by Steve Kriss, Executive Minister
Tomorrow I’m leaving for a meeting with Mennonites in Fort Myers, Florida. Noel Santiago and I will represent our conference in a conversation with congregations who are interested in remaining in relationship with Mennonite Church USA after the withdrawal of their conference. They are discerning their future together as a community.
Last month, Southeast Mennonite Conference removed itself from our national body. In recent years, we have had growing ties to some of these communities in Miami, Tampa, and Sarasota. Some of us spend part of our winter in Florida; some of us have pastored there; some of us have relatives in these communities. Florida is an easy flight away from the part of our conference that is rooted in the Northeast corridor.
Several years ago, Angela Moyer (our current conference assistant moderator), Ertell Whigham (then executive minister), and I helped to lead an equipping event with Southeast Conference leaders in Sarasota. We recognized a resonance between our conferences. There’s been a warmth between some of our conference leaders and these Floridian communities since then. In the last weeks, we received a request to come alongside a part of what had been Southeast Conference to provide additional leadership resources and accompaniment.
Last month, we invited Marco Guete to begin serving as a stipended leadership minister to work alongside the communities in Florida for six months. Marco joined our conference staff retreat at Spruce Lake last week. His wisdom, insights, experience, and salsa lessons were a welcome gift to our team while we were together. I expect these deep, lively, and wise contributions to continue in the months ahead.
Where is this going? We don’t know. We anticipate meeting with leaders from about ten congregations in Florida this weekend; these leaders may either decide to form their own group in Florida in order to remain a part of Mennonite Church USA or express a desire to join our conference. It’s a time of fluidity and change in church structures, with the previously unimagined becoming the new normal.
We want to be open-handed in relating to the communities in Florida. I believe strongly that “to those whom much is given, much is required.” We had available financial resources to offer assistance to our sibling communities in Florida from within our budget this year due to unfilled staff roles. When the need in Florida became clear through a phone call with former MCUSA moderator Roy Williams from Tampa, we responded. Our multilingual conference staff will continue to work to accompany the Florida communities as they discern their future. Marco will work in this role for six months. We are in conversation with Mennonite Church USA leadership about how this may evolve.
The Spirit continues to shake up the structures of the church. Meanwhile, we are still willing to bear witness to the way of Christ’s peace. And God continues to bring new possibilities for relationships and renewal that might extend right fellowship to people both near and far. We will continue to work and hope. Seguiremos trabajando y esperando.