(Mennonite Church USA)—Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board (EB) met April 6–8 in Kansas City, Mo., to prepare agenda for delegates to process at this summer’s Delegate Assembly in Kansas City (June 30–July 5), update the goals in the Purposeful Plan, and discuss the possibility of having fraternal or associate relationships within Mennonite Church USA in the future.
Gathered in a room with a large picture window, board members watched signs of spring breaking forth outside that echoed their sense that God is bringing new life in and through Mennonite Church USA.
“I saw so many signs of hope,” said Elizabeth Soto Albrecht of Lancaster, Pa., moderator. “We have delegates taking the time to fill out a survey to give us counsel, resolutions that emphasize what a peace church witness can look like, and signs of hope in the energy around the table and our ability to move forward together as a board.”
“I want our church to focus on the signs of hope that are all around us and to come into Kansas City empowered by the knowledge that God is walking with us,” she continued.
Discerning resolutions to bring before the Delegate Assembly
The EB processed four resolutions affirmed by the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) members at their March 26–28 meeting in North Newton, Kan.:
- A Resolution on Forbearance, sponsored by Chicago Community Mennonite Church, North Baltimore (Md.) Mennonite Church and Reba Place Church in Evanston, Ill., observes that there is no consensus within Mennonite Church USA about how LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) persons are included in the life of the church, and states, “We call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.”
- The Faithful Witness Amid Endless War Resolution calls for a recommitment to the way of peace and a rejection of mechanized (drone) warfare technologies.
- A Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse mourns the ways in which sexual violence has been present within Mennonite Church USA and offers several concrete commitments and steps to prevent future abuse.
- The Israel-Palestine Resolution offers support for continued Mennonite learning tours to the region as well as a commitment to the ongoing work for “just peace” in the region.
Board members broke into table groups to focus on and give feedback to each resolution. They identified some small areas for clarification and noted that some of the resolutions needed additional resources or grammatical changes to help delegates engage the material. The board affirmed each of the resolutions for delegates’ consideration. The resolutions will now go to the EB’s Executive Committee, which will present finalized versions no later than May 1.
Soto Albrecht praised these constituent-developed resolutions as a “vitally important part of helping the church to shape its peace witness to the world.”
The EB also produced another resolution that seeks to clarify the relationship between the Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines; the newly released Mennonite polity manual, A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership; and the resolution on forbearance.
“The board’s resolution tries to speak to the board’s understanding of how we would go forward in light of the proposed resolution on forbearance [if it is affirmed by delegates] and the stated policies in our documents,” said Ervin Stutzman, executive director for Mennonite Church USA. “It tries to clarify our next steps and suggest a way to move forward together as a church.”
The board did not support the resolution unanimously, but passed it with a vote of 12 to two. This resolution is still in development and will be released no later than May 1.
Soto Albrecht said that board members discussed elements to include in a “pastoral letter” to delegates to encourage them to begin the work of discernment prior to coming to the KC2015 Delegate Assembly.
Updating the Purposeful Plan
Each biennium, the EB and staff update the Purposeful Plan to include new goals to help set the strategic direction for Mennonite Church USA for the next two years. Stutzman presented the EB with a list of new goals for approval, which include planning for a large church planting summit, re-evaluating the scope and form of Mennonite Church USA conventions, and reviewing denomination-wide policies for sexual misconduct, among others.
The EB also counseled staff to include a new overarching priority within the Purposeful Plan that emphasizes a commitment to outreach, evangelism and church revitalization. The EB recognized that many congregations across Mennonite Church USA are struggling with their identity and with numbers and that many Mennonites are not comfortable with evangelism. The EB urged staff to give greater time and energy to these initiatives.
Discernment around fraternal relationships
The EB spent time in conversation about possibilities for new types of associations or fraternal relationships within Mennonite Church USA. The board did not specify any groups that would be eligible for such relationships but asked staff members to continue exploring possibilities when approached by area conferences or congregations about this topic.
“There is no specific proposal for what this would look like, but we want to value ongoing relationships over structure,” said Stutzman. “We want all parts of the church to be able to flourish, and we’re open to exploring ways to continue to collaborate, even if the structure of our relationship looks different than it has in the past.”
- Delegate survey. The EB received a preliminary report on the results of the ongoing delegate survey from sociologist Conrad Kanagy of Elizabethtown, Pa. While the report was helpful in their discernment, EB members noted that the survey is still in process. The results of the delegate survey will not be released publicly until after the survey closes on May 7.
- Delegate table group leader training. The EB has hired several process consultants to lead an educational session for table group leaders at KC2015 prior to the first general delegate session. In addition, the board has allotted delegates more meeting time than at past conventions.
“We are not just paying attention to content,” said Stutzman, “but to the ways in which conversations will happen.”
- The board spent time in worship and prayer together, and approved a slate of new board appointees to be presented to the Delegate Assembly.
- The board traveled to the convention center and spent time in prayer in the ballroom where delegates will gather this summer.
The next meeting of the EB will take place on June 30 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Kansas City, Mo.
—Mennonite Church USA staff