This article was originally published by The Mennonite

Three bridges from Pittsburgh 2011


Bridge-building and reconciliation formed the theme of Mennonite Church USA’s national convention in Pittsburgh July 4-9. But the thing about bridges is, they don’t move. It is those who wish to cross to the other side who do the moving.

Thomas Everett 2At least three important bridges were built at Pittsburgh 2011. All three remain for those who wish to continue spanning differences.

First is the bridge to the Lutheran church built by the Lutheran World Federation with a 2010 apology for persecuting Anabaptists.

“We acknowledge we are guilty for the way we acted,” Bishop Donald McCoid said to the Delegate Assembly on July 5. “[Our apology] included a message of deep love and respect and our strong prayer that we will be one.”

McCoid, executive for ecumenical and inter-church relations for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, helped get the action adopted by the Lutherans. It was clear from his words that he will continue to cross the bridge in the future. For example, he said the Catholic church asked to open a dialogue with the ELCA on the meaning of baptism. He said, “Yes, but the Mennonites must be part of it.”

A second bridge that will undoubtedly stay with us for a long while is something called a “Conversation Room.” Staffed by skilled mediators, these rooms became the designated places for attendees to talk about controversial issues such as immigration, Israel-Palestine and human sexuality.

“We overwhelmingly heard that the Conversation Rooms were a safe space to speak to each other,” said Executive Board staff member André Gingerich Stoner on July 7. “Especially on the issue of sexuality, there was a range of perspectives, less evident on other issues.”

A third bridge that surprised many was Mennonite Church USA executive director Ervin Stutzman’s clear support of the membership guidelines and the documents established by the church in the past. After reading excerpts from the documents, Stutzman said after each one, “This is what our church has said, and this is what I believe.”

What evidence is there that this is a bridge? Those on both ends of the sexuality issue are unhappy with Stutzman’s position. Because the church has said in the past that we will continue with “loving dialogue” about sexuality, Stutzman intends to move foward with the tension the polarization creates. Those who want the church to simply declare that homosexual practice is sin—and stop talking about it—are not pleased with his position. Those who wish to change the church’s teaching position on homosexual practice are not happy to now have an executive director who unashamedly supports the church’s statements.

So the three bridges remain for us to cross. These and others are the legacy of our 2011 convention. How many of us use them in the future depends on whether we wish to be reconciled to sisters and brothers in the church in the other side.—ejt

Thanks, Ed

It was providential that Ed Diller served as Mennonite Church USA’s moderator for the past two years. Apparently The 2011 Delegate Assembly thought so also; they gave him a spirited standing ovation at the conclusion of the convention.

“We give thanks for moderator Ed Diller,” the Resolutions Committee said on July 8, “with his focus, calm, humor, grace, humility and willingness to learn.”

During his watch, Ed worked with three different executive directors, helped the church navigate the wounding decision to hold our 2013 convention in Phoenix, and steered an anxious delegate body into calmer waters.

Thanks, Ed.

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