Tag Archives: Phoenix

We see ourselves

Gutsy women
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Patty Shelly ask Phoenix delegates if they are ready for two women to lead Mennonite Church USA. Photo by Emily Ralph.

I would have told you that I didn’t need a woman leading our denomination.

I would have been wrong.

When Elizabeth Soto Albrecht was given her charge as moderator of Mennonite Church USA on July 5, I felt a thrill run through me.  We had been on the road for a week at that point and I wondered, “Is this what a campaign worker feels like when she sees her candidate take the oath of office?”

A few moments later, Elizabeth and Patty Shelly, the moderator-elect, stood before the delegate body and asked, “Are you ready for two women to lead Mennonite Church USA?”  The crowd applauded and I almost bounced up and down with excitement.

Where was this coming from?  There have been other women who have served as moderator, although most of them were before I was involved enough to be aware.  Why was Elizabeth’s appointment so special for me?

In our first trip together, Elizabeth and I traveled to New York City.  As we ate dinner with a Mennonite pastor in Brooklyn, his face lit up.  “This is an important day,” he said.  “For years, we urban Mennonites have been looking at our leadership, looking for a face we recognize.”  And now, with Elizabeth as the first Latina moderator of Mennonite Church USA, they finally looked to their leadership and saw themselves.

Everywhere we have traveled so far, Elizabeth has been greeted with enthusiasm and warmth.  But when we visit Hispanic congregations, something is different; the energy in the air is palpable, the prayer is fervent.  These congregations sent her to Phoenix in the same way that God sent prophets to Israel: as one individual representing something greater than herself.

I knew this was the case; I have even explained to others on a number of occasions how important Elizabeth’s appointment is to the Hispanic community.  Until the moment when she received her charge, however, it was just knowledge.  In that moment, I felt a dawning awareness of how personal that identification could be: This is what it feels like to look at the moderator and see myself.

When I told my spiritual director that I was going to be traveling with Elizabeth this summer, she laughed.  “That’s one gutsy woman,” she said.  Then she stopped and looked at me.  “But you like gutsy women.”

It’s true.  I do like gutsy women.  And my heart’s desire is that I will be one.

To all the gutsy women who have challenged the status quo, battled through sexism, engaged the hard questions, bridged cultures and theologies and relationships, and sacrificed for the good of the wider church, thank you.  May you more and more often look to our leadership and see a reflection of yourselves.  And may our children and grandchildren look to our leadership and see you.

God knows why we won’t go to Phoenix

Steve Krissby Steve Kriss, Philadelphia Praise Center (reposted from Mennonite World Review, by permission)

My church is made up of immigrants and migrants. We are political refugees. We have arrived here because of economic realities. We’ve been granted religious asylum. We’ve come to Philadelphia to find ourselves, to find flourishing space. We all landed in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Compassion for different reasons, and we’ve become the largest Mennonite Church USA congregation in the city.

This summer, though, we won’t be going to Phoenix to join with other Mennonites to discern and fellowship. We’re staying home from the MC USA convention because we’re honoring those among us who are undocumented and would risk too much in making the trip to Arizona. We know that bearing witness this summer is important, but we won’t put our most vulnerable members at risk by traveling there.

While other churches in our denomination wonder what it might be like to break the law to assist the undocumented, we have no question about our call to ministry. We know that Jesus ministered to those who were on the outside. We know that in taking that call seriously we must live in grace and recognize that our community of Mennonites includes both the legally documented and those who are underdocumented in the eyes of the law. We know that God knows our statuses and names, can count the hairs on our head and extends to us all the grace of daily bread.

Over much of our congregation’s history, placards up front in our worship space have called for immigration reform. They are underneath our cross, behind our pulpit and next to our drums. This call for justice is interwoven into the life of our congregation and our existence as a community. We are not insiders or outsiders based on our citizenship. We are a community of people who have decided to journey together as Mennonites in the very locale where the Mennonite seed took root in this hemisphere.

We applaud and seek to support the efforts of churches that take the issues of immigration seriously. Immigration reform will happen when the hearts of citizens change. We celebrate all that will be learned at Phoenix for those who attend. We hope the hearts of all in our churches will continue to be touched by the complexity of the situation and the simplicity of grace. I hope that somehow in this journey to Phoenix we’ll realize that immigrants — documented or undocumented — aren’t outsiders in our Anabaptist/Mennonite communities.

The journey to Arizona invites all of us to reflect on our own stories of migration. For many of us, a journey’s purity is polished in the retelling. We have not all landed on these shores willingly, legally or peaceably. The reasons for migration and the outgrowth of those realities are just as complicated now as when the streams of Swiss/ German/Dutch Mennonites made their way into colonial Pennsylvania — where Africans were being sold on auction blocks along the shore, ripped and trafficked from their homes across the Atlantic.

Early Anabaptists followed the invitation of the Spirit toward witness — knowing that at times it required actions that were contrary to the law and that risked relational harmony. This summer at Philly Praise and in other MC USA congregations across the country, our absence at Phoenix will be a witness to our denomination.

