On April 14 approximately 80 women from across Franconia and Eastern District Conferences joined together at Towamencin Mennonite Church for the annual Sister Care Gathering. The theme was “Darkness Unfolding as Light,” with the book of Ruth as the Biblical text. Cathy Spory, Elementary Principal at Johnstown Christian School, took on the character of Naomi and gave insightful first-person monologues. Marilyn Bender, one of four co-pastors at Ripple Church in Allentown and Rose Bender Cook, Marilyn’s sister-in-law and a bi-vocational pastor at Whitehall Mennonite Church, shared their personal and Biblical reflections including speaking of the illness and loss of Marilyn’s husband John, Rose’s brother.
The women were invited to string beads, with knots representing the rough places and the iridescent beads representing those light-filled moments. There was time for conversation and prayer with each other at our tables, and an opportunity to experiment with different ways to pray including praying with color, walking prayer, healing prayer and anointing.
Pastor Letty Cortes from Centro de Alabanza led the women in activities to get to know one another. There was much singing together and the women enjoyed a delicious lunch including a wonderful cake gifted to them from MCUSA out-going Executive Director, Ervin Stutzman, from his retirement party the night before. It was bi-lingual day, with everything presented in English and Spanish, and was a deeply moving day, culminating in the women giving testimony as to where God had unfolded their darkness into light.
Many thanks to the planning committee: Anne M. Yoder, Coordinator; Pastor Donna Merow; Pastor Doris Diener; Pastor Letty Castro; and Pastor Marta Castillo. Special thanks to Pastor Marilyn Bender, Pastor Rose Bender Cook and Cathy Spory for all their energy and all they shared with the women of our Conferences.
“I’m glad that you took time out on our first heatwave of the summer to talk about some potentially hot topics,” Steve Kriss, LEADership Minister at Franconia Conference said to Conference delegates on Thursday, June 11th. The delegates had gathered at Christopher Dock High School to review delegate responsibilities and discuss MCUSA Convention 2015 resolutions. Some were delegates for Convention, while others were delegates for Conference Assembly.
With only two weeks left until Convention, the delegates sat at five tables discussing upcoming resolutions to be voted on at Convention. The 36 attendees also reviewed the roll and call of a delegate. A total of 230 delegates will represent the Conference between Convention and Conference Assembly.
“We have gathered here this evening to discuss important matters in the Mennonite Church,” Conference LEADership Minister Noel Santiago said.
After opening remarks from Conference Moderator, John Goshow, Santiago led the delegates through a reflection on the role of delegates leading into a time of Scripture-based devotion.
Questions were then posed to the delegates in a time of table discussion facilitated by John Stoltzfus, Conference Youth Minister.
“Together, [with] our collective wisdom we can come together and new insights and revelations can emerge as we lean into each other,” Stoltzfus said.
“What we discussed here tonight was the resolutions,” John Nyce, conference delegate for Franconia Mennonite Church, said. “Depending on how those are either rejected [or] accepted will certainly set the agenda for November (Conference Assembly).”
Multiple concerns were expressed on the Membership Guidelines Resolution. In general, the resolution was considered by some as complex, unclear, and unneeded, while others found it values mutual accountability, the Confession of Faith, and common commitment to mission. However, some expressed concern that four years is too long for the delegate assembly to set aside considering changes to the Membership Guidelines.
Opinions on the Forbearance Resolution ranged between beliefs that it is a call for patience with each other and that it is “kicking the can down the road.” Some delegates found it wise and a seemingly biblical image of unity. However, some expressed that the ambiguity leaves them wondering how far it goes. Concerns regarding the Forbearance Resolution included that it may open the way for people to do “what they want”, though some believe the resolution reflects the value to search for wisdom with love and unity, having Christ as the center.
Overall, the discussion allowed delegates to further understand the resolutions and hear one another’s perspectives.
A lot of questions still remain from delegates, but the Conference is working on clarifying as much as they can before Convention. The Conference has begun planning for Conference Assembly preparing for how to address what may or may not happen in Kansas City. Communication will be shared with constituents as it becomes available.
