Tag Archives: Mennonite Church USA

Love in Action at Mennonite Church USA Convention 2017

This year thousands of Mennonites from across the United States gathered in Orlando, Florida for the biennial Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA) Convention. The purpose of convention is to empower the church to achieve its vision, purpose and mission. Over the four days, members of congregations from across the country attend daily worship, workshops/seminars, participate in servant projects and delegates from MCUSA Congregations and Conferences attend business sessions. This year there was also the Future Church Summit, “a generative, open space for denomination-wide conversation — to dream together, reset priorities and engage one another in answering the question: How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?”

The week began on Tuesday evening, July 4; several offered greetings, including Mennonite Church Canada’s Executive Minister, Will Metrzger. Recognizing July 4 as the United States’ Independence Day he stated, “while some are celebrating with bombs bursting in air, we are celebrating the explosion of God’s grace.”

The theme for this year’s convention was Love is a Verb. Worship speakers focused on this theme, and workshops spoke of how we can live out the love of God, covering topics of church safety, patriarchy, racism, Israel Palestine,  “Keeping the Church Weird” and hearing God’s call, among others.

Sometimes love as a verb means recognizing and acknowledging when we have not loved. Ted & Company, in their new show Discovery: A Comic Lament, shared the Doctrine of Discovery and how even we as Mennonites have played a role in justifying the taking of land from the indigenous people here in the United States. It was a sobering reminder as we began the week.

Maria Hosler Byler and Joe Hackman, Salford congregation, celebrate their nomination.

Wednesday brought the Dove’s Nest awards celebration, recognizing churches “that did something courageous to keep children safe.” Salford Mennonite Church was one of the three nominee finalists. They were nominated for their service that happened at the end of March, which focused on the journey of abuse and healing as reflected by the Ezekiel 37 passage about the valley of dry bones. This service included voices of lament, hope and direct statements from survivors of childhood sexual abuse. More resources and information on how this service was put together can be found at http://franconiaconference.org/church-safety/. Wednesday also brought a time of connecting for those from across Franconia Conference, as we gathered together for food, fellowship, and music by The Walking Roots.

Thursday contained two big events: voting on the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution and the kick off of the Future Church Summit.  Two years ago at the Kansas City Convention, a resolution regarding Israel Palestine was tabled. Since then a three-person writing team and a ten-person reference team worked to draft a new resolution, the Seeking Peace in Israel Palestine Resolution. Prior to the vote on the resolution, delegates heard from the writing team, discussed in their table groups, and then heard comments, concerns and questions. There were overwhelming comments of support for the resolution which ultimately passed with 97% in favor.

The Future Church Summit was a new addition this year to Convention. It was a time of dreaming and visioning, and discerning how God is leading us to follow Jesus. Delegates were joined by others from throughout MCUSA including high school students who had been chosen to be part of the Summit. The first day was spent getting to know one another by answering questions such as “When did you feel most connected to the Mennonite Church? What nourishes your spirit by being Anabaptist?” There was also a time of grounding participants in the history of Anabaptism and Mennonites, drawing learnings from our past.

Convention continues Friday and Saturday morning. You can find out more about each of the days’ highlights on the Franconia Conference Facebook page or through the MCUSA daily recap newsletter here: http://convention.mennoniteusa.org/news/.

Love is a Verb and So Much More

by Wayne Nitzsche, Interim LEADership Minister and Pastor of Perkasie Mennonite Church

When taking elementary Greek as a seminary student, suddenly it dawned on me that my knowledge of the English language was woefully inadequate. I might not have been able to tell you that a verb “is a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hearbecomehappen,” as Google says. But I’d have been able to say that is an action word!

So when I learned the theme for Mennonite Church USA for 2017, launched on Valentine’s Day, was: “Love is a Verb” I knew about verbs. I’m just glad they didn’t go with: “Love is a predicate noun.”

As followers of Christ we believe that God is love and that we are called to participate in God’s love. Not by the cheap “I’ll love you if you love me” ways of our culture, but in the gritty work of loving God, ourselves and our neighbors.

