It is time once again for our biennial Delegate Assembly, scheduled for July 2-6 in Kansas City. The Delegate Assembly provides the opportunity for our MC USA family to assemble for worship, fellowship, prophecy, relationship building, understanding and deepening our commitment to Christ and each other. In 2019 we will focus on equipping our church leaders for mission while we discuss major issues of policy and discern next steps for the national conference. It is important that the voice of our constituency be heard as we gather together from all parts of the church. The Delegate Assembly is your opportunity to not only speak to the establishment of general policies and the development of programs to carry out those policies. But it is an opportunity for you to connect with and listen to the various members in our great and diverse denomination. Come see and hear what is next for MC USA. Join in helping our denomination live into its call. Meet Mennonites from all over the United States and learn how they are living into the commitments of the Journey Forward process.
Select your delegates now! Refer to the Information for Delegates to learn about the delegate selection process and registration.
Other materials for the delegate assembly will be posted on this webpage as they become available.
In addition to delegate business, the delegate session at Menno-Con 19 will be featuring a teaching session each day with Tom Yoder Neufeld. Tom is Professor Emeritus from the University of Waterloo. He is the author of the commentary on Ephesians part of The Believers Church Bible Commentary series. The delegate session will also feature stories from congregations across our denomination that give life to our Renewed Commitments from the Journey Forward.
I hope to see you in Kansas City this summer.
Glen Guyton, Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA
It was only a few short days ago that 57 members of Franconia Mennonite Conference returned from MC USA convention in Kansas City. This was a convention unlike all others, pain was clearly written across many faces. As Mennonite World Review reported in their article MC USA convention: Sharing pain, seeing Jesus on July 7th, “It might have been the pain of exclusion due to sexual orientation. Or of feeling the church has agreed to tolerate sin. It might have been the pain of sexual abuse. Or of concern for the future of a church sharply divided on how to relate to sexual minorities.”
There was also pain regarding the lack of resolutions put forward prior to convention to stand with our brothers and sisters of color, especially in the wake of church burnings, and the shooting at the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. The pain was also present as delegates recognized the loss of life that would continue in Palestine and Israel as the resolution regarding standing with Palestinian Christians was tabled for two years. That pain led to the drafting and approval of a resolution on Saturday to stand with MCUSA partners for peace in Israel and Palestine. With all of this pain, the question remains, where do we go from here?
The theme of this year’s convention was “On the Way.” Throughout the week speakers in worship services and delegate sessions spoke on the Emmaus road story in Luke 24. The story begins with the finding of the empty tomb, where the crucified Christ was laid. This news is reported to the apostles before two leave for a trip to the town of Emmaus. Along this journey they encounter Jesus, although they do not know it is him at first. As they talk of all that has happened they miss that Christ is in their midst. They recognize Jesus only when they begin to break bread. As the men return to Jerusalem and Jesus appears before the disciples they still doubt. Christ bears the wounds of the cross, revealing the pain he endured. The pain that led to this moment and now has made it possible for his ascension into heaven, which is where this chapter ends.
This is not the end of the story, rather the beginning of a new chapter. Pain is not always a bad thing. Christ’s pain led to the salvation of God’s children. What happens with the pain endured? Christ’s pain led him to God’s side as he ascended into heaven.
As Franconia Mennonite Conference moves forward and continues into this new chapter, may the conversations not be so all consuming that the sight of Christ among us is lost. May the pain felt by sisters and brothers be acknowledged as Christ acknowledged his and may this pain draw us closer to God as Christ’s did him.
Riding in an airplane or a bus, the transportation to Kansas City was likely the easiest part of the journey for the 57 Franconia Conference delegates at this year’s Mennonite Church USA gathering in Kansas City that began on Tuesday, June 30th. While there are still two days remaining, delegates have already worked on discerning difficult topics from denominational membership guidelines to drone warfare.
Opening worship … an invitation to no longer be the quiet in the land
To open convention Tuesday evening, Michelle Armster, director of Mennonite Central Committee Central States, preached in a joint worship service with youth and adults. She spoke of the stories of Mary and Martha and of brave women whose lives ended in horrifying death in ‘Martyrs Mirror’, and how they should remind us that we must help give a voice to those that society — or even the church — are trying to silence. Armster said, “We must speak up! We can no longer be the quiet in the land where a young man can walk into a church and murder at a Bible study,” referencing the events earlier this month in Charleston, South Carolina. She went on to say, “The Jesus movement is not for the comfortable, or the satisfied, or the insiders. May we, like Mary and Martha, be bold for Christ once again.”