Kendra Rittenhouse, Salford Mennonite Church, believed the discussion will bring Franconia Conference unity despite differing views. Moreover, as a first time delegate, she has a positive outlook on Kansas City Convention and the anticipated delegate interactions.
“I am expecting God to work. I am hoping that we can still hold onto one another even though we don’t agree, and that somehow we can roll through this new era [and] still have Christ as our focus,” Rittenhouse said.
A video of the event can be found here. Also, a transcript of the discussion question responses can be found here.
No doubt the outcome of this summer’s resolutions will spark further discussion amongst Conference delegates.
Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, met with Franconia and Eastern District Conference members on May 28 at Zion Mennonite Church. The meeting aimed to educate attendees on the MC USA structure and what is happening in the denomination, along with preparing delegates for the upcoming Convention.
“We are gathered this evening to know what it means to be delegates at Kansas City this summer,” Stutzman said.
About one-fifth of the 68 attendees to the meeting were first time delegates. Stutzman reminded delegates their role includes prayer, open discussion, and discernment regarding resolutions. A delegate job description can be found on the MC USA website.
One of the responsibilities of the delegates at the 2015 Convention, Stutzman pointed out, will be discerning what a “majority” is when approving resolutions. Previously, this has been 51 percent of delegates. MC USA is suggesting using a two-thirds majority approach. Delegates will be given time to discern what approach they would like to use prior to voting on the resolutions at Convention.
Mike Derstine of Plains Mennonite Church said, “The Purposeful Plan was helpful to see exactly what they’re doing and to hear [Stutzman’s] desire to help the church focus on our common strengths and common vision.”
The Purposeful Plan contains the “seven priorities” of the MC USA Executive Board. Page 20 starts a list of the priorities and displays specific goals intended to fulfill them.
The Membership Guidelines were reviewed before assessing the resolution regarding them. Number 3, 4, and 5 of Part I of the Guidelines were highlighted to show the relationships of authority between congregations, conferences, and MC USA. Stutzman made note that this is important to remember when considering the resolutions on the guidelines and the resolution regarding forbearance.
Stutzman also noted that Part III of the Membership Guidelines was added in 2001 and reviewed why and how it was added. He spoke of this section of the Guidelines being reviewed with the resolution as there is continued tension around the content of Part III.
Earlier this month, nearly 250 persons from Franconia and Eastern District conference congregations came to ask questions and to listen to Dr. Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA. Franconia Conference leadership invited Stutzman to two town hall meetings held at Swamp Mennonite Church (Quakertown, Pa.) on April 10 and Salford Mennonite Church (Harleysville, Pa.) on April 11. With dozens of questions submitted beforehand to conference staff, Stutzman took time to explain the current landscape of Mennonite Church USA, addressing the consistent themes of those questions but also taking questions from those gathered.
The majority of questions related to the recent turmoil and controversy following the licensing of Theda Good, a woman in a committed same sex relationship, for ministry at First Mennonite Church of Denver by Mountain States Mennonite Conference and Eastern Mennonite University’s listening process to review policies for employment of persons in same sex relationships.
According to Franconia Conference executive minister Ertell Whigham, the meetings provided a unique opportunity for persons from “the pew to the pulpit” to engage the MC USA executive. Stutzman calmly and transparently responded to an array of questions and explained the current circumstances in detail to offer a glimpse of history, complexity, theology, and possibility.
At the Salford meeting, Stutzman noted the tensions in the church but promised, “I don’t think there’s a single question that you can ask that I will try to avoid.” He observed that this time of turmoil in the church has resulted in an amazing outpouring of communication, concern, and prayer. “Our church cares deeply about this,” Stutzman reflected at the Swamp town hall. “God has our attention in a new way. We stand at the door of opportunities to be faithful.”
Franco Salvatori, pastor of Rocky Ridge congregation, particularly appreciated that Stutzman clearly explained the executive board’s process in response to Mountain States Conference. “I desired to attend the town hall meetings because I believe that the issue of same sex relationships is critical for the church in our time,” Salvatori said. “Unlike any other issue I have seen in recent history, this one seems to have the most potential for division, which always obscures the gospel.”