This theme of Love is a Verb will be the theme at our denominational assembly in Orlando in early July. As we lead up to that, Perkasie Mennonite (PMC), and perhaps other Franconia Conference congregations have recently engaged this theme. Here at PMC we developed a six week worship series focusing on: love is… a verb, … obeying Christ, … mutual, …. fear-less, ….of God, and …. life-giving. The series has been a study of the book of First John.

“This word of life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us…so that our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:2-3)

For the writer, the love of God is expressed in the revealed “word of life” (Jesus Christ) so that we might have fellowship (koinonia) with God and with each other. That love we’ve received is then expressed in love for each other in the local fellowship. Yet, scholars believe this struggling church was fractured because of theological diversity and a refusal to love in word and deed. In a series employing sharp contrasts comes the command to do the hard work of love.

Our love has been put to the test in very specific ways as we have walked with congregation members in life and death. I witnessed people expressing their love by sharing meals, sending cards, sitting in silence, in unceasing prayer and in many other acts of love. I know this happens on a daily basis, not only at PMC but in all the churches spread out over our conference.

We have members demonstrate active love – love as a verb – by urging us to speak into the political process with a voice of concern for peace and justice. We had hard discussions in our Sunday morning second hour around the issue of racism, and talked about what steps we might take to become allies.

As an Interim LEADership Minister with Franconia Conference, I’ve been relating to Alpha, Bally and Taftsville congregations. It’s been a joy to hear stories of love in action. Bally created a large banner with the words from the Welcoming Your Neighbors posters: “No matter where you are from, we are glad you are our neighbor” written in Arabic, Spanish and English. During a committee meeting, a stranger entered and expressed his appreciation for the sign. He is a recent immigrant from the Middle East and had been feeling very vulnerable.

Love in action is expressed at Taftsville in their recent addition of solar panels on the roof of their meeting place.  They are now generating electricity that goes back onto the grid, as they continue to implement steps to care for God’s creation. I could go on with other illustrations just in these three congregations.

Let’s continue to challenge ourselves and our congregations to make Christ’s love known in our local communities. May we also celebrate and testify to the ways it is already happening in small ways in the wonderful diversity that is Franconia Mennonite Conference.

“We know love by this that he laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” (1 John 3:16)

Living God’s Great Shalom

by Stephen Kriss, Executive Minister

In our commitments for credentialing as pastors within Franconia Conference, we agree to giving and receiving counsel.  This week I am here in Indiana as part of our process of giving and receiving counsel through Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leader Council (CLC).

It’s not been an easy time in Mennonite Church USA (MCUSA).   Three conferences have seceded from MCUSA and several have lost significant membership numbers.  Three conferences have moved toward credentialing gay and lesbian persons which puts them at variance with our official confessional/polity positions.   We are not alone in our turmoil as similar processes have been playing out among United Methodists, Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopalians.   Nonetheless we are here to keep trying to work it out.    At times, it feels like we are at our wits end with each other.

Franconia Conference was a founding body in MCUSA. We remain engaged thus far because we believe that we can do more together than we can on our own.  I recognize, though, that some of us question our relationship with MCUSA because of the tensions felt around our theology and practice thereof.   I understand both the acts of conscience and the levels of frustration that have meant Conferences have seceded and that others have landed at variance.

I believe in the kind of love that Paul wrote about that is patient, kind and enduring.   As a Conference, we have an enduring history. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been marked with enduring love that has been witness of the reconciling power of Christ’s peace.   Our current exploration of a possible reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference evidences our lack of patience with one another, that now is being addressed over a century later.  Randy Heacock’s story from the last Intersectings reminds us of the sad reality that reconciliation work on an interpersonal level is still a rarity.   So, I’m committed this week to sit at these tables on our behalf, and to find ways to engage constructively and generatively, along with John Goshow, our Conference moderator, and Mary Nitzsche, chair of our Ministerial Committee.

In these few days, for the sake of all of us, I commit to believing and hoping, of seeking the Spirit’s stirring.  Of continuing to live into my ordination vows of giving and receiving counsel.  Whether around tables in Elkhart or at the kitchen table or the communion table, this is our invitation.  It’s an invitation that endures; a recognition that love never fails, a way of living God’s great shalom, even through day long meetings.

KC2015 registration opens; presenters, exhibitors announced

MCUSA-AlanDebHirsch
Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements.

