Tag Archives: The Mennonite

A Conversation On Race

MLK DayThe bill proposing Martin Luther King Jr (MLK) Day as a federal holiday was first introduced to Congress in 1968, four days after Martin Luther King’s assassination. 15 years would pass before that bill was voted into law in 1983. Still not all states recognized the federal holiday. In fact, in 2000, South Carolina became the last state to make MLK Day a paid holiday for all state employees. Previously, employees could choose between celebrating it or one of three Confederate-related holidays. Many states to this day recognize the federal holiday but still do not call it MLK Day, instead opting to refer to it as Human Rights Day, or Civil Rights Day. The contention over recognizing this Federal Holiday seems to highlight the continued tension around race in our country, a topic many shy away form discussing. However, Cyneatha Millsaps, lead pastor of Community Mennonite Church in Markham, Illinois, and Annette Brill Bergstresser, editorial director for Mennonite Church USA, face this topic head on in “Undoing Racism: A Conversation” Posted in The Mennonite Blog this week.

Footnote: Historical information on MLK Day taken from “The History of Martin Luther King Day” by Shmuel Ross and David Johnson

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.”

Newton offices to sell part of building, consolidate workspace

Mennonite Church USA
Sept. 17, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Mennonite Church USA staff