This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Mennonite Brethren draw churches seeking a new home

North Central Mennonite Conference voted to dissolve at its annual assembly in Exeland, Wis., but that doesn’t necessarily mean its congregations are going their separate ways.

Most of the former Mennonite Church USA churches anticipate staying together and joining the U.S. Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches.

Youth and sponsors worship at the MB Central District Youth Conference Nov. 17-20 at Cedar Canyon Camp near Rapid City, S.D. — Central District Youth Conference
Youth and sponsors worship at the MB Central District Youth Conference Nov. 17-20 at Cedar Canyon Camp near Rapid City, S.D. — Central District Youth Conference

Formerly known as the North Central Conference of Mennonite Church USA, North Central is a group of eight churches scattered from Montana to Wisconsin.

Conference minister Fred Kanagy said a few congregations had departed the conference in the past couple of years. In 2015 the conference voted to withdraw from MC USA shortly after delegates at that year’s MC USA convention approved a call for forbearance on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.

“We’d been really struggling with keeping our leadership intact,” said Kanagy, who is pastor of Lakeview Mennonite Church in Wolford, N.D. “So we restructured a while ago to eliminate some duplication due to lack of volunteers. It became more difficult for the few of us to keep it going.”

Kanagy did not have a vote total from the annual assembly, which was held in June, but said support for dissolving the conference was “pretty strong.” The date for official dissolution is undefined. North Central leadership hope legal matters can be completed by early next year.

While the conference ends, congregations anticipate continuing to work closely with youth rallies, mission outreach, women’s retreats and other activities — not just with each other but with MB churches in the area.

Delegates “pretty strongly recommended that all the congregations would follow the same path and join the Central District of the Mennonite Brethren,” he said. “That was just a recommendation, and each congregation is discerning whether that’s the route they will take.”

Central District minister Rick Eshbaugh said any congregations that apply for membership in time would be considered by the District Ministry Council at its Sept. 11 meeting. As of Sept. 5, he believed four congregations had made such a decision and others were in various stages of processing.

“I think primarily it was the theological affiliation, as well as the proximity we have to some of the churches,” Eshbaugh said of what makes the Mennonite Brethren attractive to North Central churches. “We had a number of their youth join us for our fall youth conference in Rapid City, S.D.”

Kanagy agreed geography played a significant role, noting the regional churches were already collaborating on Mennonite Disaster Service projects and Mennonite Central Committee sales.

“We looked very seriously at Conservative Mennonite Conference,” he said. “As far as beliefs and practices and theology, there isn’t much difference at all between Conservative Conference and Mennonite Brethren, so it’s more of a geographic alignment.”

The process of joining Central District could reunite North Central with two Montana congregations that had departed.

“Because there are a number of Mennonite Brethren congregations in eastern Montana, I do see a real possibility that we’ll be together again,” Kanagy said.

Eshbaugh noted that growth and changes to Central District will coincide with a shift in USMB’s national strategy to emphasize resourcing cohorts of churches instead of working at a presence in each congregation.

“We’ll probably have to change how we do ministry, but it also gives us a stronger base and affirms our desire that we’re being faithful with what God brings to us,” he said. “It’s probably already changed our youth conference by needing to find bigger facilities.”

Central District’s growth isn’t limited to former MC USA churches. The District Ministry Council is adding a Congolese church in Sioux Falls, S.D., and an Ethiopian congregation in Indianapolis, stretching the district’s footprint.

Should all of the North Central congregations and other potential church plants join, Eshbaugh said Central District might ultimately go from 26 to 46 member congregations, with an increase in people of about 25 percent.

“It’s our desire that some of them be members on a board for us this coming fall,” he said. “So that’s the desire, if we can get some of them joined by September, then they could send delegates to our convention in November at Henderson (Neb.) Mennonite Brethren Church.”

Two MC USA congregations have joined USMB’s Southern District. First Mennonite Church in Clinton, Okla., transferred from the Western District Conference in 2015, and New Hopedale Mennonite Church in Meno, Okla., joined in 2004.

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

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