Ohio Conference of Mennonite Church USA is urging its member congregations to study the topic of sexuality in preparation for a special delegate session Aug. 9.
The session will consider a resolution that was tabled at the annual meeting in March. It urges Mountain States Mennonite Conference to reverse its decision to license a pastor in a committed same-sex union — and to face possible expulsion from the denomination if it does not.
Fifty-one current and retired Ohio pastors signed the letter calling for the resolution “with great anguish and sorrow.”
In preparation for the special session, conference minister Tom Kauffman said he hoped every congregation would at least talk about the resolution.
“We’ve tried to make as much study material available as possible,” he said. “It’s our hope that people will take that study time seriously.”
The session will be held at Martins Creek Mennonite Church in Millersburg. A two-thirds majority is needed for the resolution to pass.
If it passes, it will be taken to the Constituency Leaders Council to decide if it should move to the Executive Board. The resolution asks the CLC and the board to bring a motion to delegates at the national convention next summer in Kansas City to remove Mountain States from membership if the pastor’s license is not withdrawn.
If the resolution does not pass, Kauffman said, Ohio Conference has a process in place for deciding what its continued relationship with Mountain States will be. Kauffman isn’t entirely sure what that would look like.
“At this point we are committed to staying in dialogue with them,” he said. He said one likely possibility would be for Ohio Conference to take Mountain States leaders up on an offer to visit Ohio.
“A personal hope of mine would be finding a way to model a continued respectful relationship even when we may disagree on a specific theological issue or action — being committed to being in fellowship with one another as we seek to all, together, discover more fully the mind of Christ,” he said.
Ohio Conference sent a delegation of three pastors to Denver in May to learn more about the Mountain States decision: Naomi Engle, chair of Ohio’s credentialing ministry team, Matt Hamsher, pastor of Longenecker Mennonite Church in Dundee, and Bill Seymour, pastor of Orrville Mennonite Church.
Kauffman said it was a good opportunity for the conference to better understand the decision and Mountain States’ process.
“Our goal was to build some relational capital with them,” he said. “We felt like that was really achieved.”
Each pastor wrote a report to share at the special session.
Engle said in her report she walked away from Mountain States feeling able to disagree in love.
“They are a younger conference and don’t have as many traditions as we have,” she wrote.
Hamsher, a signatory of the letter that called for the resolution, reported his visit helped him understand Mountain States’ process and intentions and helped him see common values and commitments.
“In the end we have many key differences in how we read and interpret Scripture, spiritual practices and priorities, and expectations regarding discipleship and the meaning and place of community,” he wrote.
Seymour compared the polity to music in his report.
“The question for Mennonite Church USA is whether the Confession of Faith is more like jazz or more like a symphony?” he asked. “What amount of variations and embellishments are allowed or expected in our piece of music as it is being played?”
Mountain States conference minister Herm Weaver sent a note to thank Ohio Conference for their visit and for listening with respect.
He wrote that people in Mountain States “often feel really disconnected and not valued by the centers of the Mennonite world in the east. Your visit was just huge for us. We felt like a part of the whole and just a wee bit more connected.”
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