By Caitlin Nearhood
KANSAS CITY, Missouri. (Mennonite Church USA) — Tuesday’s opening session of the Delegate Assembly focused on coming to agreements peacefully as delegates anticipate making decisions on several controversial resolutions, including questions of inclusion of LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) people in the church and a response to conflicts in Israel-Palestine.
Elizabeth Soto Albrecht, moderator of Mennonite Church USA, reminded delegates that amidst racial tensions sparkled by violent events in Ferguson, Missouri, and most recently in Charleston, South Carolina, everyone needs to come together to create peace.
“With the fruits of the spirit in mind, especially self-control, we can discuss items appropriately,” she said. “Let’s witness to others that we are a peace church.”
Executive board member Joy Sutter led an opening devotional about the Emmaus road story in Luke 24, reminding delegates that “God is here among us as we are on the way.”
Soto Albrecht also reviewed the process of submitting resolutions for delegate consideration and reminded delegates that the resolutions were formed “with God’s love in mind.”
“[The resolutions] are not totally approved; you approve them,” she said, noting that the resolutions will need a simple majority (over one half) to be approved.
“God has a plan; I pray for us to embrace it,” she said.
During her opening statements, Soto Albrecht pointed towards the Christ table, a place in the center of the room, where delegates can pray if they need discernment from God at any time during the sessions. She noted the presence of a storm lamp on the table as a reminder that “Jesus is the light in the middle of the storm.”
Soto Albrecht, moderator-elect Patricia Shelly and Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, took turns reading a letter from the Executive Board with statements of confession and commitment.
The three leaders also read the Table Group Covenant and asked delegates to recite covenant with them in litany while reflecting on their commitments to each other.
“[The covenant] represents the best intentions of the board and will call us back to the way we should handle things,” Shelly said.
Stutzman discussed the results of the 2015 survey of appointed delegates that dealt with questions inclusion of LGBTQ individuals, polity, and structure in Mennonite Church USA and reported that 637 delegates completed it.
Each day, one Mennonite agency will share a testimony with the assembly. Stanley Green, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, shared “mustard seed stories” about ministries begun by faithful Christians in Benin; the Benin Bible Institute and the Bethesda Hospital complex and La Casa Grande. Luke Gascho of Waterford Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana, spoke of the meaningful relationships their congregation has developed with Beninese Mennonites and explained that due to their constant work, places like Bethesda Hospital and the Benin Bible Institute have been able to flourish.
Paulin Bossou, a Beninese guest, spoke about La Casa Grande, a children’s home that began as a in connection with a Burgos (Spain) Mennonite church in 2000 and has since grown to house 37 children.
“The growth shows how God is transforming the lives of the children,” he said.
In addition to welcoming guests from other denominations and countries, leaders shared stories of church-to-church partnerships. Linda Shelly, director of Latin America for Mennonite Mission Network, and Don Kempf, representing the Central Plains Mennonite Conference, spoke of the expanded partnerships among Central Plains Mennonite Conference and Mennonite churches in Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador.
Paulin Bossou speaks about ministries in Benin connected with Mennonite Mission Network on Tuesday, June 30, 2015, in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Meg Short)