Although it’s still more than five months away, Mennonite Church USA’s 2015 biennial convention is taking shape.

Registration opened Jan. 15 for the June 30–July 5 event in Kansas City, Mo. Hotel registration opens March 3.

Convention planners are lining up special presenters and exhibitors in addition to a full slate of worship speakers.

Recent decisions made in consultation with the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board have included accepting the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests’ (BMC) application for exhibit space at KC2015, as well as allowing convention planners to work with leaders of the Pink Menno campaign to negotiate rental of a meeting room on site at the convention center.

“My team and I are ready and excited for everyone to join us in Kansas City this summer,” says Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer and convention planning director for Mennonite Church USA. “We want everyone who attends KC2015 to be able to engage in worship and experience the healing power of Christ at some point during convention.”

Speakers Alex Awad, Drew Hart, and Alan and Debra Hirsch will share with participants at KC2015:

MCUSA AwadA04

Alex Awad of Jerusalem, pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church and a professor at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, will be a featured speaker throughout the convention week. Awad and Bethlehem Bible College are longtime Mennonite partners in Palestine.

“Alex Awad is an evangelical Christian deeply committed to Jesus and to the way of peace in the midst of intense suffering and injustice,” says André Gingerich Stoner, director of interchurch relations and holistic witness for Mennonite Church USA. “He and Bethlehem Bible College are a sign of hope. We have much to learn from their witness.”

After KC2015, Awad will travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly Gathered. Awad’s presence at convention is also made possible by support from Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Drew Hart

Drew Hart will be available throughout the convention week, offering several seminars focused on liberation theology and strategies for addressing racism in local congregational settings. Hart is a Ph.D. candidate at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and his research focuses on intersections between black theology and Anabaptism. He is a part-time pastor and a regular blogger for The Christian Century.

Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, (photo above) will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements. The Hirsches are the founding directors of the Forge Mission Training Network.

Alan also co-leads Future Travelers, a learning program to help churches become missional movements, and is co-founder and adjunct faculty for the M.A. in Missional Church Movements at Wheaton (Ill.) College. He has written The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, among other books.

Exhibit space granted for BMC
The Brethren Mennonite Council has applied for exhibit space at previous conventions; this is the first year that their request has been approved. Pink Menno applied to be an exhibitor at convention for the first time this year; the group’s request for exhibit space was denied, although convention planning staff members hope to work with the group to negotiate the rental of a meeting room inside the convention center.

“The decision to grant exhibit space to BMC is not a radical one,” says Guyton. “BMC has long been part of our conventions. They are an established organization with clear points of authority. We have had good conversations with BMC leaders about our shared expectations for the exhibit hall at convention.”

All convention attendees are expected to abide by the expectations for convention attendees and exhibitor guidelines.

“Conversations about sexuality are happening all across the church right now,” says Ervin Stutzman, executive director for Mennonite Church USA. “Our leadership team felt it was the right time for the Executive Board to revisit our policies about the use of convention space. We desire to be proactive, rather than reactive, in the conversations that need to take place among us as followers of Jesus Christ.

“This move does not represent a change in our church’s commitments but grows out of our desire to remain in loving conversation with people who have been a part of our church and our conventions for many years. We desire that every person who attends our convention will be treated with respect and care, in the exhibit hall and everywhere else.”

Other approved exhibitors include all of the Mennonite Church USA agencies and higher education institutions, as well as Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and a variety of other faith-based organizations.

The convention offers programming for people ages 0 and older. Special programs are planned for infants, preschoolers, elementary-school students, junior high youth and high school youth. For more information about convention events and speakers, and to register on Jan. 15, visit convention.mennoniteusa.org.

Toward a pro-Jesus approach: Visiting Israel & Palestine

by Yvonne Platts, Nueva Vida Norristown New Life

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there. 

Yvonne Platts. Photo by Sheri Wenger.
Yvonne Platts on the Mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

In reflecting on my experience on the Come and See learning tour to Israel-Palestine this October, I find my heart pounding and thoughts racing. They are racing over what feels like an overwhelming sense of duty to help others connect to the struggle and plight that our Palestinian sisters and brothers are enduring.