Stutzman articulated his own commitments to the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspectivebut admitted that the challenge from Mountain States Conference on the denomination’s membership guidelines will not likely result in that conference’s expulsion from Mennonite Church USA, a response which would require a 2/3 vote at the Kansas City 2015 convention. He also highlighted the work of a task force designated by the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board to chart a way forward. The task force’s recommendations will be discussed at the October meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council, a twice a year gathering with representatives of all Mennonite Church USA conferences and constituent groups intended to provide counsel to the denomination’s executive board and leadership.
Alice Eldredge of Ambler congregation appreciated the respectful way town hall participants interacted with Stutzman and one another. “Even though it was evident persons felt deeply, they asked questions mostly in a respectful tone and with care,” she said. “I felt hope in the abilities of the leadership of Mennonite Church USA, with Ervin as a representative. My hope is that grace may abound among us and love and respect for one another may prevail in the midst of disagreement.”
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Thursday, April 10, 7pm at Swamp Mennonite Church (Quakertown, Pa.)
NORTH NEWTON, Kan. (Mennonite Church USA)—Eighty-four leaders from across Mennonite Church USA gathered for the spring meeting of the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., from Thursday, March 20, through Saturday, March 22.
The CLC members spent the majority of their time together offering feedback to six questions regarding church structure, polity and relationships, in reference to a decision by Mountain States Mennonite Conference (MSMC) to license a pastor in a committed same-gender relationship on Feb. 2. The questions were developed by a task force commissioned by the Executive Board (EB) and chaired by Moderator-Elect Patricia Shelly.
CLC members were urged to “trust God and trust each other,” to listen deeply and respectfully to one another and to spend time in worship and silence listening for God’s leading for Mennonite Church USA. Members of the Newton community set up a prayer room across from the CLC meeting space, and members of local Mennonite congregations were invited to come and pray for CLC members and their ongoing work.
Throughout the weekend, participants remarked on the care and respect that CLC members modeled for one another.
“The level of care for each other was extraordinary,” said David Boshart of Wellman, Iowa, task force member, CLC member and executive conference minister of Central Plains Mennonite Conference, in a report to the group on Saturday. “If we can carry that sense of extraordinary care to the rest of the church, they would be astonished at how God can work in human hearts.”
On Thursday, the meetings included time for MSMC leaders to share about the year-and-a-half-long discernment process that led to the decision to license Theda Good for ministry at First Mennonite Church in Denver.
MSMC leaders told their story using Scripture, prayer, worship through song and personal sharing. They also presented a timeline to CLC participants that illustrated the steps in their process. Those present had the opportunity to ask clarifying questions regarding MSMC’s process on Friday morning.
In response to what was shared, both Herm Weaver, MSMC conference minister, and Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, identified some points of regret and things they might have done differently throughout the process.
The CLC spent Friday responding to the following questions posed by the task force:
Having heard from Mountain States Mennonite Conference (MSMC) and the report of the task force, what feedback does the CLC want to communicate to the leadership of the MSMC?
What is God saying to us and to Mennonite Church USA, as we listen and reflect?
Are there better ways than our current organization (and written statements) to cultivate relationships between congregations, area conferences and the denomination?
How will we tend our common life as Mennonite Church USA, especially in light of differing beliefs and practices?
What direction can the CLC offer the Executive Board as they tend to the relationships among congregations, area conferences and the denomination at this time in our history?
What direction can the CLC offer the Executive Board as they respond to MSMC’s recent credentialing process?
CLC members discussed each of these questions in table groups and then reported back to the larger group. CLC members acknowledged that MSMC’s actions place the area conference at variance with the relational covenant the conference made when it joined Mennonite Church USA in 2005. Table groups offered suggestions for how the EB could respond to the variance reflected by the MSMC decision as it impacts relationships with the rest of the church. The task force will compile and synthesize the table groups’ responses and report back to the CLC by May 1. The task force will then draft a recommendation for consideration by the EB at its June 26–28 meeting in Chicago.
