This article was originally published by The Mennonite

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It took nearly a decade to lay the groundwork, but Mennonite Health Services Alliance—known now as MHS Alliance—may become the fifth agency of Mennonite Church USA, if delegates to this summer’s Phoenix convention approve. For church leaders in the health-care field, this development represents a homecoming.

Thomas Everett 2013 smMHS Alliance is the umbrella organization for acute-care hospitals, developmental disability services and mental health programs. Forty-eight member organizations provide health-care and housing for seniors. Of its 74 organizations, 62 are affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Its corporate offices are in Goshen, Ind.

If approved as the fifth Mennonite Church USA agency, MHS Alliance would join Everence, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Education Agency and MennoMedia.

“If we are to have ministries that have Anabaptist character,” says MHS Alliance CEO Rick Stiffney, “we need strong relationships between the Anabaptist community of faith and the ministries.”

Those strong relationships were deliberately severed in the early 1980s in the former Mennonite Church. Fearful of lawsuits, Mennonite Board of Missions and Mennonite Central Committee, sponsors of some current MHS Alliance members, discontinued their sponsorship.

“It had everything to do with creating a firewall,” says Gene Yoder, now the church administrator at Bahia Vista Mennonite Church in Sarasota, Fla. “What triggered it was lawsuits in other denominations.”

Yoder served as CEO at Greencroft Retirement Community in Goshen, Ind., from 1974-2004.

“In the early ’80s, we were notified that [Mennonite Board of Missions] no longer wanted to be our sponsor,” Yoder says, “and [they said] we needed to get community churches to be our sponsors.”

Instead, Yoder and several other institutional leaders got together and began dreaming of an organization that could become their sponsor. That was the beginning of what is now MHS Alliance. “It has come full circle,” he says.

Lee Snyder, former president of Bluffton (Ohio) University, is also pleased with the emerging affiliation.

“At a time when MHS Alliance organizations are increasingly focused on faith values and strengthening the relationship with the church,” Snyder says, “the prospect of becoming an agency of Mennonite Church USA is a happy one.”

One such faith value is understanding that a missional church searches for the ways God is at work in the world—what Ervin Stutzman calls “God sightings”—and then joining in that work.

There is also a missional edge for health and human service ministries that serve some of the most destitute and hurting people in our world.

If each institution’s work culture is infused with integrity and unapologetically Christian, then both employees and those served can experience God’s healing and hope.

Delegates at the Phoenix convention will have a significant opportunity to ensure these institutions remain aligned with the church—and remain distinctively Anabaptist.

I hope they will do so with as much conviction as did the institutional representatives when they voted unanimously on Feb. 14 to have MHS Alliance become an agency of—and accountable to—Mennonite Church USA.

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