Tag Archives: Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA

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. 

“The earth is the Lord’s”: Visiting Israel & Palestine

This week, we are sharing several reflections from participants on the October 2014 “Come and See” tour to Israel and Palestine. While Joy Sutter participated in the spring 2014 tour to Israel and Palestine, we wanted to include her reflections, which were shared with her fellow Mennonite Church USA executive board members at their June 2014 meeting. 

Participants in the Mennonite learning tour of Israel/Palestine visit the separation wall in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. The wall cuts off the camp from an olive grove where residents used to work and play. (l. to r.) Isaac Villegas, Stanley Green, Ann Graber Hershberger, Mohammad Al-Azzah (Palestinian tour guide), Joy Sutter, Joanna Hiebert Bergen (MCC Jerusalem staff), Ron Byler, Tanya Ortman, Chad Horning, Ed Diller and Duane Oswald. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)
Participants in the Spring Mennonite learning tour of Israel/Palestine visit the separation wall in the Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem. The wall cuts off the camp from an olive grove where residents used to work and play. (l. to r.) Isaac Villegas, Stanley Green, Ann Graber Hershberger, Mohammad Al-Azzah (Palestinian tour guide), Joy Sutter, Joanna Hiebert Bergen (MCC Jerusalem staff), Ron Byler, Tanya Ortman, Chad Horning, Ed Diller and Duane Oswald. (Photo by Ryan Rodrick Beiler)

“Come and see” were the prophetic words of an amazing journey I experienced with other Mennonite Church USA leaders in Israel-Palestine this spring. This simple invitation, to come and see, changed my worldview of the people, the politics and the pictures that I had formed in my mind prior to my visit. I always knew there was conflict happening in the Middle East, but until I was able to see it in person, I did not truly understand it, and it did not penetrate my soul.

I needed to come and see for myself so that I could better understand that the conflict in Israel-Palestine is:

  • both ancient and modern. It is deadly serious, and it is silly.
  • religious and secular.
  • fought with words, weapons and incorrect information presented in Western media.
  • about land, the air above it and the water below it.
  • about hoarding water, tearing down olive trees and building separate roads for Israelis to return to their settlement homes.
  • about 430 miles of a 20-foot-high wall with electrical fencing.
  • about watchtowers, tear gas, young Palestinians being detained and thrown into jail, interrogation and humiliation.

I heard the words of Jeremiah all the more clearly when he said, “They say peace, peace, when there is no peace” [6:14], and was reminded of Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.”

A closing prayer

Leader:       We pray for laborers who cannot enter their place of work. We pray for youth and young adults who are losing hope for their future. We pray for mothers who are fed up with the bloodshed and killing and the constant use of military might. We pray for families who have lost loved ones.

Group:        Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader:       We pray that you would open the eyes of the world—of Israelis, of Palestinians, of Americans and Canadians—to this injustice. Help the world to see that the security and freedom of one people depends on the security and freedom of others.

Group:        Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader:       We pray for politicians, that they may realize that the security and peace we all long for will not come from the use of military force, but by assuring justice for all. Help us to be bold to speak for peace achieved through nonviolence as the only way for all peoples to work together for an equitable and just future.

Group:        Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Leader:       God, you have called us to be followers. Give us wisdom. Free us from hatred and bitterness. Fill us with agape love and a passion for justice, so that we might respect the rights and dignity of all. Help us to see your divine image in everyone.

Group:        Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

All:               And all God’s people say, “Amen.”

Joy Sutter, of East Norristown, Pennsylvania, is a member of the Mennonite Church USA executive board. This piece originally appeared in “On the Way,” a publication of Mennonite Church USA. Reposted with permission. 

Leaders from several Atlantic Northeast Conferences send letter of concern

Leaders from Franconia, Franklin, Lancaster, New York, and Virginia Conferences of Mennonite Church USA provided a letter of counsel and concern to the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board in light of recent decisions by Eastern Mennonite University and Mountain States Mennonite Conference regarding employment and pastoral credentialing of persons in same sex relationships.   Franconia Conference is providing access to this letter to delegates as a follow up of full disclosure.  The letter was sent with intent to be processed at the most recent meeting of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board in Harrisonburg, VA on February 13-15.

The letter can be downloaded here.

Outcomes from the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board meeting are linked here.

March 3, 2014 edit: The attached letter has been updated to the most recent version, which includes the conference minister of Franklin Conference as a signatory.

MC USA Executive Board releases statement, approves resolution

MC USA EB Feb 2014
Members of the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board pray with MennoMedia staff. Photo by Hannah Heinzekehr.

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.

See also:

Mennonite Church USA board reaffirms decision churchwide gathering set for Phoenix 2013; moves to establish secondary meeting location

During the Jan. 7–9 meeting of the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA in Tampa, Fla., the board took the following action:

“The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA expresses its gratitude for the prayers and counsel given by members across our church as we have considered the issues relating to the location of the 2013 convention. This decision-making process has brought us to a deeper level of sharing and understanding and to a common expression of our desire to be a church through which the healing and hope of God flow to the world.

“After spending time in discernment and consideration of the counsel of many, and knowing that the prayers of the church are with us, we reaffirm the prior January 2009 decision of the Executive Board to hold the 2013 convention in Phoenix, Ariz. We are committed to work on creative ways to include those delegates who, because of conscience or concerns for safety, will be unable to gather with the church in Phoenix and at a minimum to find a satellite location at which delegates can participate in the delegate work of the assembly.

“As we make this decision, we reaffirm our commitment to the 11 action items described in the “Recommendations Regarding the Churchwide Convention in 2013,” dated Dec. 21, 2010. As an Executive Board, we are deeply grateful for the prayers and support of the entire church as we have struggled with the many issues involved in this decision. We pray that we would continue to find ways to let God’s healing and hope flow throughout our church and to the world.”

The 11 commitments are as follows:

1. We will encourage our churches to teach the scriptures about God’s will in regards to ministering to all immigrants and seek to provide a loving and just embrace of all peoples in the congregations of Mennonite Church USA, regardless of their legal immigration status.

2 We will encourage pastors and leaders to become instruments of grace, peace, justice and joy in their churches and communities by offering spiritual, emotional and physical support to immigrants in our communities.

3. We will seek to avoid the partisan political rhetoric about immigration that divides our nation and our church. Rather, we will to work to bridge our differences through respectful conversation based on our common Christian commitments and the resolution on immigration adopted in 2003.

4. We will include Racial/Ethnic groups an integral part of the new churchwide “Investing in Hope” purposeful planning process and its implementation.

5. We will create a multi-ethnic task force with appropriate staffing to address the needs of immigrants and Racial/Ethnic groups within Mennonite Church USA.

6. We will give serious attention and energy to our anti-racism priority by inviting an outside group to conduct an anti-racism audit at the Pittsburgh 2011 convention.

7. We will reevaluate the purpose and expenses of biennial conventions, in order to make these gatherings more accessible to all who wish to attend. Further, we will attempt to provide for alternate regional locations and/or technology to bring the convention activities and delegate discussions to the many who cannot attend the convention for various reasons, including cost, inability to take time off work, and/or a hostile environment for immigrants.

8. We will change the program planning process for future conventions by designating that 50 percent of the planning committees for the 2013 convention be Racial/Ethnic people. Further, we will designate that 40 percent of the seminars, worship services, and service activities at the 2013 convention be focused on the churchwide priority of anti-racism, and continue with 20 percent at future conventions.

9. We will clarify the process and significance of the adoption, application and staffing for follow-up of church statements, such as the 2003 statement on immigration, so that the expectations for the outcomes of their adoption are clear.

10. We will pray for our governmental authorities, that God would give them wisdom and compassion, and that they would enact legislation to protect and benefit all of the immigrants in our nation.

11. We will support the programs of our agencies and affiliated Anabaptist institutions that offer appropriate services to people who are undocumented. Further, we will advocate changing laws that harm recent immigrants or prevent them from receiving humanitarian aid. We will advocate for just and fair means by which undocumented people can achieve legal status.

At Leaders Forum, groups give differing advice on 2013 Phoenix convention

By Sheldon C. Good for Mennonite Weekly Review

PITTSBURGH—Whether or not Mennonite Church USA has a convention in Phoenix in 2013, church leaders are committed to show their support for immigrants.

Though various opinions were shared Sept. 23-25 during a Leaders’ Forum—including differing statements from two church groups—leaders said they will discern God’s will together.

More than 200 leaders representing MC USA, churchwide organizations and area conferences gathered together for the first time outside a convention to worship, fellowship, tell stories and discuss topics such as whether to move the 2013 convention from Phoenix due to Arizona’s controversial immigration law.

“Our Hispanic constituency is feeling the burden of this decision,” said Glen Guyton, MC USA associate executive director for constituent resources, the staff person who relates with Racial/Ethnic groups. “The Phoenix decision is only a symbol of much bigger challenges we face as MC USA, such as viewing Racial/Ethnic congregations as missions projects and not as valuable contributors.”

Guyton is part of MC USA’s Intercultural Relations Reference Committee, or IRRC, a group that works on Racial/Ethnic issues. The IRRC includes representatives from the three official MC USA Racial/Ethnic groups—Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church), African-American Mennonite Association and Native Mennonite Ministries—as well as from churches that primarily work with immigrants from Africa and Asia.

Arizona’s SB 1070, which makes it illegal for an immigrant to be in the state without documents, has “a disproportionate impact” on Racial/Ethnic groups, the IRRC said in a statement presented by Guyton at the Leaders Forum.

The statement recommends holding the 2013 convention in Phoenix, “although we understand that some in our Racial/Ethnic constituency may not agree,” Guyton said.

The IRRC statement also references systemic issues that are problematic within Mennonite Church USA. It says that conventions and other MC USA gatherings “are not welcoming to Racial/Ethnic people as a whole because of culture, cost, travel requirements and language barriers.”

The statement calls the church to 12 steps of racial inclusion and equality. Those steps include making the churchwide priority of anti-racism a more prominent part of conventions and offering support to “recent immigrants in our communities without making judgment.”

The IRRC includes two representatives of Iglesia Menonita Hispana, which wrote a letter in April asking denominational leaders to “rethink” the Phoenix convention. Yvonne Diaz, executive director of Iglesia Menonita Hispana and an IRRC member, said the Hispanic church’s position has not changed.

“There’s a hostile environment [in Arizona],” Diaz said. “It’s very detrimental to our Latino brothers and sisters. We’ve got lots of ideas. Let’s be creative about this opportunity. We’re in pain.”

Diaz said she hopes the church can demonstrate Rev. 7:9, which describes people from every tribe and language standing before the throne of the Lord with palm branches.

Representatives from Iglesia Menonita Hispana and IRRC were not alone in their differing views.

Malinda Berry, Mennonite Education Agency board member, said the Phoenix decision is morally ambiguous.

“There is no clear right or wrong answer,” Berry said. She wondered whether MC USA would sanction acts of civil disobedience if the convention is held in Phoenix.

Chuck Neufeld, a member of the Constituency Leaders Council, said pastors in Illinois Conference came to a strong consensus. “Unless IMH is asking us to meet in Phoenix, we can’t,” he said.

Kenneth Thompson, a member of MC USA’s Executive Board and the IRRC, said there’s a difference between uniformity and unity.

“In the Scriptures, presence, not absence, makes the difference,” Thompson said. “For those who choose to go, go fully dressed in the armor of God. If you go, go with a purpose.”

Questions from Iglesia Menonita Hispana’s April letter to MC USA were discussed, including how churches have engaged with the denomination’s 2003 Statement on Immigration and how the church will demonstrate its solidarity with immigrants whether or not there is a Phoenix convention.

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, Executive Board member, asked the Executive Board to make a decision before January, when they will meet next.

The Racial Healing Task Group, which includes representatives from the “dominant culture,” presented a skit with four vignettes on how the dominant culture experiences power and privilege in relationships.

The racial healing group is directly accountable to the Intercultural Relations Reference Committee, or IRRC.

Questions were raised after the skit, such as how race impacts where people live, where institutions are built, where meetings are held and whether there’s a gap between denominational and congregational vision for multiculturalism.

“How can we move away from something that begins and ends, to a process that is ongoing?” said D.J. McFadden, Mennonite Mutual Aid board member.

Leaders also considered a proposal regarding resolutions during conventions. The executive committee of the Executive Board proposed an “Experiment in Corporate Discernment at Pittsburgh,” suggesting a delegate assembly without resolutions adopting church statements.

Duane Oswald, MMA board member, said leaders needed to trust each other during decision-making. “That happens at the table groups,” he said. “If we are not making decisions, then why should we come?”

Thomas Kauffman, conference minister for Ohio Conference, asked, “Is this a way to avoid the difficult topics that we know are out there?”

Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MC USA, proposed a plan, “Investing in Hope,” an “effort to align our actions with our theological commitments. “Although the plan includes the “Joining Together, Investing in Hope” building campaign, it is more about planning how we will move forward as a church than finances,” he said.

“In the past, we’ve used wishful thinking instead of purposeful planning,” Stutzman said. The plan will be tested with church leaders during 2010 and with delegates at Pittsburgh 2011.

The three-day event culminated as church leaders took communion. “Oftentimes when we worship, we gather together with veiled faces,” Stutzman said, referencing God’s new covenant. “If you take the veil off, the Lord’s light penetrates your face and shines. Covenants are an investment in hope.”

Newton offices to sell part of building, consolidate workspace

Mennonite Church USA
Sept. 17, 2010

NEWTON, Kan.—This week, Mennonite Church USA signed an agreement to sell three of the four connected storefront buildings of the Newton offices of Mennonite Church USA to RiverPoint Church, a local congregation. Plans are to reconfigure the space in the remaining building to accommodate the 34 staff members who work there.

The 722 Main Street location is one of two national offices of Mennonite Church USA and previously served as the binational headquarters for the former General Conference Mennonite Church. One of the buildings in the process of being sold used to house the Faith & Life Bookstore.

“This is an answer to prayer,” said Shelley Buller, executive assistant for Mennonite Church USA, noting the cost of maintaining the properties. She anticipates that the consolidation of space “will spark renewed energy among staff at the office.”

Currently, Newton staff members are employees of Mennonite Church USA (denominational staff), Mennonite Education Agency, Mennonite Mission Network, Mennonite Publishing Network, Church Extension Services, Mennonite Men, Mennonite Women USA and The Mennonite.

While an inspection of the building is pending, and the sale will not be final until the Nov. 10 closing date, members of the Mennonite Office Executive Group (MOEG)—which oversees the Newton buildings’ maintenance and staff needs—also expressed excitement about the projected move.

“This felt right from the beginning,” said Chris Graber, building manager.

Terry Graber, production director for Mennonite Publishing Network and a member of MOEG, said that when the group learned of Faith & Life Bookstore’s plans to move to a different address last year, they thought the church should sell the property rather than try to rent it.

The Mennonite Church USA Executive Board agreed, and Graber, who served as the contact person in negotiations regarding the property, sought a buyer, but none came forward.

Then in late July, members of RiverPoint Church, an Evangelical Free Church congregation, expressed interest. The growing congregation of about 450 participants is renting space elsewhere in Newton.

As the two sides talked, the RiverPoint representatives surprised MOEG members when they offered to purchase the two adjoining buildings as well as the former bookstore location. The MOEG members realized that one building would have enough space for the current staff and more, and agreed that it would be good stewardship to sell the two additional buildings and move the staff. Negotiations went smoothly, Graber said, and the two parties signed the contract Sept. 17 following approval by the Executive Board.

“I’ve never been in a business deal where both buyer and seller worked so well together,” Graber said, adding that both groups were looking forward to having each other as neighbors. He said that he had invited RiverPoint’s staff to join Newton office staff members in their weekly chapel service.

Brad Martin, RiverPoint’s pastor, said that he has been encouraged by Mennonite Church USA’s willingness to work with the congregation on the transaction.

“Throughout, there has been a kingdom-minded focus above everything else,” he said. “We’re excited to be doing ministry in this building that has had such a long history of service to God.”

Once the transaction is closed, Graber said, the plan is to have a staggered withdrawal from the buildings over a period of 30 to 90 days.

Some of the funds from the sale will be used to remodel the remaining building—including upgrading the entrance—and to reconfigure the existing space, which Graber said will require minimal structural changes. Buller said she sees this facelift as an opportunity “to use the space efficiently and wisely and increase the camaraderie among staff.”

A portion of the proceeds will likely go to Mennonite Church Canada because of an agreement made when the General Conference Mennonite Church (GC) merged with the Mennonite Church (MC) in 2002 to form Mennonite Church USA. A Joint Executive Council agreed on a distribution formula of “60/40 for GC assets and 90/10 for MC assets,” which reflected the proportion of U.S. to Canadian members in the two denominations at the time. Proceeds from the sale will not be used for construction of Mennonite Church USA’s new building in Elkhart, Ind.

Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, said, “I’m grateful for the initiative the staff in Newton took to work this out. The sale and the move will save considerable maintenance costs, make more efficient use of the space and solidify the offices’ place on Main Street.” There are no plans to close the Newton office, he added.

—Mennonite Church USA staff

Mennonite Church USA delegation invites prayer for Phoenix visit

Deuteronomy 24:17-18 (NIV)

17Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge.18Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this.

Purpose of trip

In response to concerns raised by Iglesia Menonita Hispana, Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board is sending a delegation to Phoenix, Ariz., to witness “on the ground” the effects of Arizona’s new immigration law, the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act.

Phoenix currently is the location for the denomination’s 2013 convention.Phoenix city government leaders, who have expressed their disappointment with the new legislation, extended the invitation to the delegation to come; the Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau will cover expenses for the trip.

The group will meet with city officials, convention planners, local Hispanic and Mennonite Church USA congregations, and human rights workers who specialize in immigration. Delegation members will gather information about the potential multi-faceted impacts of holding the denomination’s 2013 convention in Phoenix, and will discern options for staying in Phoenix, finding a different location, or canceling the 2013 gathering.

On Friday evening, Mennonite Church USA Phoenix-area churches will join delegation members for a forum on immigration to discuss the issues and guiding principles surrounding the Phoenix 2013 decision.

As Mennonite Church USA contemplates next steps, we are committed to our stated priority of honoring the dignity and value of all Racial/Ethnic people in Mennonite Church USA, ensuring just and equitable access to church resources, positions and information as manifestations of the one new humanity in Christ. As we seek to become an anti-racist church, the dominant group must be accountable to the Racial/Ethnic constituency in decision-making processes. Our delegation will model this accountability. In light of Arizona’s new legislation, living into this priority requires that we find specific ways to honor and support our Latino brothers and sisters and other immigrants who are part of Mennonite Church USA. Our efforts and decisions must be focused on allowing God’s healing and hope to flow through us into the world.

—Glen Guyton, director for constituent resources, Mennonite Church USA

God’s love has no borders

Ervin R. Stutzman, executive director, Mennonite Church USA
June 2010

In the last few weeks, debates about immigration have flared up all across the United States. The passage of the SB 1070 immigration law in Arizona has prompted other states to consider similar measures to control immigration. In response to the strong feelings across the nation, President Obama recently took action to secure the border between the U.S. and Mexico. I grieve that these actions deeply affect my brothers and sisters in the congregations of Iglesia Menonita Hispana, a valued part of Mennonite Church USA. I have been hearing stories from congregations that are losing many beloved members because of pressure from the government.

As a church leader, I rely on our denomination’s 2003 statement on immigration to guide my response to this situation. Also, the following words from hymn 374 in Hymnal: Worship Book, (a Mennonite Church USA English hymnbook) echo my own prayer for Mennonite Church USA and our nation: “Forbid false love of country, that blinds us to your call, who lifts above the nations the unity of all. Create in us the splendor that dawns when hearts are kind, that knows no race nor station as bound’ries of the mind; that learns to value beauty, in heart, or mind, or soul, and longs to bind God’s children into one perfect whole.”

The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA recently voted to use money from the building campaign for Racial/Ethnic groups, including Hispanics. We will designate 10 percent of any money coming to our office building fund after the ground blessing, which took place on June 15. This money can be used for immigration concerns, education, or help with church facilities.

Currently, we have plans to meet in Phoenix, Ariz., for the 2013 convention of Mennonite Church USA. Because of the new law in Arizona, we are reconsidering this choice.

Glen Guyton, associate executive director of constituent resources, guides intercultural relations in our national conference. Glen has prepared the following announcement about the decision to be made:

Mennonite Church USA is very concerned about what is happening in the state of Arizona and the precedent it may set for other states. A just and humane immigration policy is needed in our nation and the passage of Arizona SB1070 may be a tipping point in our country. Only God knows which way our country will lean.

The question on the minds of many in the Hispanic community is, “Why hasn’t Mennonite Church USA made a decision to move the 2013 convention to another city?” To many of our Hispanic brothers and sisters, the decision is easy: “Don’t go to Phoenix, because we will not go. We do not feel safe.” Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) has made its position clear, and the leadership of the church has heard the message. While we truly have love, respect and empathy for the Hispanic members of our church family, there are several reasons why the church has chosen to take some time to make a decision about the location.

1. Exposure to all Mennonite Church USA members. We believe the issue of immigration is far greater than the location of our 2013 churchwide convention. This decision will provide an opportunity to bring immigration to the forefront of our church. For many years, Mennonite churches in Arizona and in our Hispanic
communities have been dealing with immigration issues. Our Hispanic churches are losing members in great numbers because of the poor economy and the changing political climate. Deciding on a convention location will expose the
broader church to the negative effects of current U.S. immigration policy and the proposed Arizona law, which many feel will lead to racial profiling.

2. Discussion and discernment. Because this decision affects our entire church family, it requires discussion and discernment by leaders all across the church. A gathering called the Leaders Forum had already been planned for September 2010, and now the 2013 convention location will be a central topic of discussion and discernment. Nearly 250 leaders from conferences, agencies and Racial/Ethnic constituency groups will be involved. When we gather together face?to?face in worship and prayer to discuss things as Christian sisters and brothers, a clarity often comes through the power of the Holy Spirit. We need to hear the hurts, fears, hopes and dreams of all who will be affected by the passage of this law in Arizona. The leadership of the church feels that using the next few months to discern and discuss immigration, the new Arizona law, and
the historical circumstances surrounding the passage of SB1070 will ultimately facilitate a sense of synergy around the final decision. It is important that we understand “why” when the final decision is announced.

3. Contracts. While some want a quick decision to send a message to the state of Arizona, the financial impact of staying in or leaving Phoenix will not be affected by a few months. The 2013 convention is more than three years away. Making an announcement now will not benefit our Hispanic community any more than
making an announcement in early 2011. A formal announcement would trigger contractual obligations, numerous inquires, and limit the ability of our staff to negotiate with the various entities involved. There is not just one contract to cancel, but multiple contracts that would need to be changed. The liquidated damages of canceling these contracts could possibly exceed $500,000. In addition, at least 10 other states are considering legislation similar to Arizona’s. In some ways, announcing a decision too early could be reckless. It is not as simple as picking another city. Currently, the convention planning staff and the Office of Intercultural Relations are exploring all options, so that everyone in our church understands the impact of the final decision. The decision, whether it is to stay in Phoenix or move to another city, will have a serious impact on the
church—spiritually, relationally, and fiscally.

4. City of Phoenix. The city of Phoenix is paying attention to Mennonite Church USA. Recently, I visited the city of Phoenix with Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning. We met with the city manager, the chief of police, the vice?mayor, the convention bureau, and the three hotels with whom
we have binding contracts. Since Iglesia Menonita Hispana forwarded its formal request to change the convention location, the staff of Mennonite Church USA has been working at providing information to everyone involved and seeking a solution that will benefit the entire Mennonite Church USA family, of which Iglesia Menonita Hispana is a very important part. We shared with the city officials the concerns of IMH. We explained to them the concern about safety and the fears of what the law will mean. The city of Phoenix and its large Hispanic population have great disdain for SB1070.

5. Next steps. In the next step of our discernment process, members of the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA and members of the Executive Committee of Iglesia Menonita Hispana will travel to Phoenix to meet with city officials and local Latino community leaders to assess what is happening in the area.

We have to trust God that our discernment process will work in this matter. As an African-American, I am no stranger to discrimination. I empathize with my Hispanic brothers and sisters, and I cannot imagine what it feels like to live in fear of being deported from the country I love and call my home. I hope that everyone in the church understands that the pain and fear felt by our Hispanic constituency will not end with the decision of where we hold our 2013 churchwide convention. No, in the grand scheme of things, the decision of whether or not to go to Phoenix is quite small.

The bigger issues are: What are the guiding principles that will help us make this decision? How do we resource and care for Hispanic Mennonite congregations who are losing hundreds of members? How do we as a church make tough decisions, even if they only directly affect a small percentage of our members? What can we as a church do about immigration reform and the care for the stranger in our land? How committed are we to the priority of anti?racism in the church? Are we willing to sacrifice to become an anti?racist church? Can we as Racial/Ethnic people and Anglos still walk together in love and trust one another after the final decision is made? Ultimately, the decision where to spend five days in July 2013 will not mean much if we don’t do the hard work now. Now is the time for wisdom and understanding (Proverbs 24:3). Now is the time for all members of Mennonite Church USA to dwell together in unity and in prayer to begin the journey toward sharing a holistic witness to the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Glen and I welcome your response to this way of working to make this important decision about a possible change of location for the convention. If you have comments or questions, please contact Glen Guyton at GlenG@MennoniteUSA.org or 1?866?866?2872, ext. 23044.

Mennonite convention planners discern response to Arizona immigration bill

Mennonite Church USA

The location for Mennonite Church USA’s 2013 convention — Phoenix, Ariz. — is being called into question because of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which passed April 23.

Two weeks before news of the Arizona immigration bill hit national headlines, Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, director of convention planning for Mennonite Church USA, met with the Phoenix Convention and Visitors Bureau to discuss her disappointment with and concern about the upcoming change in legislation.

“We want all parts of Mennonite Church USA to feel welcome at convention locations,” Swartzendruber Miller said. “Our national convention is meant to be a reunion of Mennonite brothers and sisters from across the country, representing many ethnicities. This bill does not send a welcoming message.”

Arizona Senate Bill 1070 — the Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act — declares that it is a crime to reside in Arizona as an illegal immigrant and that law enforcement has the right to demand proof of legal residence from people suspected of having illegal immigrant status. In Arizona, 30 percent of the population is Hispanic. Since the bill passed, demonstrators have lined the streets of downtown Phoenix, protesting that the bill legalizes racial profiling. Phoenix’s mayor, Phil Gordon, released a statement describing the immigration bill as “unconstitutional”

Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership has been in conversation with racial/ethnic leaders within the church to discern the most appropriate course of action regarding the convention location.

“As a church, we intend to stand alongside and support our Hispanic brothers and sisters who are deeply affected by this new law,” said Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA.

Yvonne Diaz, executive director for Iglesia Menonita Hispana, shared her disappointment with the Arizona bill in a recent letter to church leaders.

“I grieve the effects of this law on our Latino congregations and all Latinos in the United States,” Diaz wrote. “At the same time, I also have hope that Mennonite Church USA will rise to the task of supporting immigrant brothers and sisters. Let’s use our creativity to figure out how this can be a teaching moment for the whole church.”

While several binding contracts for the 2013 convention have already been signed — the choice of Phoenix as the site was finalized in January 2009 — Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Committee, Convention Planning and Intercultural Relations will continue to focus on this issue in the coming months, remaining in conversation with the city of Phoenix and racial/ethnic constituents of the church.

“Our hope is to support the racial/ethnic persons of Mennonite Church USA and to give hope to the congregations of Pacific Southwest Conference, specifically those in Arizona who are feeling the brunt of this legislation,” Swartzendruber Miller said.

Regarding next steps for convention planners, Swartzendruber Miller noted, “The question we will be grappling with is, ‘Will we be helping the situation by refusing to meet in Phoenix to show that we are resisting this unjust law? Or, is God calling us to face this injustice by being a present witness of healing and hope in the Phoenix community?’”