Executive Board meets; appoints group to explore denominational structure

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (Mennonite Church USA)—Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board (EB) met Sept. 25–27 in Kansas City, Mo., focusing on questions of denominational structure, data from a survey of credentialed leaders, and various other topics in preparation for next summer’s Delegate Assembly in Kansas City.

Ad hoc committee appointed

EB members appointed an ad hoc committee to explore possibilities for new denominational structures, with the intent of bringing an action to the Delegate Assembly at Kansas City 2015 (June 30–July 5).

Joy Sutter, EB member from East Norristown, Pa., will chair the group. The EB also appointed the following board and Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) members to the committee: Isaac Villegas, EB member and pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship; Katherine Jameson Pitts, conference minister for Pacific Northwest Mennonite Conference, Portland, Ore.; and Keith Weaver, executive conference minister of Lancaster Mennonite Conference. One more committee member is yet to be appointed. The impetus for forming this committee grew out of feedback received at the March 2014 CLC meetings held in North Newton, Kan.

The committee has begun to frame questions for exploration at the Oct. 6–8 CLC meetings in Schiller Park, Ill. The questions will invite CLC participants to reflect on the ways in which denominational agencies add value to the work of area conferences and congregations and to identify the denominational services that are most essential. CLC participants will also be invited to dream about what a new denominational structure might look like and to assess the benefits and drawbacks of potential new configurations.

The committee will plan to bring an action before delegates at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City, drawing on CLC feedback, data from the recent churchwide survey of credentialed leaders, and responses to a survey of Mennonite Church USA delegates planned for early 2015.

Credentialed leaders surveyed

Board members reviewed the initial data from a survey of credentialed leaders across Mennonite Church USA this summer. Survey respondents were asked to reflect on questions regarding Mennonite Church USA organizational structure, LGBTQ inclusion and the sense of belonging they felt to area conferences and the denomination. The survey drew 1,323 responses, a 66 percent response rate.

Dr. Conrad Kanagy, professor of sociology at Elizabethtown (Pa.) College, will analyze the data, with the goal of publicly releasing the initial survey results before the end of the year. The board also affirmed staff recommendations to conduct a survey of Mennonite Church USA delegates in early 2015, as well as to organize a promotional campaign inviting Mennonite Church USA congregations to identify their delegates this fall.

Resources on same-gender sexuality

Growing out of their statement released in June, EB members also commended a list of resources on same-gender sexuality for study across the denomination. Compiled by staff members with the help of individuals across the church, the resource list represents a spectrum of perspectives and is meant to encourage dialogue and understanding among diverse groups.

Other actions

The board updated the guidelines for submitting churchwide resolutions in preparation for the Delegate Assembly in Kansas City.

The board reviewed the updated ministerial polity guidelines—A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership—that were updated and released in 2014 by Mennonite Church USA and Mennonite Church Canada staff. The board recommended the working document to the CLC for feedback at their upcoming meeting.

Rick Stiffney, CEO of Mennonite Health Services Alliance, joined the board on Friday afternoon to participate in an agency review. Stiffney reported that MHS Alliance connects with 75 health service organizations across the United States and Puerto Rico. In addition, MHS has experienced increased demand for the consulting services it provides, which focus on leadership development and organizational strategy. The EB affirmed the work of MHS Alliance and challenged the organization to continue learning more and growing in the area of intercultural competency.

On Friday evening, board members also met with four members of the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors group for conversation. On Saturday, the board was joined by the Governance Council, a group comprising agency CEOs and board chairs, for conversations about authority, power and broader church structure. In Executive Session, the board also discussed requests from the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests and Pink Menno for space at convention in Kansas City, as well as the role of the EB and area conferences in credentialing.

The board spent time in worship and prayer, asking and listening for God’s spirit to move among them. Several board members took turns leading devotions focused on Luke 24, the theme text for the Kansas City 2015 convention.

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 —Mennonite Church USA staff

 

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