Photo: Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church. Photo credit: Gordon Houser.
After last October’s Western District Conference (WDC) assembly, where delegates passed a resolution that put the conference at variance with Mennonite Church USA, this year’s meeting was subdued. Other than making some bylaw changes, passing a budget and affirming a slate of leaders—all of which passed easily by voice vote—no major decisions came before delegates during the July 29-30 assembly in North Newton, Kan.
At opening worship on July 29, Marty Troyer, pastor of Houston Mennonite Church, spoke on “In Houston as it is in Heaven.” Alluding to his book, The Gospel Next Door, published by Herald Press in June, Troyer asked, “What if what we longed for more than anything that is already here?”
Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is here, right now, he said. “The gospel is about how God is present every day in places like Houston.” Troyer shared a lesson he learned when he moved to Houston after living in Hesston, Kan. Sitting in a park, he heard seven different languages being spoken. He learned that God is active in the city and reflected on what he called the Great Commission of the Old Testament: “Seek the shalom of the city” (Jeremiah 29:7).
“Justice and shalom is what love looks like when it hits our streets,” he said, and it reaches “not only the four corners of our hearts but the four corners of our planet.”
And while shalom is a positive force, he said, it is also about the absence of violence. “People are hungry for the absence of violence,” he said, “and we are called to be people of God’s peace.”
Photo: Delegates share stories of God at work. Photo credit: Gordon Houser
Troyer affirmed WDC’s congregations as people who are living out God’s mission. Alluding to the assembly’s theme, “Held Together in Mission,” he said we are held together by Christ, not by ourselves. “Our lives are held together by our mission.”
And alluding to Matthew 28:16-20, the text for the assembly, Troyer said, “We are called to make disciples, not only for the salvation of souls but for the salvation of the world.” And we don’t have to be perfect to do this. “The world doesn’t want our perfection but our presence,” he said.
Several congregations told stories of God’s work among them. Sandra Montes Martinez, moderator for Iglesia Menonita Hispana and WDC administrative assistant, talked about a sister church relationship between Southern Hills Mennonite Church, Topeka, Kan., and four Dallas congregations, Iglesia Menonita Monte Horeb, Iglesia Luz del Evangelio, Iglesia Menonita Comunidad de Esperanzo and Iglesia Cristiana Menonita Camino Nuevo.
Ruth Harder, pastor of Rainbow Mennonite Church, Kansas City, Kan., reported on using a Loaves and Fishes grant from WDC to support people in the church’s neighborhood who were forced to relocate from a low-income housing complex whose rental license was revoked due to negligence. The church created an advocacy team to help residents confront absentee landlords and federal officials, she said.
Rosie Jantz, associate pastor at Tabor Mennonite Church, rural Newton, Kan., said the church used a Loaves and Fishes grant to reach out to families in its community. The church has a Wednesday evening program that brings many children from the community who are not members of the church. More than 100 people come each week, including people from the church, she said.
Outgoing moderator Richard Gehring reported that a year ago, WDC had no conference minister. Clarence Rempel had retired that June, and Heidi Regier Kreider began work in August. In the past two months, WDC hired two associate conference ministers and formally installed them at this assembly: Byron Pellecer, who relates to churches in Texas and to the church-planting commission, and Kathy Neufeld Dunn, who works with Kreider to serve churches in Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska and relates to the resource commission.
Phyllis Regier, WDC business manager, presented a budget for fiscal year 2016, which began on Feb. 1, and noted that because WDC was understaffed for much of the previous fiscal year, it only spent roughly 70 percent of its budget. This year’s budget calls for a 2 percent increase.
The assembly’s 149 delegate from 45 congregations also agreed to bylaw changes that served to clarify understandings of how appointments are made to the boards of various organizations from WDC.
Photo: A music festival included bluegrass, folk and blues. Photo credit: Gordon Houser.
Two congregations left WDC. Whitestone Mennonite Church, Hesston, Kan., had been an associate member and decided to discontinue this relationship. The church said the change was not because of anything WDC had done.
On the other hand, Inman (Kan.) Mennonite Church, decided in the spring to leave WDC and joined South Central Conference in June. Leon Heidebrecht, chair of the congregation, said Inman was among the 28 percent that voted against last year’s resolution that allowed congregations to decide whether or not pastors can perform same-sex weddings. This was not easy, he said, because Inman had been a member of WDC for 95 years.
Anita Kehr, pastor of First Mennonite Church, Newton, was installed as moderator, and Ray Reimer, co-pastor of Zion Mennonite Church, Elbing, Kan., was affirmed as moderator-elect.