The congregations of Southeast Mennonite Conference are reanalyzing their future after delegates delayed a decision on where to affiliate.
After an 18-8 vote in October to leave Mennonite Church USA, delegates gathered March 2 at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Fort Myers, Fla., to consider a new affiliation.
Conference leaders presented LMC (formerly Lancaster Mennonite Conference) as their choice. LMC representatives attended the meeting.
After much discussion, Southeast Conference moderator Michael Zehr recommended, and delegates agreed, to delay action until later this year.
“It became clear to me that we weren’t ready to make a decision,” said Zehr, who is also a church planter in Key West, Fla.
Several congregations expressed interest in remaining part of MC USA.
“Southeast Conference leadership’s mandate was to investigate affiliation options, and they came back with one option, leaving MC USA and joining LMC,” said Roy Williams, pastor of College Hill Mennonite Church in Tampa, Fla. “But there were those of us who voted not to leave MC USA. About a third of us did not agree with leaving. Are we cut out of the picture?”
Williams, who was moderator of MC USA from 2005 to 2007, invited representatives of congregations that wanted to remain part of MC USA to join him for lunch, and people from nine congregations did.
As of May 1, Southeast Conference has 23 congregations, including those seeking to remain part of MC USA.
Steve Kriss, executive minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference, sent a letter March 12 offering support to MC USA’s Florida congregations, in response to outreach from Williams, who is now acting moderator of the group seeking to remain part of MC USA.
“Because of long-term relationships with the communities in Florida, Franconia offered to be encouraging as they discern future relationships and to support them to stay at the table with MC USA,” Kriss said.
Michael Danner, associate executive director for church vitality and engagement for MC USA, sent a letter to MC USA’s Florida congregations saying the denomination was earmarking money for staff to work with any congregations seeking to remain part of MC USA.
Effective March 15, Marco Güete of Sarasota, Fla., is interim leadership minister at Franconia Conference, working as the staff leader of congregations seeking to remain part of MC USA. Güete also works at Mennonite Education Agency with its initiatives with Spanish-speaking leadership development. He is a former conference minister for Southeast Mennonite Conference.
According to Güete, some congregations “didn’t like LMC for affiliation because they didn’t agree with LMC’s structure.”
Although Southeast Conference’s departure from MC USA became effective March 16, the denomination is allowing all congregations that have been part of Southeast Conference one year to determine their affiliation. The denomination will, if requested, hold ministerial credentials for that time.
Representatives from seven congregations met April 13 at Iglesia Menonita Arca de Salvación in Fort Myers. Additional participants were Kriss; Noel Santiago, Franconia Conference leadership minister; Dawn Yoder Graber, MC USA Executive Board member; and Mauricio Chenlo, minister for church planting for Mennonite Mission Network.
The representatives took three actions by consensus:
— To take several months for dialogue about potentially joining Franconia Conference;
— To affirm Güete and Williams in their roles and to name Rick Lee, pastor of Homestead (Fla.) Mennonite Church, as the group’s secretary and treasurer;
— To allow College Hill Mennonite Church to receive financial contributions on behalf of the group.