As we journey and seek first God’s sovereignty, may we also discover the breadth of God’s love and re-encounter the Spirit that binds us together across language, ethnicity, culture and status, inviting us all to be redefined under Christ.

Franconia supports moderator-elect on Phoenix pilgrimage

by John Tyson, Salford

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht
Soto Albrecht traces the planned route for this summer’s journey to Phoenix. Photo by Emily Ralph.

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht will become moderator of Mennonite Church USA at the denomination’s Phoenix convention this July. Phoenix, however, will be only one of her many stops this summer. The scholar and pastor, who calls Lancaster, Pa. home, is embarking on a nation-wide pilgrimage to visit MC USA congregations.

Following brief “send-off” trips to Norristown (Pa.), New York City, and Philadelphia, Soto Albrecht will begin her journey by heading down the east coast to Florida, before venturing west to Phoenix in time to deliver the keynote address on the final day of the convention, July 5. Immediately afterward, she will spend two additional weeks circling up the west coast and across the Midwest before arriving home in Lancaster, PA on July 21.

In light of Arizona’s controversial immigration legislation, the purpose of Soto Albrecht’s journey is to listen to stories of MC USA congregations most impacted by the decision to hold the convention in Phoenix. The legislation includes a “show me your papers” provision which authorizes law enforcement to arbitrarily check an individual’s immigration status. The provision has been accused of permitting a form of racial profiling. “I may not have power to make cultural institutional change, but I can speak,” said Soto Albrecht, originally from Puerto Rico.

On her recent visit to Nueva Vida Norristown New Life, Soto Albrecht expressed her vision of a church remaining united amidst growing diversity. “No more shunning, no more violence … We must learn how to fight for unity.” Soto Albrecht’s pilgrimage will help her to better lead an increasingly diverse denomination into the challenging, often polarizing, terrain of the twenty-first century. “When we return, and I look back, I want to be able to say I was empowered by holding all these stories and those narratives coming from many perspectives and walks of life, but labeled under MC USA, and that they inform and shape me as moderator.”

Franconia Conference’s Executive Minister, Ertell Whigham, shares Soto Albrecht’s passion for the work of cultivating a truly united church. “Within unity is both reconciliation and representation,” Whigham said. “Unity requires effort and calls for truth and a willingness to invest in what and who we claim to be or want to become. Franconia Conference believes that Sister Soto’s pilgrimage is one representation of the effort to hear ‘the rest of the story.’”

In support of Soto Albrecht’s journey, Franconia Conference is sending associate director of communication, Emily Ralph, to provide communication support — including a web presence, podcasts, audio, video, and blogging. Soto Albrecht will also be accompanied by her husband, Frank, while Harry Jarrett, pastor at Neffsville (Lancaster, Pa.) and moderator of Atlantic Coast Conference, will provide further social media support for the week leading up to Phoenix.

Elizabeth Soto Albrecht
Soto Albrecht (right) talks with two of her students from Lancaster Theological Seminary. Photo by Emily Ralph.

The soon-to-be moderator is encouraging congregations who are not able to risk going to Phoenix, or are remaining home in protest, to proclaim God’s hospitality in their own communities. “If God has called you to go to Phoenix, go with a prophetic voice. If you do not go, do some symbolic act that week, and send a report to Phoenix.”

Some local congregations are considering the option of doing a prayer walk in their respective neighborhoods on Friday, July 5, the day that Elizabeth will give the keynote address and lead a prayer walk in Phoenix.

Soto Albrecht’s pilgrimage will be chronicled at JourneyWithElizabeth.com, which states that “her journey begins with a single story and ends with a thousand.” In addition to collecting stories from Soto Albrecht’s travels, the website will also serve as a forum for others to share their own stories with Soto Albrecht and the rest of the Mennonite church.

Executive Board OKs two resolutions for Phoenix

Mennonite Church USA Phoenix Conventionby Gordon Houser, The Mennonite (reposted by permission)

At its last meeting before the delegate assembly in Phoenix in July, the Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA met April 4-6 in Kansas City, Mo., and decided to send to delegates two resolutions for their consideration.

One resolution, “Protecting and Nurturing Our Children and Youth,” seeks to raise awareness of child abuse and neglect and encourage the adoption of policies and practices to protect children and youth in the church community. Because of concern for liability issues, the board decided to recommend its adoption, “pending legal counsel.”

Another resolution, on creation care, calls for congregations and members to care for creation as part of the good news of Jesus Christ. EB members recommended this without discussion.

A third resolution, on Israel/Palestine, had gone to the Constituency Leaders Council’s meeting in March for discussion.

However, said Dave Boshart and David Sutter, co-chairs of the resolutions committee, “nearly all table groups at CLC discouraged or had significant reservations about presenting the resolution … to the delegate assembly.”