I went on the tour in response to an invitation to Mennonite Church USA leaders (pastors, denominational leaders, others) to join learning tours to Israel-Palestine in response to the Kairos Palestine document. This document serves as a call to Christians throughout the world to come and see what is happening in Palestine and to stand with Palestinian Christians against injustice and apartheid in their region.

I was excited to have the opportunity to visit holy places such as the birthplace of Jesus, the Sea of Galilee and the Mount of Olives, and I was filled with curiosity about what was really going on in Israel and Palestine. I have come to realize that our U.S. news media does not always provide the most accurate reporting on the issues.

I was very intrigued by our goal of meeting with people “on the ground” to gain a better understanding of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and realities, as well as learning about Palestinian and Israeli organizations that are working for peace and justice—including those with whom Mennonite agencies are partnering.

Another goal/expectation was that we would return home with a commitment to engage in education and advocacy regarding justice issues in Palestine and Israel, with the hope of moving toward a pro-justice, pro-peace and pro-Jesus approach—rather than simply a pro-Israeli or pro-Palestinian one.

Prior to this invitation, I never considered visiting the region and was mostly unaware of the degree to which Palestinians are subjected to injustices on a daily basis. Right away, my mind, body and soul identified similar patterns of oppression, abuse, labeling and discrimination that African Americans in the United States experienced during Reconstruction and Jim Crow eras. I was reminded of the times of slavery, where families were separated and there was a deliberate movement by slave owners and the dominant culture to destroy people’s language and culture.

I can relate to the cries of people asking for justice to be done. What good are international laws if they cannot hold the government accountable?

What I saw and recognized was that despite an intentional and strategic plan to force people from a land and inflict upon them daily humiliation through checkpoints, to create purposeful hardships through the closing of significant streets, and more, a fearless spirit abounded of resistance and hope that people will be able to overcome these struggles.

Palestinian Christians are counting on people like me and you to support their efforts for peace. If you haven’t yet read the Kairos Palestine document, please do so. I encourage you also to support Mennonite Central Committee and their partner organizations that are doing good work in helping to restore humanity in the region.

Yvonne Platts is the minister of youth and community outreach at Nueva Vida Norristown New Life Mennonite Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania. This piece originally appeared in “On the Way,” a publication of Mennonite Church USA. Reposted with permission. 

Pastors, leaders travel to Israel and Palestine

by Brook Musselman, for the Come and See tour

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. The tour is part of a broader initiative by Mennonite Church USA which encourages Mennonite pastors and leaders to travel to the region, to “come and see” what daily life is like for those who live there. 

Our group of 12 pastors and leaders–from Atlantic Coast, Eastern District and Franconia Mennonite Conferences–traveled to the West Bank town of Bethlehem, having intellectually prepared ourselves by reading the history of and various perspectives on the Israel-Palestine conflict. We weren’t prepared for our encounter with the hard realities of life in this country that would shake our hope in humanity and reshape our worldview.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group sits on steps outside of the Damascas gate, Jerusalem. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

One day, we were taken to a shrinking, dusty Palestinian village that sat in the shadow of a recently-built Israeli settlement. Our guide showed us the farm land that had been confiscated from the villagers for the use or disuse of the settlers. We saw the pond where the village children used to swim in the summer heat before they were chased away by armed settlers who came to the pond for their own recreation. We passed the entrance to the village where a checkpoint was often set up that made access to the outside world incredibly difficult.

We heard the perspectives of Jews who are hardened to the suffering they cause by decades and centuries of fear, persecution, and constant threat. They told us of the hope they have because of Zionism and the establishment of their homeland, but we were deeply frustrated to see the harm that this continues to cause nearly 70 years after independence.

Photo by Sheri Wenger.
The group on a tour of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The church is said to be built over the place where Jesus was born. It was site of refuge for Palestinians during recent violence. Photo by Sheri Wenger.

We also met Jews who love their country but cannot support the oppressive actions of their government, so they endure teargas, rubber bullets, beatings, and arrests by the Israeli Army to stand alongside those without power.

In our brief time touring both sides of the dividing wall, we heard stories from the people that were both encouraging and discouraging. At times, we felt like throwing up our hands and admitting that there is no hope for justice or peace in this place. Each of us felt frustrated by the discrimination, inhumanity, and senseless violence inflicted upon the Palestinian people. We also felt anger toward the international community and especially our own government that acknowledges these atrocities but doesn’t take action.

