By Janie Beck Kreider
Elkhart, Indiana (Mennonite Church USA) – Glen Guyton met with MC USA’s Executive Board (EB) for the first time as executive director on Aug. 16-18 in the MC USA Elkhart offices.
MC USA Moderator David Boshart opened the EB meeting by welcoming the board to “a new chapter in Mennonite Church USA.”
“We are grateful for Glen’s willingness to say yes to the call of the church as our new executive director,” he said.
This was the third meeting of the EB this biennium. Agenda items included Guyton’s strategic plan proposal, MennoCon19 and the Journey Forward process, discussion on the dissolution of The Mennonite, Inc., changes to the Sexual Abuse and Non-Credentialed Individuals resource and participation in a Healthy Boundaries training.
On Saturday afternoon, the EB celebrated the installation of Guyton as the new executive director for MC USA. Coverage of this event can be found at mennoniteusa.org, along with a photo album and video recording of the service.
MennoCon19 and Journey Forward
With MennoCon19 coming up in July 2019, the EB heard an update from Convention Planning staff and reviewed a draft of the overall schedule and Delegate Assembly. Guyton announced some proposed changes to the structure of convention, including all worship services being held jointly with youth and adults, and an equipping focus for all seminars and workshops.
The Journey Forward process will take center stage at the Delegate Assembly, and will be incorporated into the overall convention. According to the proposed process plan, delegate sessions will feature storytelling and table discernment around questions shaped by MC USA’s three “Renewed Commitments”: Follow Jesus; Witness to God’s Peace; and Experience Transformation.
Iris de León-Hartshorn, director of Operations for MC USA, presented the delegate process plan. The process will seek delegate feedback around a biennial denominational peace witness focus and resources needed at the congregational level to engage in transformative relationships across difference.
The proposed delegate schedule includes a three-part bible study on Ephesians, unity and biblical understandings of forbearance, led by Tom Yoder Neufeld. Yoder Neufeld, professor emeritus at Conrad Grebel University, led a similar series for a gathering of Mennonite World Conference leaders in Kenya in the spring, which Guyton, de León-Hartshorn and Boshart attended.
EB members began a conversation about resolutions, and whether there will be any votes brought before delegates in 2019. The board signaled affirmation to move away from resolutions if possible, but no final decisions were made.
“There are ways of working at differences besides resolutions,” said Guyton. “Our leadership role as a board is to point people to a common goal.”
Board members asked questions about whether the Membership Guidelines would be voted on or discussed at #MennoCon19. Staff presented an initial proposal to design a two-year process leading up to convention in 2021 to gain churchwide clarity around some of MC USA’s foundational documents, including the bylaws and Membership Guidelines, and how accountability works within the MC USA system.
“With the leadership transition, the timing was too tight to design a good process around these questions for 2019. I am aware that this needs to be addressed as soon as possible, but my priority is to help MC USA begin to think about its mission — to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace. After that we can work on documents,” said Guyton. “We also need to gain clarity within our system as to the power and authority that rests in conferences and congregations. Right now, confusion is making it hard to function in healthy ways. We have until 2021 to get ready and get it right.”
The board affirmed a plan for staff to continue developing this proposal and to update the document, “Developing Resolutions for MC USA,” which will be discussed at the next EB meeting in November.
“Normally it feels like we are scrambling to get this work done,” said Boshart. “But this is just our first lap around the track. We have a couple more laps to go in the fall and in the spring — we will have more opportunities to return to what we’ve started discussing today.”
The board also voted and approved future convention locations in Cincinnati, Ohio in 2021 and Kansas City, Missouri in 2023.
The EB reviewed a new strategic plan proposed by Guyton for 2019-2021, which included three overarching “global ends” for the work of denominational staff, with strategies and measures to work toward these ends. The global ends are based on the three “Renewed Commitments” of the Journey Forward process:
In partnership with the agencies, area conferences, and constituent groups, the Executive Board leads all parts of Mennonite Church USA to the full embodiment of our Journey Forward values:
We will equip our members with resources to form them to follow Jesus faithfully regardless of the cost.
We will empower our members to bear witness to God’s holistic peace and proclaim Christ’s redemption to the world.