On being a peace church in a time of violence
As the delegates gathered on Wednesday morning for the opening session, Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator of Mennonite Church USA, reminded delegates that as racial tensions rise following violent events in Ferguson, Missouri; Charleston, South Carolina, and others, we need to come together to create peace.
In her opening remarks and throughout the week, she reminded delegates that “with the fruits of the spirit in mind, especially self-control, we can discuss items appropriately. Let’s witness to others that we are a peace church.”
Resolutions on drone warfare and Israel/Palestine: one passes, one is tabled
The first day of delegate sessions, Wednesday, the delegates considered resolutions on faithfulness amid endless war, and on Israel/Palestine. In addition, a third was brought forward asking for the delegates to acknowledge and extend forgiveness in response to the Executive Board’s statement of confession in an April pastoral letter to delegates. While the resolution on forgiveness was passed with extensive support, the others were not smooth processes.
Faithfulness amid endless war was approved with an amendment, yet delegates expressed feeling rushed through the process. In the afternoon, the resolution on Israel/Palestine came before the delegates and several concerns were expressed. One delegate raised the point that many in his congregation are employed by Caterpillar, one of the companies listed as being deeply entrenched in the conflict and one that could be boycotted upon passing this resolution. He expressed concern for his congregation members’ jobs and the church’s ability to support them if they quit. Others expressed that as a peace church there is a call to build bridges — not “take sides.” Still others brought up the need for relationship building with the Jewish and/or Israelis, as well as Palestinians.
Two initial polls were taken to determine levels of support for the resolution; after much division, a motion was brought forward to table the resolution until the next assembly in 2017. Delegates voted by ballot on whether to table the resolution, and the motion to table passed by 55 percent — 418 in favor, 336 opposed, 28 abstaining.
Resolutions on forbearance and membership guidelines both affirmed
Thursday proved no less difficult as the delegates worked to discern regarding the forbearance and membership guidelines resolutions. Joe Hackman, Salford congregation, had been up front helping with worship and spoke of watching the over 800 delegates enter the room saying, “I had an overwhelming feeling of the beautiful body of people entering the space. The air felt thick with the Spirit, with joy, thick with pain, thick with tension, anxiety, humility, and thick with a desire to be faithful.”
The delegate session began with opening remarks, prayer, some singing, and a disruption by a few persons, intended to make a statement for the LGBTQ community. This disruption was quickly over taken by singing, although there were a few boos amidst the otherwise shocked delegate body. Elizabeth Soto Albrecht then read part of a statement from Pink Menno stating they were “de-pink[ing] the delegate session as a sign of their opposition to the resolutions at hand. Pink Menno supporters wore trash bags over their pink t-shirts. Soto Albrecht stated it is important that their voices be acknowledged.
A time of singing and prayer re-centered delegates. The authors of the forbearance resolution — Charlotte Lehman, pastor of Reba Place Church in Evanston, Illinois, and Megan Ramer, pastor of Chicago Community Mennonite Church — then framed the forbearance resolution prior to the delegates’ time of discernment.
Lehman said, “We know we have differences of conviction, but we don’t want a political debate. We long to have the kind of healthy conflict that you can only have with people you love.” The authors acknowledged they have differences between their two congregations. Lehman went on to say, “conflict is not the enemy. The enemy is the enemy. We want to glorify God in both the outcome of our dialogue and the way we conduct our dialogue.” The resolution went on to be approved by a 71% vote in favor: 581 yes and 228 no.
The day continued with discussion and discernment on Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines. This proved to be a resolution in need of clarification. Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MCUSA, referred to the Frequently Asked Question document, prepared for and released to delegates on June 18th. After prompted by question, he noted, “If both of these resolutions pass, the Executive Board will see it as a mandate to hold together the traditional stance of our church with an approach that grants freedom to congregations and area conferences to work things out in their own context, with mutual accountability with the CLC … If the resolution on Membership Guidelines does not pass, the Executive Board will take it as a mandate to free congregations and area conferences to work out their own practices without specific accountability to the commitments stated in Part III of the Guidelines. In any case, the Executive Board will take into account the degree of support or non-support for each resolution in the voting process, as well as the specific feedback from table groups.” Following much discussion, the delegates voted to approve the resolution with 58% affirmation: 473 yes, 310 no and 28 abstentions.