But in spite of the discouragement we so often felt, we heard story after story showing the tenacity of the Palestinian people and their hope for a future. One of our guides was a Palestinian Christian with ancestry tracing back to the earliest disciples, who works tirelessly and daily risks imprisonment to raise awareness and promote peace in the area. Stories like this inspired us to come home and tell the stories of those in need of a voice and to promote shalom at home and abroad by encouraging all to be peacemakers in our broken world.

Delegates commit to waiting, hoping, discerning at Assembly

Bob & Bonnie Stevenson
Charlie Ness (Perkiomenville) and Bonnie Stevenson pray for Bob Stevenson before he brings the message during Friday night worship. Photo by Emily Ralph

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

“Waiting on God is expectant and hopeful,” declared Marta Castillo, Franconia Conference’s outgoing assistant moderator, at the opening of the United Franconia and Eastern District Conferences’ 2014 Assembly.  The theme of this year’s gathering, held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa., was “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”

“We’re not waiting for something, we’re waiting for somebody,” added Bob Stevenson during Friday evening worship.  “Waiting is not just a passive sitting back.  And so the word I have is that we wait ‘until’ [we receive the power of the Spirit] and then we get up and go!”

Stevenson and his wife Bonnie were called and commissioned as missionaries to Mexico at a Franconia Conference Assembly 26 years before.  They were celebrated Friday night as they reached a milestone in their ministry: the transition from raising missionary support from the States to full funding through their congregation.  “I thank the Lord for allowing us to be a part of this conference,” Bonnie responded after she and Bob were presented with a Spanish fraktur created by Salford congregation member Roma Ruth.  “There are many times on Friday morning when we have our prayer together … that we pray for each one of your congregations by name.”

praying for Danilo Sanchez
Conference leaders pray for Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall, one of this year’s newly credentialed leaders. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of leaders raised up and called from within the Conference continued on Saturday during the joint delegate session, when the gathering recognized a number of newly credentialed leaders who were licensed out of Franconia congregations.  “Where do our pastors come from?” asked Steve Kriss, Franconia Conference director of leadership cultivation.  “They come because you invite them.”

This year also saw the credentialing of leaders from other conferences and denominational backgrounds, adding to Franconia’s increasing diversity.  “Diversity is a catalyst for growth,” reflected Jessica Hedrick, Souderton congregation, during table feedback.  Her table encouraged conference delegates to prioritize prayer and, as corporate discernment continued, to recognize “the opportunity to learn from each other instead of necessarily trying to get everyone to agree.”

KrisAnne Swartley praying
KrisAnne Swartley, Doylestown, joins in prayer for the other congregations at her table. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

The theme of listening well and together wove through many of the stories and hopes shared throughout the weekend.  Danilo Sanchez, Whitehall congregation, named three areas that it seemed the majority of delegates were wrestling with: “Listening to the Spirit, how to sit with our differences, and how to love like Christ.”

The Franconia Conference Board asked delegates to consider what kind of conversations needed to be planned leading up to the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City next summer, knowing the likelihood that Convention will include decisions about denominational structure and human sexuality.  Many delegates agreed that the questions of structure and sexuality only skimmed the surface; perhaps there were other questions that should be asked instead.

delegates conferring
Delegates discussed difficult issues around tables with grace and laughter. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Josh Meyer, Franconia congregation, wondered how the upcoming dialogue could form those participating into the image of Christ.  “How we have this conversation is just as important as any decisions that we make,” he said.  “It doesn’t matter what we decide in Kansas City; if we don’t treat each other as sisters and brothers in Christ, then we’ve missed the point.”

Throughout the weekend, conference leadership encouraged delegates to actively wait on the Spirit, to take time for stillness and listening, and to collaborate in acts of justice and mercy.  “We must not become paralyzed by the issues of the day,” encouraged Eastern District moderator Brenda Oelschlager, “but move forward in love … as God leads us along new paths.”

Several new paths highlighted included a new Lehigh Valley collaboration in hiring Sanchez as youth minister, welcoming two new Philadelphia congregations (Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church) into an exploration of membership in Franconia Conference, and the move of the Mennonite Conference Center to the campus of Christopher Dock Mennonite High School in Lansdale (Pa.).