CLC members urged the task force and the EB to tend to the relationship with MSMC. In addition, they encouraged the EB and task force to address the broader conversations and disagreements across the church regarding same-gender relationships. The CLC also expressed a strong hope for finding a way to be together, suggesting that the EB explore new models for relationship among area conferences and congregations. The Purposeful Plan—a 10-year strategic plan for Mennonite Church USA—was held up as a guide for the work that churchwide agencies, area conferences and congregations can collaborate on in spite of disagreement in other areas.
The CLC also called for a confessional report recounting the process and interactions between the EB and MSMC. Task force members will engage this work as they compile and interpret the responses from the table groups.
The importance of face-to-face conversation was named repeatedly. Several area conference leaders said they are looking for ways to promote healthier and more frequent inter-conference conversation and relationship-building in the future.
In their concluding reflections, task force members said, “We were told by countless people that they were praying for the CLC and our Church during these days. God’s presence among us has been palpable, and we have sensed the moving of God’s Spirit. We are not leaving the same. As we leave this meeting, let us continue to pray that God will open a way for our Church to not only survive, but thrive.”
Ervin Stutzman, Mennonite Church USA Executive Director, will be the featured guest for two town-hall meetings in April. These meetings will be a time for members of Franconia Conference congregations to engage with Stutzman around recent developments in Mennonite Church USA and to ask questions about the denomination’s future.
These meetings are open to anyone from Franconia Conference communities and are scheduled for Thursday, April 10, 7-9 pm at Swamp Mennonite Church (2125 Rosedale Road, Quakertown, PA) and Friday, April 11, 9:30-11:30 am at Salford Mennonite Church (480 Groff’s Mill Road, Harleysville, PA).
This will also be an opportunity to hear and converse directly with Stutzman regarding the Executive Board’s response to Eastern Mennonite University’s listening process around the review of hiring policies toward individuals in same-sex relationships, and to Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s licensing of a pastor who is in a covenanted same-sex relationship.
Franconia Conference members who live over 60 miles from either of these locations can join the conversation live by streaming either meeting online and submitting questions and comments through email and social media. Those who plan to participate from a distance must RSVP by April 9 by emailing email@example.com.
Comments and questions for clarity should be submitted to congregational pastors and forwarded to Franconia Conferences offices by Friday, April 4.
HARRISONBURG, Va. (Mennonite Church USA)—In the midst of a winter storm, members of the Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA met Feb. 13–15 to prayerfully discern a way forward on a number of issues facing the broader church.
Together they affirmed the passage of a revised churchwide statement on immigration justice and a resolution that puts in place a task force to review the decision of Mountain States Mennonite Conference to license a pastor in a committed same-sex relationship. They also met with staff from MennoMedia to affirm a new strategic direction for the agency.
Thirteen members of the EB met with Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, and other EB staff members at Park View Mennonite Church in Harrisonburg, Va. Weather prevented five board members from coming to the meetings in Harrisonburg, but they joined the board’s executive sessions via conference call.
The majority of the board’s time together was spent discerning a response to calls from across the church to respond to conversations around inclusion of LGBTQ members of Mennonite Church USA in leadership roles across the church. The board’s conversation focused primarily on two recent events: the decision by Mountain States Mennonite Conference to license Theda Good, a pastor who is in a committed same-sex relationship, for ministry at First Mennonite Church in Denver; and the announcement of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in Harrisonburg to begin a listening process to review its policy of hiring faculty and staff in committed same-sex relationships.
Moderator Elizabeth Soto Albrecht of Lancaster, Pa., opened the meeting by exhorting the Executive Board to be communities of grace to one another.
“Mennonite Church USA is not a perfect church; it is a messy church,” she said. “We are a bunch of people trying to make sense of God’s grace. This weekend we must listen, listen and listen to one another and to members across Mennonite Church USA.”
EB members modeled their work together on principles of discernment suggested by Ruth Haley Barton: preparing and gathering information; putting themselves in a position to listen for God’s guidance; and discerning God’s will together. They were also joined by a facilitator, David Brubaker from EMU, who helped guide the conversations.