The committee did agree that the topic was important, and EB’s executive committee asked, What do we want to achieve?

Eventually, EB agreed on the following: “Executive Board desires to have conversation in the church which helps us understand both Israeli and Palestinian narratives and the Christian and American narrative in relation to them, and which helps us understand how we interpret the Bible in regard to these issues, particularly how we understand Christian Zionism.”

In an unprecedented occurrence, much of EB’s business time was spent in executive session, which means the press is not allowed to report on what is said.

In an April 8 email, moderator Dick Thomas said: “We spent about one-third of our meeting in either executive session or in session with agency staff and media present [but] where we requested no reporting of the conversation. Some of this conversation had to do with internal board processes and some with matters of discernment that will be reported after further conversation with individuals or groups that could not be at the board meeting.”

In other business, EB decided to reduced its number of meetings per biennium from seven to six, with one meeting in a non-convention year held by teleconference and the summer meeting in a convention year held at the convention site, with no meeting in the fall. EB members recognized the need for cutting budget but lamented the loss of meeting time.

Larry Hauder said, “It’s hard to build relationships with fewer meetings.”

Executive director Ervin Stutzman noted that the Purposeful Plan, which guides the work of the church, did not say anything about “our need for God.”

The board agreed to add the following to the document:”We recognize that because of sin, all have fallen short of the Creator’s intent, marred the image of God in which we were created, disrupted order in the world and limited our love for others. Therefore, through the reconciling power of Jesus Christ, we seek to walk in righteousness, or ‘right-relatedness’ with God and others.”

And in the section under Holistic Christian Witness, they added the following sentence: “Our allegiance to Jesus Christ calls us to love our enemies, demonstrating our willingness to die for our convictions but not to kill for them.”

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.”

Delegation offers statement after Arizona visit in consideration of plans for Phoenix 2013 assembly

August 12–13, 2010

We came to Phoenix as a step in the discernment process as to whether or not the Mennonite Church USA Convention 2013 should be held in Phoenix as planned. Our delegation was committed to listening deeply to each other, to the people with whom we met, and to the Spirit of God. Initially, our specific concern was AZ Senate Bill 1070 and the hostile environment it seems to have created. We are appreciative of the mayor, police chief, members of area faith communities, a representative of BorderLinks, and others who met with us to help us understand the situation and to respond to our questions. We particularly celebrate a meeting at Trinity Mennonite Church, with about 100 persons in attendance from local Mennonite congregations, and the positive way everyone engaged in honest, helpful conversation and discernment.

Together, as a delegation, we arrived at the conclusion that more important than the question of the location of the convention was the question, “How do we as one church walk together in solidarity and unity?” In the following months, further discernment will be needed to make the decision about the location of the 2013 convention.

We offer the following guiding principles for discernment and decision-making whether we go to Phoenix or not.

1. The decision needs to be made in the context of honoring our commitment to be one church in solidarity with each other.

2. We believe that:

a.   The convention will need to help us grow in our commitment to be an anti-racist church.

b.   The convention will need to be structured so we engage local communities around ques-tions raised by current immigration policies and racism present in our church and country.

c.   The convention offers opportunities for education, service and action for youth and adults so that we are further equipped with skills and practices to be one church in solidarity with each other and that we are equipped to engage our local communities with this witness.

In addition, we believe, there is a need to review the purposes of our biennial assemblies and to make changes necessary so that the delegate body is more fully reflective of the membership of the whole of our church.

As a delegation, we desire and are committed to take concrete steps to be one church that lives the biblical vision of the Lamb of God gathering persons from all tribes, nations and ethnic groups into one inclusive church. Thus we recommit ourselves to follow Jesus and to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.

Delegation members included the following:

Executive Board members:
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, Lancaster, Pa.; Tina Begay, Bloomfield, N.M.; Ed Diller, moderator, Cincinnati, Ohio; Charlotte Hardt, Spokane, Wash.; Juanita Nuñez, Ocoee, Fla.; Dick Thomas, moderator-elect, Ronks, Pa.

Iglesia Menonita Hispana representatives:
Nicolas Angustia, Brooklyn, N.Y.; David Araujo, Valparaiso, Ind.; Yvonne Díaz, Ligonier, Ind.; Madeline Maldonado, Lehigh Acres, Fla.; Juan Montes, Reedley, Calif.

Intercultural Relations Reference Committee members:
Leslie Francisco III, Hampton, Va.; Kuaying Teng, St. Catharine’s, Ont.

Mennonite Church USA staff:
Glen Guyton, San Antonio, Texas; Susan Mark Landis, Orrville, Ohio; Marty Lehman, Goshen, Ind.; Rachel Swartzendruber Miller, Phoenix, Ariz.; Ervin Stutzman, Harrisonburg, Va.

Racial Healing Task Group representative:
Lloyd Miller, Goshen, Ind.

Other representatives:
Gilberto Flores, Dallas, Texas; Saulo Padilla, Goshen, Ind.

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?’”