Aldo Siahaan introduces new congregations
LEADership Minister Aldo Siahaan introduces two new congregations exploring membership in Franconia Conference: Centro de Alabanza and Indonesian Light Church. Photo by Bam Tribuwono.

Although 2014 saw the beginnings of new ministries and the licensing of many new pastors, it also brought the deaths of three influential church leaders: Paul Lederach, John Drescher, and Israel Bolaños.  In reflecting on their legacies, Kriss encouraged delegates to remember them by carrying on their work of teaching, writing, and mission.

“The gospel isn’t good news until someone takes it and goes with it,” Bob Stevenson agreed.  The power which sends the church is not political or force, but “a power that is a ‘preach the gospel to the poor’ power, it’s a ‘healing the broken heart’ power….  What will change this world is us, God’s people.”

Waiting together in the cold

by John Stoltzfus, conference youth minister

John M StoltzfusRecently, I spent three days with a group of conference leaders who work in youth ministry. This is an annual gathering at a beach house that has no agenda other than to be with one another, share what is happening in our lives and ministries, and eat some good food. Let’s just say that youth workers know how to have a good time when we get together!

What dominated our conversation this time, however, was a lament of the current state of affairs in Mennonite Church USA: the dwindling numbers and interest in the events we plan for youth and youth workers; the fracturing of churches and conferences; the passive aggressive behavior which is so prevalent in conflicts; a lack of healthy leadership (including disappointment in ourselves); the church caving to cultural patterns of polarizing behavior; a lack of the empathy and forbearance in our church relationships that love requires; the list could go on. As we dug our toes into the sand, we waited with one another and sought to listen deeply in our grief and disappointment.

One of us commented that it feels like we are in a waiting period. We are waiting for what will be torn down and what will emerge. It didn’t help the mood that the weather was overcast and there was a chill to the wind coming off the ocean. Someone volunteered to go and collect coats and blankets so that we could stay warm.

Yet, as we huddled together, we also noticed signs of hope. We shared stories of emerging faith and maturity in our children. The more seasoned parents among us noted that this can take a long time. We noticed signs of new life and emerging ministries in our churches and conferences. We rejoiced in the collaborative spirit we often see among youth pastors and workers. We reflected on the increased interest in Anabaptist thought and practice from groups and churches outside the Mennonite Church. We chuckled with holy amazement as we swapped stories of “problem” youth in our youth groups who grow up to be effective and mature Christian leaders.

We need places in our faith community where we can grieve together and share our disappointments. We also need community to help us move beyond ourselves and notice where God is stirring on the edges. We can choose to focus on the fears and anxieties of what we perceive is being lost or we can lean into the assurance that what God is bringing about is good even if we have a hard time imagining what it might look like.

In this time of uncertainty, I long for a renewed sense of community to emerge that is willing to wait with one another until Christ returns. Each generation in the church has a new set of perplexing issues and challenges and we are fooling ourselves if we think we can ever come to a final resolution to settle our differences. Our youth need to see the church model a way to be authentic community together when so much in our world is fragmenting and tearing apart.  I long for a church that has a vision of the community that will one day gather around God’s banquet table and then seeks to live into that community today.

I long for a community that is willing to simply be with one another even when the weather is overcast and cold.

Our theme for this year’s joint Conference Assembly with Eastern District Conference is “Esperando: Waiting & Hoping.”  Conference Assembly will be held November 14-15 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa.  For more information: assembly.franconiaconference.org.

Salford leader to chair MCUSA structure committee

by Mennonite Church USA staff 

Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board (EB) met Sept. 25–27 in Kansas City, Missouri, focusing on questions of denominational structure, data from a survey of credentialed leaders, and various other topics in preparation for next summer’s Delegate Assembly in Kansas City.

Mennonite Church USA executive board members at their June 2014 meeting.
Mennonite Church USA executive board members at their June 2014 meeting.  Joy Sutter (back row, second from left) is a member of Salford congregation.

EB members appointed an ad hoc committee to explore possibilities for new denominational structures, and are intending to bring an action to the Delegate Assembly at Kansas City 2015 (June 30–July 5).

