Tag Archives: sexuality

Teaching Healthy Sexuality for Faithful Living

By Maria Hosler Byler, Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation, Salford Mennonite Church

To live out our faith requires helping our children grow into healthy, knowledgeable, and faithful adults – and this is not just for parents; this task is for the whole church. This involves how we use our money, how we treat our neighbors and how we live our lives as sexual people. As Pastor for Youth and Family Faith Formation at Salford, my role is to help families in this task. That meant opening a conversation with parents around sexuality and our human capacity for sexual feelings.

I don’t know if the participants at Salford’s “Beyond the Talk” parents’ gathering were apprehensive before we met, but I sure was. I had planned this conversation for parents about talking with their kids about sexuality with the help of some knowledgeable and experienced congregation members. I was confident we had solid, faith-based resources to offer parents about sexuality and child development. But beyond that, I had so many questions. Were parents even interested in guidance from the church as they teach their kids about sexuality? What was the guidance of the church for parents anyway? Would parents be willing to share, or would we just sit in awkward silence? Would they even come?

We ended up with a spread of parents of kids of all ages, dedicated to raising their kids in healthy sexuality and eager to interact. The night had moments of seriousness and laughter as well as lots of food for thought.

Beth Styer, a congregation member with experience teaching sexuality education, talked about all the different ways kids pick up information about sexuality. We teach them by how we hold them, by how we talk about private parts and human relationships. Then Ron Souder, a pediatrician, brought some sobering statistics about teens and sexuality. He reminded us all that kids learn about sexuality in one way or another, and it’s up to parents what kind of influence they will add to the mix. He also showed a hilariously awkward video clip of parents trying to tell their kids where babies come from – a cringe-worthy reminder that this is a topic lots of people stumble on. He followed that by giving some practical information on developmentally appropriate information for kids as they grow.

Sexuality is anything that has to do with living life as a sexual person. Like anything else in our faith lives, healthy sexuality isn’t a one-time conversation – it’s a way of life that we address over and over again. Can you imagine parents having one conversation with their kids about how to pray, for example, and then checking it off the list with a sigh of relief? Kids learn from our own attitudes and behaviors, so healthy sexuality education starts with us. Thankfully, these little teaching moments happen throughout our kids’ lives, so we have lots of chances to try again.

Throughout the evening, parents shared their own challenges and successes in teaching their kids about sexuality. They shared poignant and off-the-wall comments their toddlers made. They shared moments of confusion and trauma from their own past, and their desires to teach their kids better than they were taught.

My favorite part was when parents shared their hopes for their kids’ sexuality. Some of the hopes that were named: that their kids know deeply God’s love for their bodies and treat their own and others’ bodies with respect; that their sexuality be important to their faith, not something to be scared of but something to discern seriously. Then parents shared ways they help their kids learn these values – giving each other ideas and reminding themselves of the process that is already underway.

That evening barely scratched the surface of the topic. Just like it’s impossible to communicate everything a kid needs to know about sexuality in one talk, it’s impossible to cover everything with parents in an evening. In the end I was left with gratitude for the work that is already happening. Parents are considering where they come from and what we believe, growing in their own sexuality, and intentionally passing on their faith values to their kids. God is already working to heal our places of pain and brokenness and walk with us as the new generation grows up.

The conversation continues, and the work continues. My prayer is that this gathering be only the start of much thought, prayer, and care for human bodies as we raise up little ones in faith.

For some age appropriate books to talk to kids about sexuality, check out “Talking to Kids About Bodies and Boundaries” by Kris and Ginger Wint from the Spring 2017 issue of Intersections or find the list under the “Books to Use With Children” heading on Franconia Conference’s Church Safety webpage

 

 

KC2015 registration opens; presenters, exhibitors announced

MCUSA-AlanDebHirsch
Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements.

Although it’s still more than five months away, Mennonite Church USA’s 2015 biennial convention is taking shape.

Registration opened Jan. 15 for the June 30–July 5 event in Kansas City, Mo. Hotel registration opens March 3.

Convention planners are lining up special presenters and exhibitors in addition to a full slate of worship speakers.

Recent decisions made in consultation with the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board have included accepting the Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Interests’ (BMC) application for exhibit space at KC2015, as well as allowing convention planners to work with leaders of the Pink Menno campaign to negotiate rental of a meeting room on site at the convention center.

“My team and I are ready and excited for everyone to join us in Kansas City this summer,” says Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer and convention planning director for Mennonite Church USA. “We want everyone who attends KC2015 to be able to engage in worship and experience the healing power of Christ at some point during convention.”

Speakers Alex Awad, Drew Hart, and Alan and Debra Hirsch will share with participants at KC2015:

MCUSA AwadA04

Alex Awad of Jerusalem, pastor of East Jerusalem Baptist Church and a professor at Bethlehem Bible College in Palestine, will be a featured speaker throughout the convention week. Awad and Bethlehem Bible College are longtime Mennonite partners in Palestine.

