This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Ohio sets ‘boundaries’ for staying with MC USA

Delegates at the annual assembly of Mennonite Church USA’s Ohio Conference decided to draw closer to each other while allowing a handful of congregations to put more distance between themselves and the denomination.

The assembly met March 11-12 at Central Mennonite Church in Archbold.

Delegates voted down a resolution asking the leadership team to look at whether the conference wants to leave MC USA in the near future. But it passed another resolution creating an option for congregations to be part of Ohio Conference but not MC USA.

Transitional conference leader George O’Reilly said a statement on remaining with MC USA was affirmed.

“It sets out some parameters, some boundary markers for our future relationship with MC USA,” he said.

The statement reiterates and clarifies the conference’s commitment to MC USA, but says a discernment process to leave would be triggered by substantive changes to the Confession of Faith or Membership Guidelines, or any denominational requirement that the conference recognize the credentials of people licensed or ordained in other conferences.

Last summer, MC USA’s Central District Conference, which overlaps Ohio, licensed Mark Rupp for ministry at Columbus Mennonite Church. He is the second MC USA pastor in a committed same-sex partnership to be credentialed.

Since Ohio Conference’s statement was not a resolution and not a change to the constitution, it did not require a vote.

One congregation brought a resolution to the resolutions committee asking that the conference leave MC USA immediately. O’Reilly said a modified resolution was brought to the floor asking if the conference should look into leaving the denomination in the near future.

“The yes vote garnered 30 percent, so it was fairly significantly defeated,” he said.

Two tiers

A resolution proposing two-tier membership status found far greater support, passing with 80 percent approval. O’Reilly said it is similar to the agreement Lancaster Mennonite Conference has used during its MC USA membership.

“It involves MC USA taking those congregations off their membership lists and requires Ohio Conference to keep funds separate — keeping some structural difference for Ohio Conference-only congregations,” he said, noting there are about four to eight churches interested in such status.

“. . . We worked on that since September of last year after an all-pastors meeting and we thought that there might be more, but some who might have chosen that had decided fairly early on to just leave Ohio Conference and MC USA.”

Other factors at the assembly — such as the failure of the last-minute resolution to look into leaving MC USA — might influence others to act similarly.

“It is quite possible that some congregations seeing that vote might now consider the Ohio-only membership option more appealing,” O’Reilly said.

Working for unity

Another action was also inspired by eastern MC USA conference activity. Taking inspiration from a similar Virginia Mennonite Conference project, Ohio Conference affirmed a Year of Covenant document for congregations to join together in working on controversial topics in a more intentional and unifying way.

“It is to join in one year of covenant relating and growing in our relational capacity with each other,” O’Reilly said. “. . . There was very strong support for that.”

The covenant asks that congregations, pastors and leaders commit to a year of sharing and listening openly to each other, trying to de-emphasize discussions of “separation” or “leaving.” It requests that when a clear direction is set at the end of the covenant year, “there will be an appropriate time for congregations to discern if Ohio Conference will continue to be their home.”

O’Reilly said the delegate body of just under 200 was well-represented and robust. He said Ohio Conference has fallen from 77 congregations to 64 being represented at this meeting. During the gathering, seven congregations were released at their request.

“We’ve released a lot of congregations from Ohio Conference and MC USA,” he said. “. . . It was a very good and a much more positive annual conference assembly than last year. I think there is a sense that the conference has a good direction to work at; that has good possibilities to more positive relating with one another.”

Tim Huber

Tim Huber is associate editor at Anabaptist World. He worked at Mennonite World Review since 2011. A graduate of Tabor College, Read More

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