The board began by sharing their personal perspectives on the actions taken by Mountain States Mennonite Conference and EMU. The opinions stated spanned a broad spectrum. Some board members expressed disappointment that the board and staff did not process these decisions with the area conference and university before they were announced. The EB also read and listened to the words of individuals across the church who sent letters and e-mails urging the board to take action in response to the recent decisions by Mountain States Mennonite Conference and EMU. The letters also represented a wide range of opinions on the issue.
“What does it mean to come as a board member representing the whole—a whole that includes a broad diversity of opinions?” said Dick Thomas, past moderator and current board member from Lancaster, Pa. “We need to trust the Lord to help us make changes we need to make in time to be relevant and in a way that allows us to get there together.”
The Executive Committee of the board then presented a proposed statement for the board members to consider, encouraging them to take the statement with them overnight and to spend time in prayer discerning God’s leading. Over the course of the next two days, board members offered feedback and counsel to the Executive Committee. The statement underwent three revisions before the board approved a final version. While the statement had broad support across the EB, it did not pass unanimously.
As a whole, the board wrestled with the difficult task of responding to concerns expressed by LGBTQ brothers and sisters, while also tending to relationships with all parts of the church as expressed in written covenants of mutual accountability.
“We need to own all the tears and the anger that have gone into these conversations and honor them,” said Soto Albrecht. “We are called to represent the whole of Mennonite Church USA, and that’s not easy.”
The final statement calls for the creation of a listening task force to review the process by which Mountain States Mennonite Conference decided to license Theda Good, and to examine the ways these actions interface with the existing membership guidelines and polity documents of Mennonite Church USA. The task force will consist of Moderator-elect Patricia Shelly of Newton, Kan. (chair); David Boshart, Executive Committee member; and two to three members of the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) (to be named). After receiving counsel from the CLC at its next meeting in March 2014, the task force will conduct a review and bring a recommendation for next steps to the EB at its June 2014 meeting. The full text of the statement, which includes instructions for contacting the task force, is available online.
The board also met with Loren Swartzendruber, president of EMU, and Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency (MEA), to learn more about EMU’s listening process regarding the hiring of faculty and staff members who are in committed same-sex relationships. Swartzendruber said that after listening to voices from across the church, he and the EMU cabinet will bring a recommendation to EMU’s board. The EB urged Swartzendruber to stay in close consultation with Romero and MEA as the process moves forward.
During the meeting, the board also affirmed the release of a revised statement on immigration justice, which delegates called for at the Phoenix convention in July 2013. The statement reads in part, “We renounce the indifference to and mistreatment of undocumented and documented immigrants that has occurred and continues to occur in our congregations, our communities and this country. We are committed to joining God’s reconciling mission and to live and act as sisters and brothers in Christ regardless of our legal status.”
The statement also includes a list of resources for congregations and individuals to use in learning more about and engaging immigration issues. Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA, is also working on the development of a six-week curriculum, Radical Hospitality: Responding to Issues of Immigration, for use in Sunday school and small group settings.
The EB met with MennoMedia staff members to learn about their strategic planning process for the next five years. They plan to explore new print-on-demand technologies; to continue expanding the marketing and availability of Herald Press books; and to gear up for the launch of a new Sunday school curriculum, Shine, in the summer of 2014. Together the board prayed for Menno Media’s staff and board, and blessed their work.
The EB also said farewell to and blessed Marty Lehman, associate executive director for churchwide operations for Mennonite Church USA, who will be leaving her position in April 2014; and Nancy Heisey, who resigned her EB term early..
The CLC will meet March 20–22 in Newton, Kan. The EB’s next meeting will be June 26–28 in Chicago.
Registration: Please click here to register your attendance. We apologize if you tried earlier and were unable to register. We have experienced some technical glitches in our website that are now fixed. Your registration will help us be better prepared for our time together.
Description: The purpose of this meeting is to share a synthesis of the information gleaned from your input at Conference Assembly in November and develop a direction for how we will live into what Conference leaders heard you say during those sessions.