“Alex Awad is an evangelical Christian deeply committed to Jesus and to the way of peace in the midst of intense suffering and injustice,” says André Gingerich Stoner, director of interchurch relations and holistic witness for Mennonite Church USA. “He and Bethlehem Bible College are a sign of hope. We have much to learn from their witness.”

After KC2015, Awad will travel to Harrisburg, Pa., to participate in Mennonite World Conference’s Assembly Gathered. Awad’s presence at convention is also made possible by support from Mennonite Central Committee U.S.

Drew Hart

Drew Hart will be available throughout the convention week, offering several seminars focused on liberation theology and strategies for addressing racism in local congregational settings. Hart is a Ph.D. candidate at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and his research focuses on intersections between black theology and Anabaptism. He is a part-time pastor and a regular blogger for The Christian Century.

Alan and Debra Hirsch, currently of Los Angeles, (photo above) will offer several presentations on church planting and building missional movements. The Hirsches are the founding directors of the Forge Mission Training Network.

Alan also co-leads Future Travelers, a learning program to help churches become missional movements, and is co-founder and adjunct faculty for the M.A. in Missional Church Movements at Wheaton (Ill.) College. He has written The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church, among other books.

Exhibit space granted for BMC
The Brethren Mennonite Council has applied for exhibit space at previous conventions; this is the first year that their request has been approved. Pink Menno applied to be an exhibitor at convention for the first time this year; the group’s request for exhibit space was denied, although convention planning staff members hope to work with the group to negotiate the rental of a meeting room inside the convention center.

“The decision to grant exhibit space to BMC is not a radical one,” says Guyton. “BMC has long been part of our conventions. They are an established organization with clear points of authority. We have had good conversations with BMC leaders about our shared expectations for the exhibit hall at convention.”

All convention attendees are expected to abide by the expectations for convention attendees and exhibitor guidelines.

“Conversations about sexuality are happening all across the church right now,” says Ervin Stutzman, executive director for Mennonite Church USA. “Our leadership team felt it was the right time for the Executive Board to revisit our policies about the use of convention space. We desire to be proactive, rather than reactive, in the conversations that need to take place among us as followers of Jesus Christ.

“This move does not represent a change in our church’s commitments but grows out of our desire to remain in loving conversation with people who have been a part of our church and our conventions for many years. We desire that every person who attends our convention will be treated with respect and care, in the exhibit hall and everywhere else.”

Other approved exhibitors include all of the Mennonite Church USA agencies and higher education institutions, as well as Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Economic Development Associates, and a variety of other faith-based organizations.

The convention offers programming for people ages 0 and older. Special programs are planned for infants, preschoolers, elementary-school students, junior high youth and high school youth. For more information about convention events and speakers, and to register on Jan. 15, visit convention.mennoniteusa.org.

Mennonite Church USA Executive Board announces action steps: Franconia Conference stays focused on building healthy relationships

 All members of the Executive Board, with their prayer lamp centerpiece for the weekend, as well as Stella, the official Mennonite Church USA convention dove.
All members of the Executive Board, with their prayer lamp centerpiece for the weekend, as well as Stella, the official Mennonite Church USA convention dove.

by Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

The Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA met last week to review the recommendations of a task force appointed to respond to Mountain States Mennonite Conference’s decision to license Theda Good, a woman in a same-sex covenanted relationship.  The Executive Board approved eight action steps that will be taken to the Constituency Leaders Council in October.  At the same time, the board emphasized ongoing support for the foundational documents that formed Mennonite Church USA including the Confession of Faith, the Vision:  Healing and Hope statement, A Mennonite Polity for Ministerial Leadership, the denomination’s membership guidelines and bylaws, the Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love document and the more recently crafted Purposeful Plan.

The Executive Board highlighted that Mountain States did not honor its covenanted relationship with the other conferences that comprise Mennonite Church USA in the decision to license Good.  Since ordination is transferable to other conferences, the board requested that Mountain States Conference refrain from ordaining Good at this time.  The board requested that other conferences resist licensing individuals in same-sex relationships as further licensings compromise the denomination’s polity and conference membership agreements.

“I was pleased to read that the denominational leaders have come to a place that holds us accountable to our stated understanding of membership and ministry,” observed Ertell Whigham, Franconia Conference executive minister.  “I think that this does give us some sense of direction, though it still leaves some ambiguity.  They left room for conversation and some interpretation, but they definitely call for accountability.”

The Executive Board also committed to developing new processes and/or structures for the denomination “that will strive to find healthy ways to promote unity in Christ in the midst of diverse expressions of faith.”  One of the first steps toward this exploratory process will be a “survey of all credentialed ministers in preparation for a time of discernment at [Kansas City] convention in July 2015.”

