MHS Alliance and Mennonite Church USA seek to strengthen mutual relationship

By Stuart Showalter

(Mennonite Health Services Alliance)—Mennonite Health Services (MHS) Alliance and its direct forbearers have been a part of the Mennonite family for a long time. During the Mennonite Church USA convention in Phoenix, Ariz., July 1–6, delegates will be asked to strengthen this connection by endorsing MHS Alliance as a full agency of the church.

With delegate approval, MHS Alliance would become the church’s fifth program agency, joining Mennonite Mission Network, MennoMedia (formerly Mennonite Publishing Network and Thirdway Media), Mennonite Education Agency, and Everence (formerly Mennonite Mutual Aid).

MHS Alliance member organizations, during their annual meeting Feb. 14, prior to Mennonite Health Assembly in Orlando, Fla., voted unanimously—41 to 0—to approve two proposals recommended by the MHS Alliance Board of Directors:

  • That MHS Alliance accept the invitation to become an agency of Mennonite Church USA; and
  • That MHS Alliance bylaws be amended as recommended (to facilitate the change).

Marty Lehman, associate executive director of churchwide operations for Mennonite Church USA, commented, “MHS Alliance’s becoming an agency of Mennonite Church USA is like a homecoming. Many of the member organizations, which were started as ministries of our mission organizations, have literally taken care of the orphans and widows. Thus, they have been denominational ministries all along. It is nice to welcome MHS Alliance to Mennonite Church USA as an agency focused on health and human service ministries.”

MHS Alliance has deep roots in the Mennonite Church in the United States. As early as the late 1800s, Anabaptists in the United States began developing health and human service organizations such as nursing homes, mental health centers, hospitals, senior housing, underserved communities, and agencies serving youth and those with developmental disabilities. In some cases, these ministries were initiated locally by individuals, congregations and other groups. Other organizations were begun by conferences and mission and service agencies at the regional or national level.

A church-related network of health and human services organizations can be traced to the 1940s. Following World War II, when many Mennonite young people served in mental hospitals as conscientious objectors, Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) began addressing mental health. Eventually, MCC established five mental health organizations under the umbrella of Mennonite Mental Health Services. Paralleling these developments and spanning a longer period of time was the work of the Mennonite Board of Missions through its Health and Welfare division.

In 1988, Mennonite Mental Health Services was separated from MCC. At the same time, Mennonite Board of Missions spun off its health and welfare institutions to a re-constituted Mennonite Health Services. Then MHS began relating to other health and human service ministries supported by conferences and congregations from across the entire Anabaptist family.

Later, MHS refocused its mission and adopted a new name, MHS Alliance. Today, MHS Alliance has 74 member organizations in17 states, and 62 of these are affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. The organizations include acute care hospitals, developmental disability services, and mental health programs. Forty-eight member organizations provide healthcare and housing for seniors.

MHS Alliance has maintained strong church connections through covenant relationships with three different denominations: Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Brethren, and Brethren in Christ. These relationships have fostered exchanges of mutual accountability and benefits flowing between MHS Alliance and its member organizations and the sponsoring denominations.

The church-agency connection has also been reinforced by a board that takes seriously the church’s sponsorship of health and human services organizations. The three denominations appoint six members of MHS Alliance’s board, and the member organizations elect six additional members. Lee Snyder, former president of Bluffton (Ohio) University, has chaired the board since 2008.

Rick Stiffney of Goshen, Ind., has served as president and CEO Mennonite Health Services since 1999. He advocates a close connection with the church, which he describes as shifting the trajectory or “bending the curve.”  He noted that many pressures can contribute to disaffiliation between institutions and the broader church.

Stiffney added, “A strong and mutually beneficial relationship between church and institution is vitally important to the mission of MHS Alliance and our members—being part of God’s work of healing and hope in Christ Jesus. If we are to have ministries that have Anabaptist character, we need strong relationships between the Anabaptist community of faith and the ministries. Through these relationships we seek to collaborate in ministry and witness, practice common core values, and support one another.”

A few years ago, the MHS Alliance board revised the organization’s statements of vision, mission, and values to guide it at the beginning of the 21st century:

  • Vision: to be a community of vibrant Anabaptist health and human service ministries committed to God’s work of healing and hope in Jesus Christ.
  • Mission: MHS Alliance strengthens and extends Anabaptist health and human service ministries in faithfully and effectively fulfilling their missions.
  • Values: spirituality and prayer; community, mutuality and service; human dignity and compassion for all people; stewardship of God’s gifts; advocacy for justice: peace and reconciliation; ethical commitment; and grace and hospitality.

This constellation of vision, mission and values has an impact on the day-to-day operations of member organizations. Stiffney explained, “We believe that a vital relationship between organizations and their community of faith strengthens both the organization and the church, providing a clear sense of faith-centered mission and identity.”

MHS Alliance provides a variety of faith-grounded services for its members. These include leadership development through the Values-based Leadership Program, executive support via Executive Circle and affinity group networks, and expert consultations. Consultations focus on governance and compliance issues; leadership transitions and executive searches; and best-practices related to day-to-day operations.

In January 2013, seven new consultants joined MHS Alliance, bringing a cumulative total of approximately 120 years of experience to MHS Consulting Services. They bring expertise especially in the areas of operations, finance, strategic planning, and market research. These consultants serve clients and members nationally from offices located in Goshen, Ind., Camp Hill, Pa., Newberg, Ore., and Wichita, Kansas

As health and human services practices in the United States continue to evolve, MHS Alliance is poised to help its member organizations and the many other nonprofit organizations it serves to adapt to ongoing change even as they maintain core commitments to the Anabaptist churches which gave them birth.

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Contact:
Mim Shirk, Senior Vice President, MHS Alliance, 574-534-9689, mim@mhsonline.org