To identify areas for mutual support and engagement
To grow in our understanding of one another as people of mission and ministry
To share ideas about how we can strengthen and develop relationships that allow us to become more collaborative
To create opportunities to hear one another for open and generative conversation
Please take time to review these documents in advance in order to make better use of our time together on Feb. 8.
A number of persons have urged Conference leaders to use the February 8 meeting as a time to discuss issues of human sexuality following the recent action of Mountain States Mennonite Conference to grant pastoral credentials to a woman in a same-sex relationship and the six-month listening process begun by Eastern Mennonite University’s trustees to review the university’s employment practices as they relate to persons in same-sex relationships.
However, the focus of the February 8 gathering will not be discernment around human sexuality. Conference leaders have responded to the two incidents with recent communication. You should have received an emailed letter (English,Indonesian, Spanish,Vietnamese) from Franconia Conference moderator, John Goshow, which included a Call to Prayer by Mennonite Church USA’s executive director, Ervin Stutzman (English, Indonesian, Spanish, Vietnamese) along with the Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines (Spanish). In response to Ervin’s call, we will spend time in corporate prayer on February 8. This delegate gathering will also be the first step in the 2014-15 strategic direction that suggests ways we can work toward processing this and other potentially difficult conversations.
Franconia Mennonite Conference is all of us: congregations, delegates, pastors, and Conference Related Ministries. Your presence is important! Be part of shaping our shared future on February 8.
Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA, will be the guest speaker at this year’s assembly: God@Work, November 10 at Penn View Christian School in Souderton, Pa. Recently, Eric Bishop, a member of Souderton congregation and teacher at Christopher Dock Mennonite High School, sat down with his friend Merrill Moyer, who has worked with Ervin for a number of years on the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board, to learn more about Ervin’s life and ministry.
Executive Board Member, Merrill Moyer, says, “Ervin has an energy level that I’ve rarely seen. There are seldom two consecutive minutes in a day when he isn’t doing something productive.” Moyer notes that even though there are twenty-one conferences in Mennonite Church USA, with a total of 900 congregations, Ervin “will know what’s going on in every conference and in many congregations as well.”
The biographical summary posted on the MennoMedia website is extensive in recounting Ervin’s many accomplishments:
Ervin R. Stutzman is Executive Director for Mennonite Church USA. Before taking on this role in January 2010, he served for nearly 12 years as Dean and Professor of Church Ministries at Eastern Mennonite Seminary, Harrisonburg, VA. He has also served the Mennonite Church in the roles of pastor, district overseer, missions administrator, conference moderator and, from 2001 to 2003, as moderator for Mennonite Church USA.
Ervin graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Cincinnati (Ohio) Christian University. He holds master’s degrees from the University of Cincinnati and Eastern Mennonite Seminary. He received his Ph.D. from Temple University. His master’s thesis at Eastern Mennonite Seminary was “Biblical Interpretation in the Free Church: Appropriating Scriptural Truth Through Communal Discernment.” For his doctoral dissertation he wrote “From Nonresistance to Peace and Justice: Mennonite Peace Rhetoric, 1951-1991.”
Ervin was born a twin into an Amish home in Kalona, Iowa. After his father’s death a few years later, his mother moved the family to her home community near Hutchinson, Kan. Ervin was baptized in the Center Amish Mennonite Church near Partridge. Later, he joined the Yoder Mennonite Church.
Ervin married Bonita Haldeman of Manheim, Pa. Together they served for five years with Rosedale Mennonite Missions in Cincinnati, part of that time in voluntary service. Ervin was ordained to serve as co-pastor of Mennonite Christian Assembly. From there, the Stutzmans moved to Pennsylvania, where they were members of the Mount Joy Mennonite Church. They currently live in Harrisonburg, Va.
Ervin is a preacher, teacher and writer. His Herald Press publications include Being God’s People, a study for new believers, Creating Communities of the Kingdom (co-authored with David Shenk), Welcome!, a book encouraging the church to welcome new members, Tobias of the Amish, a story of his father’s life and community, and Emma, A Widow Among the Amish, the story of his mother. Ervin enjoys doing woodworking projects in partnership with Bonita. They have three adult children, Emma, Daniel and Benjamin.
