Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA is remaining affiliated with the denomination after a proposal to withdraw received majority support but less than the two-thirds needed to pass.
The delegate vote, in which 54.7% favored withdrawal, followed three straw polls to determine which scenario would come to a vote — one to remain or one to withdraw — at the March 3-4 Annual Conference Assembly hosted by Central Christian School in Kidron.
Thirty-five of the conference’s 41 congregations were represented by 153 delegates at the meeting.
The conference’s Leadership Team acknowledged in a March 9 letter to delegates and congregations that the outcome leaves the body divided on whether to remain with MC USA.
“We were committed going into ACA that a vote of less than a 2/3 majority by our delegates on either of the scenarios presented would not give us a clear mandate of God’s will for us regarding future affiliation,” it wrote. “We also acknowledge that the discernment regarding affiliation has been draining for many and has taken time away from our primary mission of living out God’s Greatest Commandments and Jesus’ Great Commission.”
The conference plans to continue allowing congregations to opt out of direct membership with MC USA, a practice it began with a 2017 constitution revision. An identity statement used by the conference clarifies that its credentialed ministers and congregational members interpret Scripture differently regarding how much to include LGBTQ people in congregational life, and that credentialed ministers will not perform a same-gender marriage ceremony or be in a same-sex relationship themselves.
Congregations that opt out of MC USA membership will not be counted by the conference for MC USA census purposes, and their members cannot serve as MC USA representatives on boards, but pastors will still have access to the denomination’s Corinthian Plan health insurance.
The vote comes at the halfway point of a two-year review evaluating the conference’s affiliation and structure. The Leadership Team indicated it will shift focus in the coming year to aligning Ohio Conference’s organization with its mission.
“We don’t have clarity [on affiliation], but we don’t want to put a lot of attention on that at this point,” said conference minister Dick Barrett in an interview. “Might we revisit it at some point? Yes, but we also want to focus on the reality that we have a significant number of congregations that want to continue to be fully engaged with MC USA. We want to allow that. And for those that don’t, we want to give them space, too.
“We recognize it has been a draining time, especially after COVID. We think it’s taken us off our primary mission.”
The conference held many meetings with credentialed ministers and delegates between April and October that generated several possible approaches to affiliation. These were narrowed down to four, including the prospect of joining LMC, formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference, which withdrew from MC USA several years ago. Based on delegate feedback and conversation with MC USA leaders, the conference’s Strategic Planning Team recommended narrowing it down to the two options that were considered at the March assembly.
Had the resolution passed, the conference would have changed its name to Ohio Mennonite Conference and become temporarily independent to seek a new affiliation over a two- or three-year period.
Congregations that wanted to remain in MC USA would have been allowed to dually affiliate with another MC USA conference.
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