The decision of the Executive Board does not change much for Franconia Conference, said Whigham.  He further elaborated a desire to stay focused on Conference priorities while the denomination tends to the conversation on sexuality.  “We will continue to prepare ourselves for open, honest, and realistic conversation in line with our objectives for strengthening relationships and building trust.”  Whigham believes that by building healthy relationships and trust, Franconia Conference leaders and communities will be better prepared to navigate difficult conversations regarding human sexuality.

Also see these related documents:

Conference leaders gather for conversation about EMU listening process

Loren Swartzendruberby Emily Ralph, associate director of communication

Credentialed leaders from Franconia and Eastern District Conferences gathered on May 5, 2014 at Towamencin Mennonite Church (Kulpsville, Pa.) to dialogue with Loren Swartzendruber, president of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU).   The evening conversation focused on the University’s recent six-month listening process regarding employment policies for persons in same-sex relationships.

Swartzendruber began the meeting by sharing about experiences throughout his career that challenged him to offer pastoral care for persons struggling with questions of sexual identity. As a recent seminary graduate beginning his first pastoral assignment at Salford congregation (Harleysville, Pa.) in 1978, Swartzendruber felt ill-prepared; he doesn’t remember learning about same-sex relationships in seminary.  “I had no idea how to respond,” he recalled.  These questions continued to follow him throughout his career in Mennonite education and as president of both Hesston College and Eastern Mennonite University.

These experiences led Swartzendruber to root the University’s consideration of employment policy changes in contexts of real people and real situations.  “Your feedback is more valuable to me if I know you’ve really walked through the pain with families and individuals,” he reflected.

Swartzendruber explained that questions and perspectives from students have driven him to lead the listening process and consider change.  “For me, it’s all about the young people… I really care about the next generation,” he shared.  He is becoming increasingly aware that students’ response to the conversation is as much about the process as the result.   “I met with the pastoral staff [at EMU] and they told me, ‘The students on campus are watching how we do this … and they’re trying to decide, do I want to be a part of the church?’”

Swartzendruber explained the realities on campus that led to the listening process:

  • Currently, students and employees are asked to sign a behavioral covenant in which they commit to “refrain from sexual relationships outside of marriage.”  Swarzendruber acknowledged the difficulty of enforcing this commitment and the challenge of understanding it in the context of changing definitions of legal marriage.
  • EMU has asked new hires to express their agreement with the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective for many years, but “we’ve allowed variants from the Confession of Faith at EMU for a long time,” he said.  Some of these variants have included beliefs about divorce and remarriage, infant baptism, and the traditional Mennonite peace position.  Employees have been asked to respect official Mennonite perspectives even where variation exists.
  • Eastern Mennonite University has a number of gay and lesbian students on campus.  “They want to be a part of the church,” Swartzendruber said.  “By definition most of them wouldn’t come to EMU if they didn’t want to be part of the church.  They are your children,” he said, “sometimes literally your children, but children of your congregations.”

Swartzendruber then answered questions from conference pastors about the listening process, the relationship of the university to the denomination, and steps moving forward.  The president’s cabinet led the listening process by facilitating about 20 listening circles, with up to 20 students or faculty and staff per session, he explained.  They then brought what they heard back to the rest of the cabinet and will consider those responses, along with what they heard in a survey and other communication from alumni and church leaders. They have begun processing that feedback and will write a recommendation to send to the EMU executive board and then the board of trustees in June.  The University’s board will make the decision to accept, reject, amend, or table the proposal.

Lorie Hershey, pastor of West Philadelphia congregation, was impressed by the thoroughness and intentionality expressed in the process.  “I think we need these listening circle places,” she told Swartzendruber.  “That’s where the Spirit can move, in relationships—not changing people’s minds, but relationships…. That’s transformative.”  Her hope was that the broader church could find more places for similar conversations, she said, conversations that “give one another space to respect each other, to not pull each other into camps.”

Loren SwartzendruberSwartzendruber acknowledged that these kinds of conversations surface anxieties in the church.  “Practicing non-anxious presence doesn’t mean you don’t have anxiety,” he said, “it means you don’t lead out of that anxiety.”  Learning to manage and respond to fear in healthy ways is a missional impulse, he said. “Who wants to join people who are afraid all the time? … What kind of evangelistic strategy is that?”

As the meeting ended, the pastors gathered around Swartzendruber and other EMU staff to pray for the continued process, acknowledging the ongoing struggle and pain all church leaders face during this difficult time.

After the meeting, “I heard and saw many persons engaged in some deeper discussions and I think that leads to better understanding of one another,” observed Mike Clemmer, pastor of Towamencin congregation. “I continue to be hopeful as we struggle together…. Overall, I was reminded that we need to keep praying for one another – no matter what!”

Learn more about EMU’s listening process on their website.

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: