Photo: Delegates queue to speak at the microphone during Ohio Conference’s Annual Conference Assembly. At the microphone: Erin Dye; Standing L-R: Keith Hostetler, Cliff Brubaker, and Steve Schmid. Photo provided by Ohio Conference.
Ohio Conference chose to stay as a member of Mennonite Church USA by voting not to leave at its annual conference assembly March 11-12 at Central Mennonite Church, Archbold, Ohio.
The Ohio Conference Leadership Team, prompted by several congregations, brought a resolution before delegates asking the Leadership Team to explore leaving Mennonite Church USA. The motion was defeated 70-30 percent.
However, that didn’t mean everything will remain as before. Leadership also brought a proposal that the
conference’s constitution be amended “to create two distinct forms of membership within Ohio Conference. Both forms of membership would be equal in all facets of internal conference workings.” Further, the proposal would create two separate funding streams, one in which no donations would go to Mennonite Church USA, its member conferences or organizations.
A resolution proposing this two-tiered membership passed by an 80 percent vote. Those congregations that decide to remain members of Ohio Conference but remove themselves from MC USA will require Ohio Conference to keep the giving from those churches separate.
“Before, with confusion about our connection to MC USA, two-tiered membership wasn’t getting any traction,” said transitional conference leader George O’Reilly March 17. “Once it was clear that Ohio Conference was going to stay with MC USA, there were a few congregations that would find being Ohio Conference-only congregations a helpful structure.”
“Denominationally we don’t have any prohibition for conferences offering to allow congregations to be a part of their conference and not Mennonite Church USA,” said Terry Shue, MC USA director of leadership development, in a Jan. 29 phone interview. “It makes it a little clumsy, but from our part, the only piece that we change is that we take them off the mailing list of things coming from MC USA.”
Another implication for those congregations, according to Shue, is that congregations may not use the MLI (Ministerial Leadership Information) forms when searching for pastoral leadership. “We’re in conversations about how those conferences [in flux] will access the MLI-entry point,” said Shue. “Especially in this season, as Lancaster is in this two year discernment process, we in leadership development are trying to be as full of grace and abundance as possible in how we manage access, instead of just drawing a sharp line.”
O’Reilly has indicated that so far only four to eight congregations are interested in this status.
Delegates also affirmed and processed a statement from conference leadership that affirmed staying connected to the denomination while also drawing clear boundaries about what the conference will and won’t do. The “Statement on Remaining with MC USA” says, “Ohio Conference is choosing to remain a part of MC USA in order to articulate to the denomination our perceptions of differences in doctrine and practice.” It also notes that changes to the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, denominational Membership Guidelines or “any denominational requirement that Ohio Conference recognize the credentials of individuals licensed or ordained in other conferences” would prompt further discernment about whether or not to leave MC USA. The full text of the statement is available online.
“[The statement] didn’t substantively change the relationship between MC USA and Ohio Conference,” said O”Reilly. “What it did do was affirm the Leadership Team’s intention to remain connected with MC USA but also set forth a posture of setting boundaries.”
Delegates did not vote on this statement.
Meanwhile, seven Ohio Conference congregations have decided to leave the conference, and one has closed.
Conference delegates also agreed to a Year of Covenant document, which calls congregations, pastors and leaders to commit to a year of sharing and listening openly to each other, trying to de-emphasize discussions of “separation” or “leaving,” and committing to a focus on mission.
In a March 18 email, Paula Snyder Belousek, pastor at Salem Mennonite Church in Elida, Ohio, called
this “a positive step in moving the conference forward together.” At the same time, she lamented the loss of churches who have left in the past year. But she said she is confident “the congregations who remain and are willing to commit to the year of covenant will be able to move forward together and focus on life-giving forms of ministry. It feels like we have some positive energy to build on together.”
O’Reilly also said the tone of the meeting “was generally positive. I think we left there feeling more oriented to the future and a little less oriented to recent conflict.”
According to Judy King, conference administrator, more than 200 delegates registered for the annual
assembly, representing 64 of the 77 member congregations. The assembly included times of worship and opened with a special training session on “Becoming Missional” led by Brad Brisco and Lance Ford of Forge Ministries. Eighty-nine people participated in this training on March 11.
Watch a video of Ohio Conference’s Annual Conference Assembly :
Produced by Ohio Mennonite Conference.
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