Eastern District and Franconia conference delegates gather to acknowledge “not winning” together
However, the day was not over for Franconia Conference delegates or those attending convention on behalf of Eastern District. Conference and congregation delegates from both conferences joined for a time of reflection on the week and dialogue regarding what this means for us moving forward.
With over 60 in attendance for the conversation, Charlie Ness of Perkiomenville congregation, Lorie Hershey, pastor West Philadelphia Mennonite Fellowship, and Warren Tyson, conference minister for Eastern District Conference, shared their reflections on the week and hopes for moving forward.
Ness shared that these resolutions and the one on the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse yet to be considered touch a nerve for him, as he has a deep personal story connecting him to the resolutions. He mentioned that many have spoken in the delegate session about living in tension and that “living together in tension, feels to some of us like living in contradiction. This will be a challenge for us in how we function with the diversity among us.”
Hershey said, “today was a hard day. It was hard work” and like nothing she has experienced in previous years as a delegate. Hershey elaborated that she would have appreciated an acknowledgement of the pain and the silencing even within the group. “As leaders we need to continue to name these things, because there is a big gulf between how we understand things and differing realities.”
Warren Tyson said the imagery he once heard of the Spirit being like a “wild goose” came to mind. He said “the goose comes in and flaps around, makes lots of waves and noise and commotion, and disrupts life.” He wondered if there was a sense that God was wanting to stir us up and maybe even have us feel pain.
Joe Hackman mentioned language used by Michael King (also of Salford congregation) of pastors being “pain holders.” He said, “I felt that was taking place in some real and tangible ways today.”
In the delegate gathering, there was a sense that there were no winners in the difficult day. “So we are all in it, not winning together.”
Yet, there was profound hope in the room amongst Eastern District and Franconia conferences’ delegates. All three of those who shared spoke of the deep and authentic conversations that happened at the delegate tables. They spoke of the differing views and how, through that, they were able to see one another as people. By doing so, some were even shifting in their understanding and perspective.
The delegates acknowledge that deep authentic conversation is not always easy when you have to work and live with one another. It was acknowledged that with the passing of the forbearance and membership guidelines resolution, we are being called to this uncomfortable place of engaging with one another in authentic conversation. One delegate shared, “It’s going to be hard and it will take a lot of time. We cannot go home on Sunday and say it is done. It will never be done. We need to do what we can do in our congregations and conferences.”
While difficult decisions were made by our delegates, the difficult work is not yet done. Through the passing of these resolutions, we have committed to engage in this uncomfortable place, sit with our brothers and sisters and discuss our differences, being vulnerable with one another as we explore the depth of our conviction. While this task may seem daunting, the commitment to our denomination, conference and congregations was clear, as these over-60 individuals from Franconia and Eastern District conferences came together after two intense and draining days, to stand together and say “we made the decisions — now how do we move forward together?”
May God grant us wisdom as we continue on this journey together. May we strive to allow the fruits of the Spirit to guide us. May we see one another as God sees us.
Update Posted July 6, 2015:
Final delegate session sees two more resolutions affirmed and installation of new moderator
On Saturday, July 4th the delegates met for a final session where they passed two more resolutions. The resolutions included a statement proposed by the Mennonite Palestine-Israel Network (MennoPIN). The statement declared support for both Palestinian and Israeli partners in peacemaking and was written after the tabling of the Israel/ Palestine resolution. The other resolution discerned on Saturday, a resolution of expression and lament, called on MC USA and “all its parts [to] continue to build awareness and direct resources and energy to continued anti-racism education among our constituencies and to stand in solidarity with the African-American community as destroyed properties are rebuilt and ministry occurs to broken bodies and souls.” Both passed with overwhelming support.
Following the final resolution discernment, the delegates received a report from Mennonite Central Committee, the Listening Committee, and the Anti-Racism Team. Many affirmations and concerns were heard by the Listening Committee and they noted that many of the concerns were around procedure. The Anti-Racism Team noted that this convention was the most diverse convention to date. However, the delegate sessions did not reflect this diversity with only 10% of the delegates being people of color.
Ewuare Osayande of the Anti-Racism Team noted, “until the delegate session — where voting power lies — looks a bit more like the seminar and learning sessions, no real change will occur in the broader church.”
To end the day, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MCUSA thanked Elizabeth Soto Albrecht for her service as moderator over the past two years. Patricia Shelly and David Boshart were then installed as moderator and moderator-elect for the next two years.
“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.