Mosaic Mennonite Conference of Mennonite Church USA is beginning a two-year strategic planning process to “clarify” its relationship with MC USA and other Anabaptist communities.
Delegates at Mosaic’s annual assembly affirmed the plan with 81.5% support on Nov. 5 at Souderton Mennonite Church in Pennsylvania.
A union of the former Franconia and Eastern District conferences, Mosaic is one of MC USA’s largest bodies, with more than 8,000 members (of MC USA’s 56,000) in almost 100 congregations and ministries across the U.S.
In July, the Mosaic conference board formed a task force to lead a listening process and review of relationships. Numerous Mosaic congregations, pastors and leaders urged action due to dissatisfaction with the process and outcome of an MC USA delegate session in May. At that meeting, delegates rescinded the denomination’s Membership Guidelines, which had prohibited pastors from officiating same-sex marriages, and approved an LGBTQ-affirming “Repentance and Transformation” resolution.
“Most people say the tensions are not new, but tensions have definitely grown since the special delegate session,” said Stephen Kriss, Mosaic’s executive minister. He said at least a quarter of Mosaic congregations asked for Mosaic to withdraw from MC USA following the delegate session.
“Much of the tension we see in Mosaic is not unique to us,” Kriss said. “It plays out across the denomination.”
A document prepared for Mosaic’s assembly noted that the “Repentance and Transformation” resolution is nonbinding, that no changes are required for conferences or congregations, that credentialing decisions remain at the conference level and that there is no plan to change the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective.
“Nothing changed at Kansas City for Mosaic in particular, but it does change who Mennonite Church USA is,” Kriss said. “And if we as a conference say we are not just a part of Mennonite Church USA but we are Mennonite Church USA, the relationships and accountability come into the foreground for us. . . . For some congregations, that means they can’t be part of Mosaic because they can’t remain in relationship out of their conscience.”
The plan approved by Mosaic delegates moves the conference in the direction of adjusting its bylaws to allow member communities to suspend their membership in MC USA while remaining members of Mosaic. Kriss said it was not clear how many congregations were interested in such an arrangement.
MC USA bylaws stipulate the denomination’s members are its conferences, not its congregations. Therefore, congregations that choose to disaffiliate from MC USA still have “derived membership” in the denomination. Nevertheless, multiple conferences over the years have allowed congregations to designate themselves as opting out of denominational membership.
MC USA executive director Glen Guyton and moderator-elect Jon Carlson participated in the Mosaic assembly. Guyton led a prayer for incoming moderator Angela Moyer Walter and assistant moderator Roy Williams.
“I value the many wonderful relationships I have built over the years with leaders and members of Mosaic Mennonite Conference,” Guyton said in an MC USA release. “As part of MC USA, they have been deeply involved in all aspects of our denominational life, and I hope that continues.”
Guyton and Carlson addressed questions from delegates on membership in MC USA and Mennonite World Conference, as well as the function of the Constituency Leaders Council.
Mosaic anticipates engaging a consulting group and steering team to direct the two-year process. In a list of recommendations to the Mosaic board, the listening task force said “our concerns” include “damage caused by poor decision-making models and bad processes” at MC USA’s special delegate assembly, where the only voting options were “yes” or “no.”
At its own assembly, Mosaic used a green/yellow/red system representing “affirm,” “affirm with reservations” and “withhold affirmation.” A two-thirds majority was needed to approve the strategic planning process. Affirmation without reservations would have fallen short on its own, with 60% support.
Kriss is confident the conference will need two years to clarify its relationships.
“Because of our geographical spread, our language diversity and our theological diversity, a quick process doesn’t take our diversity into account very well,” he said. “While some of us are pretty ready for a fast decision, other congregations aren’t even aware of what’s happening in Mennonite Church USA. . . . If we’re going to try to do a process that includes all of us, it’s going to take time.”