Joy Sutter, EB member from Salford congregation, will chair the group. The EB also appointed the following board and Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) members to the committee: Isaac Villegas, EB member and pastor of Chapel Hill (North Carolina) Mennonite Fellowship; Katherine Jameson Pitts, conference minister for Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, Portland, Oregon; and Keith Weaver, executive conference minister of Lancaster Mennonite Conference. One more committee member is yet to be appointed. The impetus for forming this committee grew out of feedback received at the March 2014 CLC meetings held in North Newton, Kansas.

The committee has begun to prepare questions for exploration at the Oct. 6–8 CLC meetings in Schiller Park, Illinois. The questions will invite CLC participants to reflect on the ways in which denominational agencies add value to the work of area conferences and congregations and to identify the denominational services that are most essential. CLC participants will also be invited to dream about what a new denominational structure might look like and to assess the benefits and drawbacks of potential new forms.

The committee will plan to bring an action before delegates at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, that will include CLC feedback, data from the recent churchwide survey of credentialed leaders, and responses to a survey of Mennonite Church USA delegates planned for early 2015.

Additionally, the EB reviewed an initial report from a summer survey of credentialed leaders across Mennonite Church USA that asked respondents to reflect on questions regarding Mennonite Church USA organizational structure, LGBTQ inclusion and the sense of belonging they felt to area conferences and the denomination. The board affirmed staff recommendations to conduct a survey of Mennonite Church USA delegates in early 2015, as well as to organize a promotional campaign inviting Mennonite Church USA congregations to identify their delegates this fall.

The EB also  commended a list of resources on same-gender sexuality for study across the denomination. The resource list represents a spectrum of perspectives and is meant to encourage dialogue and understanding among diverse groups.

The board spent time in worship and prayer, asking and listening for God’s spirit to move among them. Several board members took turns leading devotions focused on Luke 24, the theme text for the Kansas City 2015 convention.

Mennonite Church USA Executive Board announces action steps: Franconia Conference stays focused on building healthy relationships

 All members of the Executive Board, with their prayer lamp centerpiece for the weekend, as well as Stella, the official Mennonite Church USA convention dove.
All members of the Executive Board, with their prayer lamp centerpiece for the weekend, as well as Stella, the official Mennonite Church USA convention dove.

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA met last week to review the recommendations of a task force appointed to respond to Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s decision to license Theda Good, a woman in a same-sex covenanted relationship.  The Executive Board approved eight action steps that will be taken to the Constituency Leaders Council in October.  At the same time, the board emphasized ongoing support for the foundational documents that formed Mennonite Church USA including the Confession of Faith, the Vision:  Healing and Hope statement, A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership, the denomination’s membership guidelines and bylaws, the Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love document and the more recently crafted Purposeful Plan.

The Executive Board highlighted that Mountain States did not honor its covenanted relationship with the other conferences that comprise Mennonite Church USA in the decision to license Good.  Since ordination is transferable to other conferences, the board requested that Mountain States Conference refrain from ordaining Good at this time.  The board requested that other conferences resist licensing individuals in same-sex relationships as further licensings compromise the denomination’s polity and conference membership agreements.

“I was pleased to read that the denominational leaders have come to a place that holds us accountable to our stated understanding of membership and ministry,” observed Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference executive minister.  “I think that this does give us some sense of direction, though it still leaves some ambiguity.  They left room for conversation and some interpretation, but they definitely call for accountability.”

The Executive Board also committed to developing new processes and/or structures for the denomination “that will strive to find healthy ways to promote unity in Christ in the midst of diverse expressions of faith.”  One of the first steps toward this exploratory process will be a “survey of all credentialed ministers in preparation for a time of discernment at [Kansas City] convention in July 2015.”

The decision of the Executive Board does not change much for Franconia Conference, said Whigham.  He further elaborated a desire to stay focused on Conference priorities while the denomination tends to the conversation on sexuality.  “We will continue to prepare ourselves for open, honest, and realistic conversation in line with our objectives for strengthening relationships and building trust.”  Whigham believes that by building healthy relationships and trust, Franconia Conference leaders and communities will be better prepared to navigate difficult conversations regarding human sexuality.

Read the full press release from Mennonite Church USA or the final report from the Executive Board.  Also see these related documents: