At the end of service on the Dock Mennonite Academy Board of Trustees, each departing trustee receives a fraktur with a favorite Bible verse. Following my term, I was asked which verse I wanted on my fraktur, and I requested Micah 6:8: “What does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Leadership requires much ongoing personal development, and Mennonite values of justice, mercy and humility are ones to incorporate into daily life. Authentic servanthood leadership is something to aspire to, but it takes perseverance, practice and resilience.
As the new moderator of Mennonite Church USA, I am looking forward to learning and growing as I serve in the church. I want to act justly, love mercifully and walk humbly with my God over the next two years. This is easier said than done, and all leaders in the church need grace for when they fail. Sometimes people with the best leadership potential say no to church leadership positions, afraid of failure and ultimately of criticism. We are missing out on the sharing of significant leadership gifts in the church.
Tom Yoder Neufeld, our speaker for the Bible studies during the Delegate Assembly at MennoCon19, proclaimed that “the church is a mess,” to which we replied, “Thanks be to God.” Messiness is part of any leadership journey and has the wonderful possibility to lead to new beginnings.
Even in the midst of our church messiness, I believe there is hope for the future. If we practice listening more than talking, if we continue to mentor our youth into leadership roles, and if we lead with a transparent spirit, our beloved Mennonite church will grow and thrive. Our words and actions as leaders matter a whole lot. Please provide prayerful and other kinds of support to our MC USA Executive Board staff, conference and constituency leaders, pastors and others who provide important leadership to our denomination.
My hope for the church is that the Spirit of God will continue to move in our midst as we all lead, grow and pray together. Practice listening more than talking. Practice being in difficult conversations with others. Practice hospitality and practice washing or spraying each other’s feet. Together our leadership can make a difference in MC USA.
Joy Sutter is moderator of Mennonite Church USA and a member of Salford congregation
Angela Moyer, assistant moderator, Danilo Sanchez, Youth Formation Pastor, and I represented Franconia Mennonite Conference at the biannual Constituency Leadership Council (CLC) February 28-March 2. Others attending from Franconia Conference included Joy Sutter, Moderator Elect of Mennonite Church USA, and Buddy Hannanto, representing the Indonesian Mennonite Association.
The CLC is comprised of representatives from each area conference, churchwide program agency, and constituent group. While not a decision-making body, CLC serves as a forum for discernment, conversation, and networking. This group of 50-60 persons function as denominational elders offering counsel to the Executive Board on issues of faith, life and churchwide statements. Glen Guyton, Executive Director of MC USA, emphasized CLC’s importance, acknowledging that our “concerns are heard and taken seriously.”
An emphasis of CLC is building relationships of trust among executive board representatives, conferences, racial/ethnic groups, and churchwide program agency leaders. Sitting around tables, sharing personal and ministry stories, worshipping and sharing communion, eating meals together, discussing important matters of our common life, and playing group games remind us of the covenant we hold—to be the presence of Christ and share in Christ’s reconciling mission with each other and in our communities and places of ministry.
Angela Moyer commented that, “attending CLC helped me learn to know our new denominational leaders. God has given us a gift in these leaders, who have passion for God and the church, and a vision for our denomination.”
Lively, yet respectful, conversations centered around two key issues: a review of the MC USA membership guidelines and an update of the potential merger of The Mennonite and Mennonite World Review (a decision delayed last fall to process the concerns raised by CLC).
Barth Hague, chair of The Mennonite’s board, gave a brief update to inform CLC of the recent decision to resume the merger process.
The membership guidelines, which were implemented in 2001 and reviewed in 2013 and 2015, are once again an issue for the MC USA delegate body to consider at MennoCon19 in Kansas City this summer. Eight recommendations for the Executive Board’s consideration were discerned around eight table groups utilizing the “Six Thinking Hats” approach to decision-making. This approach provided opportunity to depart from a predictable pattern of debate. Instead, the guidelines were processed from six different perspectives: neutral, optimistic, critical, emotional, innovative, and process oriented. I found this process helpful since everyone at the table was speaking from the same perspective for an allotted time, allowing us to shape a unified recommendation. In Danilo’s words, “Even though there were disagreements around the table, everyone was respected and valued.”
Angela, Danilo, and I were honored to serve as Franconia Conference representatives at CLC. Danilo summarized our shared experience and reflections well, “Throughout our meetings, it was evident that every pastor and leader who attended CLC loves the church and loves Jesus. Through CLC, I gained a trust and confidence in our denominational leadership. I believe their desire is for MC USA to be faithful followers of Jesus and to be an Anabaptist witness to the world.”
For the past few months, Joy Sutter of Salford Mennonite Church has been chairing the executive minister search committee for Franconia Conference. This past week it was announced that she is the nominee for moderator-elect of MCUSA. Her name was put forward by the MCUSA executive committee and affirmed by the Constituency Leadership Council (CLC) this past week. If affirmed by the delegates at the 2017 Convention, Joy will serve for two years as moderator-elect and then two years a s moderator.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Fifteen board members and staff representing various Mennonite agencies and organizations traveled to Israel/Palestine Feb. 24–March 4 to take part in a “Come and See” learning tour; participants included Joy Sutter, a member of Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board from Salford congregation, and Noel Santiago, a member of Mennonite Education Agency’s board and a staff member for Franconia Conference.The tour marked the beginning of a denominational initiative to send 100 Mennonite leaders to the region on similar tours over the next five years.
While Mennonites have been involved in relief work, service, witness and peacemaking in the region for more than 65 years, the tour was organized in response to a 2009 appeal from Palestinian Christians called “Kairos Palestine: A Moment of Truth” (www.kairospalestine.ps).
A coalition representing a range of Christians in Palestine—including Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant and Evangelical—issued the open letter to the global body of Christ as “a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.” They invited Christian organizations and faith groups to “come and see, in order to understand our reality.”
“The memories of our experiences keep intruding on my everyday thoughts some two weeks after our return,” reflected Chad Horning of Goshen, Ind., Chief Investment Officer of Everence and a member of the learning tour. “I am inspired by the steadfastness of Palestinians and Israelis alike in working for peace in the face of many years of disappointments.”
The learning tour followed the path of Jesus’ life by traveling to Bethlehem, Nazareth, Galilee and finally, Jerusalem. Along the way, they visited Bethlehem Bible College, Nazareth Village, refugee camps, settlements and community organizations, meeting local activists and villagers in each setting and hearing their stories. In Jerusalem they spent time at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial, and attended a Jewish Sabbath service. The group also connected with people serving with Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Mission Network and Christian Peacemaker Teams.
Participants were left with much to contemplate and share with their faith communities. Horning said he gained a better understanding of the terms often used to describe life in the region.
“Words like security, wall, border, military, settler, outpost, tear gas, demolition, rubber-coated bullet, and confiscation have more meaning when I tell the stories of people we met and who live in the context of these sterile terms,” he said.
Participants brought with them a range of experience and familiarity with the region. Some had visited or served there, but most were witnessing the realities for the first time.
Madeline Maldonado, associate pastor of Iglesia Evangélica Menonita Arca de Salvación, Fort Myers, Fla., and board chair for Mennonite Mission Network, was a first-time visitor to the region. Before leaving, she shared, “I hope to experience the culture and the conflict. I hope to feel the pain and frustration that are felt there. I pray that I can see God in what seems impossible for my Western and Latina mind to comprehend. I pray that God opens my eyes.”
Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship and Mennonite Church USA Executive Board member, shared reflections four days into the tour: “I’ve seen too much. Towering walls stretching for mile after mile, turning Palestinian cities into open-air prisons. Can I choose not to see … the used tear gas canisters I held in my hand—used against Palestinian youth, bought with my taxes, manufactured by a U.S. company in Pennsylvania?”
In addition to questions about the United States government’s involvement in the region, the group was encouraged the consider questions of faith in new light.
“Our experience gave us new insight into Jesus’ life and ministry, as well as the current situation,” said André Gingerich Stoner, director of holistic witness and interchurch relations for Mennonite Church USA. “We return better prepared to pray and work for God’s peace and blessing for everyone in this land.”
In 2011, Mennonite Church USA Executive Director Ervin Stutzman—in consultation with the Executive Board (EB)—responded to the writers of the Kairos Palestine letter, committing to expand opportunities for Mennonite leaders and members to visit Palestine and learn firsthand about the suffering there. Stutzman and the EB also wrote a letter to members of Mennonite Church USA, asking them to read and discuss the Kairos document, to study Scriptures together on the matter and to consider how their financial lives may be enmeshed in the occupation of Israel.
In 2013, the EB underscored its desire to help the church more fully understand both the Israeli and Palestinian experiences and the role of Christian Zionism in this conflict. A “Come and See” fund was established with initial contributions from Mennonite Central Committee U.S., Mennonite Mission Network and Everence to offer some scholarships for present and future learning tours. Individuals, agencies and local congregations covered the remainder, according to Stoner.
The next Israel/Palestine learning tour is scheduled for October 2014 and will include participants from Franconia Mennonite Conference, Eastern District Conference and Atlantic Coast Conference. There are limited spots available and some possible financial assistance is available as well. Contact Steve Kriss, email@example.com, to express interest and learn more. To be considered as part of the delegation, you must contact Steve by April 7, 2014. This trip is intended for persons who have not previously traveled to the region.
Members of churchwide boards of directors are chosen in one of three ways: elected by the delegate assembly, appointed by the Executive Board or co-opted by the board on which they serve.
On July 2 at the delegate session in Phoenix, seven people, including two from Franconia Conference, were elected to serve for a first term on the following boards: Executive Board, Everence, Mennonite Education Agency, Mennonite Mission Network and The Mennonite, Inc. The delegates also approve the selection of moderator-elect.
Moderator-elect: Patricia Shelly is professor of Bible and religion at Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., and a core adjunct faculty member in Bible at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary—Great Plains, also in North Newton. She has completed eight years on the Executive Board.
Executive Board: Yvonne Diaz, Terlingua, Texas, is a member of Iglesia Menonita Comunidad de Vida, San Antonio, Texas. Yvonne is the former executive director of Iglesia Menonita Hispana. She was nominated by the Iglesia Menonita Hispana to represent the group on the board.
Executive Board: Joy Sutter (right), East Norriton, Pa., is a member of the Salford (Pa.) Mennonite Church. Joy is a hospital administrator.
Executive Board: Isaac Villegas, Durham, N.C., Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Church where he serves as pastor.
Mennonite Mission Network:Barry Bartel, Golden, Colo., is a member of Glennon Heights Mennonite Church. Barry is an attorney who served in Haiti and Bolivia through Mennonite Central Committee.
Everence: Karen Lehman (left), Furlong, Pa., is a member of Plains Mennonite Church (Hatfield, Pa.). Karen is CEO of Rockhill Mennonite Community in Sellersville, Pa.
The Mennonite, Inc.: Elaine Maust, Meridian, Miss., is co-pastor of Jubilee Mennonite Church and works for Maust Woodworking.
Mennonite Education Agency: Judy Miller (no photo), Othello, Wa., is a member of Warden Mennonite Church. Judy is a retired professor.
The names of candidates for church-wide boards are nominated by the Leadership Discernment Committee.
LDC members include Duncan Smith from Beaverton, Ore., and a member of Portland Mennonite Church, chair; Paula Brunk Kuhns, Colorado Springs, Colo., and a member of Beth-El Mennonite Church; Horace McMillon, Jackson, Miss., and a bivocational pastor serving Open Door Mennonite Church; Kim Vu Friesen, Minneapolis, and a member of Emmanuel Mennonite Church; Dionicio Acosta, Lancaster, Pa., and a member of New Holland Spanish Mennonite Church; Edie Landis, Telford, Pa., and a member of Zion Mennonite Church; George Stoltzfus, Lititz, Pa., and a member of Landisville Mennonite Church; and Louise Wideman, Bluffton, Ohio, and associate pastor at First Mennonite Church of Bluffton.