We resource our members in the spiritual disciplines that can transform us, through the power of the Holy Spirit, into a reflection of God’s unending love.
The board will receive regular, monthly updates from staff on six identified priority areas: 1) Journey Forward Process; 2) Church Planting; 3) MC USA National Gathering; 4) Women in Leadership; 5) Peace Witness; and 6) Development/Fundraising.
Unlike the Purposeful Plan, which was structured for churchwide ownership and engagement, the new strategic plan is limited as an internal, focused guide for EB priorities based on what they are hearing through the Journey Forward process, and will shape the work of MC USA staff moving forward.
Board members expressed gratitude for more frequent reporting on priorities, and affirmed the emphasis on building stronger partnerships with agencies, conferences and constituency groups to work at these priorities together, with combined resources.
Dissolution of The Mennonite, Inc.
On Saturday morning, the board engaged in lively discussion around the potential dissolution of The Mennonite, Inc. (TMI) with TMI board chair Barth Hague present and TMI executive director Sheldon Good joining by video conference. In April, the boards of TMI and Mennonite World Review, Inc. proposed merging the two organizations and creating a new, independent media organization.
EB member Phil Rich, who serves as the EB’s representative on the task force for the proposed merger, described the merger as “a proactive and practical decision in light of what’s happening in the church and marketplace.”
“It’s a visionary decision, trying to create something new that will serve the Anabaptist community in the future,” said Rich. “But it means we’ll have to let some things go, and that can be hard.”
The “Agreement of Merger” presented to the EB proposes that all of TMI’s assets and liabilities be transferred to the new entity, including intellectual property, use of the name, cash reserves and electronic media rights. According to the proposal, MC USA would retain the archives of the printed publications of TMI.
The EB discussed the pros and cons of what it might mean for a new media organization to serve and cover a broad Anabaptist audience including MC USA, and for MC USA to no longer have a denominational periodical and digital media platform. Specific questions presented by the EB included the new entity’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, a clear articulation of relationship between MC USA and the new entity, reporting practices and access to information.
Negotiations between MC USA and TMI are ongoing, and the EB plans to receive delegate feedback before making final decisions. Neither MC USA nor MWR, Inc. has yet signed the “Agreement of Merger.”
According to MC USA bylaws, terminating any Churchwide Program entity or agency requires delegate counsel. Article X.4.b. states: “Churchwide program entities may be established or terminated as the Executive Board determines from time to time and on such terms and conditions as the Executive Board determines, with the counsel and advice of the Delegate Assembly.”
To follow this protocol, the EB is planning a “Special Delegate Assembly” on November 26, 2018 to gather feedback and counsel. A 90-day notice will alert all MC USA congregations to appoint delegates for this special session, which will have both a physical location (the MC USA office in Elkhart), and online video conference access to the meeting for delegates who are unable to meet in person. Following the meeting, the EB will make final decisions regarding the termination of TMI, based on the counsel received from the delegate body.
More specific information on what the delegates will be discussing at the November meeting will be communicated as negotiations continue.
Other activities of the board included:
- Approving changes to the resource Sexual Abuse and Non-Credentialed Individuals, developed by MC USA’s Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention. The EB revised their April action to name the resource as “recommendations and guidelines,” rather than “policy,” as originally intended and in line with MC USA polity. The EB was informed of other changes made based on feedback received from members of MC USA constituency. In the guidelines section, language was changed from victim/offender to complainant/accused. In addition, an introduction to the resources was added that includes a sentence that reads, “We always recommend consultation with local sexual abuse centers, legal counsel and victim advocacy organizations.”
- Participating in a two-hour Healthy Boundaries training, led by de León-Hartshorn.
- Approving a budget deficit of approximately $100,000, which reflects the fluctuations in convention related expenses and estate gifts.
- Hearing reports from each churchwide agency about the impact of the Journey Forward process.
- Performing a routine agency review of Mennonite Mission Network.
- Affirming the re-appointment of Stanley Green to a three-year term as executive director of Mennonite Mission Network.
- Affirming the appointment of Katelyn Nafziger Leichty to the Board of Directors of Everence to fulfill an unexpired term evacuated by Karen Lehman, who left to become the CEO of MHS.
The next meeting of the EB will take place on Nov. 1-3, 2018 in Kansas City, Missouri.