South Central Mennonite Conference is beginning a year of discernment about whether to remain affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. The yearlong “Discovery Process” began after the conference’s July 25-26 online annual assembly and is the third step in a three-year process of discernment and discovery. The process will use a series of congregational and conference meetings, which come as the conference restructures its leadership. Howard and Cathy Wagler, in their role as network directors, a new leadership position, will be the link between the conference and broader church organizations. Howard Wagler will chair the Discovery Process. “The pull of culture toward a progressive side of a continuum has been part of, but not all of, why we are doing this,” said Howard Wagler, who retired recently as lead pastor at Journey Mennonite Church, a multisite congregation in south central Kansas, and was a member of South Central’s Executive Committee. “The specific reason for this is that we can be on mission and know that we are with congregations and are part of a network or conference that holds up like kinds of values.” An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 people attend South Central’s 35 congregations, which stretch from Kansas, Colorado and Missouri to the southern tip of Texas. For denominational delegate calculations, MC USA records 2,688 South Central members, although not every congregation is a member of MC USA. In 2017 South Central began offering the option for congregations to be members of the conference but not MC USA. Wagler said it’s not his place to predict what affiliation the conference might choose if it left MC USA. “That’s part of our discovery,” he said. “I would say yes to Anabaptist, but again, that’s part of the discovery process. We don’t want to bring [answers] as conference leaders. We want to hear from congregations.” MC USA executive director Glen Guyton said MC USA bylaws defines its members as the area conferences. “Each conference has full authority to manage the affairs of its own organization, including personnel and programming,” he said. “We look forward to engaging South Central Mennonite Conference in their year of discovery.” The conference has asked congregations to identify a congregational leader by the end of August who will engage with the conference in four online consultation meetings and submit congregational responses to surveys in three phases. Wagler is joined on the Discovery Process team by regional conference minister Clarence Rempel of Newton, Kan., Pastor Jeff Selzer of Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Hydro, Okla., and Pastor Rod Schmucker of Hope for the Broken in Los Fresnos, Texas. Schmucker is a conference Executive Team member and will be the contact person for the conference’s Unidad Cristiana de Iglesias Menonitas (Christian Union of Mennonite Churches) South Texas churches.
This article was originally published by The Mennonite