Part of Ervin’s Life Purpose Statement reads: In response to God’s love expressed in Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I purpose to follow after God with all my heart so that God may be glorified in my life at all times and in every way.
Stutzman’s approach to leadership reflects his desire to get to know the people he serves. An entrepreneur himself, Stutzman has a special respect for business leaders who are known for their organizational dynamics and their ability to provide direction for those they are charged with leading. While on his many road trips as Executive Director, he makes special efforts to meet with area business people for them to share their view of the church, and teach him about effective leadership and management.
Moyer calls Stutzman a “visionary thinker,” one who is also able to “translate that vision into something that people can understand.” Though he has offices in Elkhart, IN and in Newton, KS, Stutzman chooses to keep his residence and home office in Harrisonburg, VA, a choice that Moyer suggests helps the Executive Director to resist the “beltway mentality” that can easily form inside those two centers of Mennonite Church administration.
Having hosted Ervin in his Souderton, PA home during some of those church-business related road trips, Moyer says that Stutzman is “a humble guy who fits in well in varied surroundings,” and that he can “sit down at the table and talk all evening about his passion for Jesus and his vision for the church.”
by Ervin Stutzman, executive director, Mennonite Church USA
I’ve been a follower of Jesus in the Mennonite tradition for many years. Therefore, for me “to Mennonite” is to instinctively follow the many rhythms and routines that express my core beliefs about Christian discipleship. I engage in particular rhythms of corporate worship and private devotion, action and reflection, exercise and rest, (lots of) work and (sometime too little) play, (too much) speaking and (too little) listening, communal discernment and personal choice. I could expand on each of these routines but I have chosen to address only the last of these several pairs.
For me, “to Mennonite” is to engage in communal discernment about the most important issues in the Christian life. Some newcomers to the Mennonite church quickly observe that our insistence on processing decisions can lead to undue cultural conformity and inertia. To new leaders eager to make changes in the church, processing often appears as a weakness, if not a downright annoyance. Stuart Murray, an Anabaptist from Great Britain, once cited a Mennonite friend who said that “process is the Mennonite drug of choice.” Ouch!
Recently, I met with a congregation of individuals who were mostly new to the Mennonite Church. Although they were part of Virginia Mennonite Conference as well as Mennonite Church USA, some members were hesitant about being identified as Mennonites. They feared that being Mennonite would drag them down, perhaps even lead them down the wrong path. They wished for greater independence from the larger body of Mennonite Christians. They seemed worried that the choices we are making as a national conference, even after communal discernment, might not reflect God’s best for them.
While the downsides of endless discussion and processing seem painfully obvious, there are clear upsides that keep me walking on the Mennonite path toward communal discernment of God’s chosen future. To Mennonite, then, is to join with others in circles of respectful and prayerful conversation, observing together what God is saying and doing in a community of faith. To Mennonite is to listen for God’s call. To Mennonite is to determine to follow where God leads, no matter what the cost.
This does not eliminate the need for effective group leadership. Indeed, it takes courageous leaders to blaze a trail into God’s future. Communal discernment can determine what God is calling us to do; getting it done is another matter! Further, coming to a group consensus can build a strong sense of ownership that will help to move the group along, especially during hard times. I have found that everybody is always lazy toward someone else’s goals. Good processes of communal discernment help us all to own the group’s goals for ourselves.
“To Mennonite” this way requires a strong sense of trust in the group. It appears that many leaders fear to engage groups in a search for consensus. I suspect they are worried that an ambitious radical will wreck the process or that a band of foot draggers will slow progress to a halt. Even more, I sense their anxiety that someone else will get the credit for any forward progress.
After years of leading groups, I have found that God can allay such fears. Consequently, I trust group processes more than ever. I am more likely now to bring my (supposedly brilliant) ideas to groups for testing. More likely to listen for the wisdom of even the quietest members. More likely to trust the Holy Spirit to point the way toward the future. If that’s what it means “to Mennonite,” count me in.