KANSAS CITY, Mo. — In its final in-person meeting before the Mennonite Church USA convention in July, the denomination’s Executive Board on March 31-April 2 unanimously accepted terms to release The Mennonite Inc. as a churchwide program entity.
The release would enable TMI to merge with Mennonite World Review Inc. to form a new, independent media organization, pending further decision-making by MWR Inc.
David Boshart, moderator of MC USA, reviewed the process that led to this point.
In February 2018, representatives of TMI and MWR Inc. recommended that their boards of directors begin movement toward merging operations and governance, pending approval by four groups: the TMI board, the MWR Inc. board, MWR Inc. corporation members and MC USA.
In March 2018, the TMI and MWR boards approved the merger in principle, initiating negotiations between TMI and the Executive Board to determine terms of the release of TMI from the MC USA system.
The proposal from the TMI and MWR Inc. boards called for creating an independent media organization that explores “the intersection of faith, life and culture through an Anabaptist lens.” Serving an inter-Mennonite audience and covering global Anabaptism, it would give priority to serving the members of MC USA, who are TMI’s and MWR Inc.’s largest constituency.
After TMI and MC USA representatives were unable to agree on terms related to the proposed merger, the TMI board in November withdrew from the negotiations. The Executive Board and TMI representatives continued to be in conversation to determine a mutually beneficial outcome regarding the future of TMI and its assets.
The TMI and MWR Inc. boards met together March 29-30 in North Newton, Kan. Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA, joined the boards March 29. In those meetings, both boards renewed their commitment to a merger and agreed on terms to present to Executive Board representatives the next day.
During several Executive Board sessions, board members discussed the proposed terms, which initiate significant changes in denominational communication channels and determine how TMI’s assets will be distributed as TMI separates from the MC USA system.
After the board accepted the terms negotiated by TMI and MC USA representatives, Boshart affirmed the leaders of TMI and the vision for a new, independent media organization.
“The EB wants to communicate its strong support for your vision,” Boshart said. “We wish you success.”
The approximately 140 MWR Inc. corporation members will need to decide whether to support the merger of MWR Inc. and TMI. A decision is anticipated later this year, with a goal of completing the merger and releasing new print and digital products by September 2020.
Guyton presented a new direction for denominational communications that will include closer collaboration among agencies.
“MC USA must be able to communicate our mission and ministry in the context of who we are as a denomination,” Guyton said. “Closer collaboration between agencies, area conferences and local congregations will help bring clarity to the system.”
The board affirmed the strategy, which includes hiring a chief communications officer for MC USA, who will convene a group of communications and marketing representatives from each churchwide agency, coordinate resources and look for ways to improve interagency communications and marketing collaboration.
Guyton and Joy Sutter, moderator-elect, summarized outcomes of the Constituency Leaders Council meetings Feb. 28-March 2 in Hesston, Kan. CLC members are considered the elders of MC USA and, while they do not have decision-making authority, are tasked with advising the Executive Board.
Guyton presented feedback from the CLC on a process for reviewing MC USA’s Membership Guidelines. The guidelines’ section three — which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and says pastors may not perform same-sex marriages — is of particular interest, he said, given that the practices of a growing number of pastors, congregations and conferences do not align.
Delegates at the 2015 assembly reaffirmed the guidelines, with the stipulation that no changes would be considered for four years. There are no plans to bring a resolution to this summer’s delegate assembly regarding the guidelines.
With delegates, the Executive Board will describe the process of getting CLC input and explain a process for engaging the MC USA constituency during the next biennium through teaching and study resources.
Executive Board member Leslie Francisco III noted the guidelines are “a statement of faith, not a statement of fact.”
“I’ve been a part of this church all my life, but because of my culture and how dynamics worked in our congregation growing up, when you put something on paper, that meant ‘this is the way it is,’ ” he said. “It took me years to understand that these documents aren’t legislative.”
The Executive Board took action on proposed bylaw changes to be presented at this summer’s convention. One would allow all congregations to send one additional delegate, a youth aged 16-21, while racial-ethnic groups could send two additional youth delegates. These youth would be permitted to vote, unlike in past conventions in which they have only participated.