory group with the private space to have difficult conversations uninhibited, we have decided to close the advisory group’s working session to the press.”
“I pray the process will be led by the Spirit and that it would honor both our history and our desired future as a denomination,” says Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA. “We cannot ignore the symbolism of the document in our system or its impact on LGBTQ members of our congregations. We who are committed to being conduits of God’s healing and hope must be the first partakers. I am hopeful this advisory group will allow us to move forward and focus on the transformative work of the church.”
“We ask the church to pray that the advisory group will be transformed by the Holy Spirit through this experience,” de León-Hartshorn says. “We hope this journey will change how we look at and relate to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Advisory Group members
The advisory group members represent all regions of the country and have been selected to ensure balance of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation and identity and theological breadth. Participants are members in good standing of MC USA, with two non-MC USA participants who bring particular expertise.
“Beyond diversity, we sought people who would form a good working group by meeting seven specific criteria,” de León-Hartshorn says. The criteria for members included a willingness to do the following:
- Demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, defined by Galatians 5:22-23 as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
- Thoroughly read MennoCon19 delegate responses and background material and take them seriously.
- Listen deeply.
- Engage in constructive dialogue as sisters and brothers in Christ.
- Exhibit a collaborative spirit.
- Fully participate for the entire process.
- Commit to the Renewed Commitments.
The members of the Membership Guidelines Advisory Group are:
|Catherine||Barnes (facilitator)||Staunton, Virginia|
|Tina||Begay||Bloomfield, New Mexico|
|Sarah||Bixler||Princeton, New Jersey|
|Iris||de Leon-Hartshorn*||Portland, Oregon|
|Glen||Guyton*||San Antonio, Texas|
|Sandra||Montes Martinez||Dallas, Texas|
|Clare Ann||Ruth-Heffelbower||Fresno, California|
|Vivian||Stevens Lyon||Hampton, Virginia|
|Isaac||Villegas||Durham, North Carolina|
*MC USA EB staff
Background on Membership Guidelines
The original “Membership Guidelines for the Formation of Mennonite Church USA” were adopted by the Delegate Assembly in 2001. The 2001 guidelines were renamed and revised and presented to the delegates in 2013 as an administrative update. In 2015, delegates attending the biennial MC USA convention adopted a resolution affirming the current version of the guidelines, with a passing vote of 60%. The affirmation was accompanied by another resolution, entitled “Forbearance in the Midst of Differences,” which was adopted with a 71% approval during the same assembly.
The Membership Guidelines review and discernment process was among the issues the EB discussed during its meeting Sept. 5-7 in Dallas, Texas. The board approved a staff proposal to hold an advisory meeting to generate options for how the church might discern the future of its Membership Guidelines.
During its meeting Oct. 17-18 in Glendale, Arizona, the Constituency Leaders Council received an update on the formation and purpose of this advisory group, including information on the future discernment role of the CLC.