Mosaic Conference evaluating relationships with MC USA

Delegates’ action in May has sparked conversations in several conferences

The task force created by Mosaic Mennonite Conference’s Board will lead a listening process and review of the conference’s relationships with Mennonite Church USA. Members are Maria Hosler Byler, Herman Sagastume, Eden Strunk, Roy Williams, Nathan Good, Jenny Fujita, Jeff Wright, Sonya Stauffer Kurtz, Aldo Siahaan and Mike Derstine. — Mosaic Mennonite Conference The task force created by Mosaic Mennonite Conference’s Board will lead a listening process and review of the conference’s relationships with Mennonite Church USA. Members are Maria Hosler Byler, Herman Sagastume, Eden Strunk, Roy Williams, Nathan Good, Jenny Fujita, Jeff Wright, Sonya Stauffer Kurtz, Aldo Siahaan and Mike Derstine. — Mosaic Mennonite Conference

Mosaic Mennonite Conference is evaluating its relationships with Mennonite Church USA following the denomination’s special delegate assembly in May that affirmed a more inclusive stance on sexuality.

The Mosaic Conference Board formed a task force on July 18 to lead a listening process and review of the conference’s relationships with MC USA. The board has asked the task force to listen to the diversity of the conference and bring a proposal to the conference’s Nov. 4-5 annual assembly at Souderton Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania, but the nature of such a proposal has not been specified.

Mosaic stated in a news release that the board reviewed “numerous letters from Mosaic congregations, pastors and leaders, urging action in considering the ongoing relationships with MC USA. For many, the resolutions and decision-making processes at the MC USA special delegate session in May demonstrated disconnect with the denomination and Mosaic Conference’s formation document and mission.”

Mosaic is one of the denomination’s largest conferences, with more than 8,000 members in almost 100 congregations and ministries spread across the United States. It was formed by the reconciliation of Eastern District Conference and Franconia Mennonite Conference in 2019.

“We have a number of congregations that are quite happy with the direction of Mennonite Church USA and feel like Mennonite Church USA is home,” said Mosaic executive minister ­Stephen Kriss. “And we have a significant number of congregations that have expressed a sense of discontent.

“The special delegate session has been a surfacing point of that tension, . . . but these are not new tensions.”

Kriss noted one congregation, Covenant Community Fellowship in Harleysville, Pa., has already withdrawn from the conference, and Finland Mennonite Church in Pennsburg voted on Aug. 28 to leave Mosaic. Franconia Mennonite Church, one the conference’s largest congregations, announced in August that it would hold a vote about its conference membership after the November assembly.

Mosaic’s discernment is not unique. Multiple conferences started having conversations about their affiliation when MC USA announced plans to evaluate its Membership Guidelines, a document that prohibited pastors from officiating same-sex marriages.

Delegates completed the evaluation in May, voting 267-212, or 55.7% in favor, to approve a “Repentance and Transformation” resolution that not only rescinded the guidelines but also confessed harm, affirmed the spiritual gifts of LGBTQ people and committed to inclusive actions.

Ohio and South Central conferences have held official discussions regarding their affiliation with MC USA. Ohio Mennonite Evangel reported credentialed ministers met Aug. 23 “on discerning God’s future vision for Ohio Conference,” including “time for generating and considering future options for affiliation(s).” Ohio regional delegate gatherings are taking place the last two weeks in September.

Other conferences, including New York and Illinois, have been in conversation with congregations that are considering leaving the denomination. In Virginia Mennonite Conference, there are “many conversations going on amid wide dismay expressed about several recent MC USA actions,” said conference moderator Sara Wenger Shenk. She noted one church left the conference at last winter’s delegate assembly, and another did so at this summer’s assembly.

At least two conferences, Ohio and South Central, allow congregations to identify themselves as members of the conference but not the denomination. Mosaic’s bylaws do not allow this.

MC USA does not consider those congregations any different from others. Michael Danner, MC USA associate executive director of church vitality, said denominational bylaws stipulate that a congregation with membership in an MC USA conference has “derived membership” in MC USA.

“We don’t treat those congregations any differently,” he said in an interview. “We give them the same access to resources. Congregations are free not to participate in MC USA activities, take advantage of MC USA resources or give to the denomination, but we have to function according to our bylaws.”

As called for in the “Repentance” resolution, work has begun at the Executive Board level to form a constituency group of LGBTQIA leaders for representation on MC USA’s Constituency Leaders Council.
Danner believes conferences’ and congregations’ willingness to sacrifice relationships due to the delegates’ vote represents a loss of the community aspect of Anabaptist discipleship.

“The assumption that separating is a proper response to differences is a defect in our discipleship,” he said. “This is not how we’re called to be church together. Disagreement is a part of life; division as a response to disagreement is a choice.

“Maybe it’s the polarization we have seen over the last few years. I think the thing that has been demoralizing to pastors — particularly in the pandemic — is seeing how easily churches can be fractured along political lines.”

Kriss noted the coming months will be complex because of Mosaic’s racial/ethnic and theological diversity. The conference produces documents in six languages, and nearly half its congregations are majority Black, Indigenous and People of Color worshiping communities.

“There are many kinds of relationships we have with Mennonite Church USA, and some of our congregations that are considering withdrawal will maintain some relationships with Mennonite Church USA,” he said. “. . . The review process is designed to help us reflect on what ways we can build healthy relationships across the Anabaptist world, recognizing our own diverse positions within Mosaic.”

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. Read More

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