Resolutions are back, but with a difference

Executive Board issues guidelines for developing resolutions for Phoenix 2013

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By Annette Brill Bergstresser

(Mennonite Church USA)—After collecting input from across the church, Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board (EB) has adopted a revised process for developing resolutions and church statements for adoption at the denomination’s biennial delegate assemblies. This new process applies to resolutions to be proposed for discussion at the Phoenix 2013 Delegate Assembly in July.

At the Pittsburgh 2011 assembly, delegates affirmed the “Pittsburgh Experiment,” a proposal from the EB to set aside discussions of church statements and resolutions at that assembly in favor of using a process to discern together a 10-year “purposeful plan” with goals and priorities for the church. Part of the motivation for the experiment was that questions and concerns had been raised across the church about the process used to develop and adopt assembly statements and the subsequent use of the statements.

Following the Pittsburgh Experiment,” says Mennonite Church USA Moderator Richard Thomas, “we wanted a discernment process that would be open to all and would be based on biblical discernment at the local, area conference and national levels of our church.”

In the new process, any member of a Mennonite Church USA congregation—not just delegates to the assembly—may propose resolutions for consideration.

The revised guidelines offer a specific framework for developing resolutions based on the denomination’s vision and purpose statements and Purposeful Plan. (Developed in 2011, the Purposeful Plan is organized around seven churchwide priorities: Christian formation, Christian community, holistic Christian witness, stewardship, leadership development, undoing racism and advancing intercultural transformation, and church-to-church relationships.)

The revised guidelines also lengthen the process for bringing resolutions and create space for deeper discernment by involving the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC), an advisory board comprising representatives from area conferences and constituency groups that meets in the spring and fall.

According to Thomas, the impetus for the revised guidelines is to grow in the practice of faithful spiritual discernment.

An important biblical model for this new way of discernment is to reach an understanding that ‘seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us’ (Acts 15:28),” he says.

Previously, delegates were able to bring resolutions to a Resolutions Committee during the days of the assembly itself, and this committee was the only group responsible for discerning how to proceed. For the 2013 assembly, resolutions must be received by the Resolutions Committee at least four months before the beginning of the delegate assembly. If the committee members determine that a resolution fits within the framework described above, they will submit it to the CLC, which will discern whether to bring it to the delegate body and recommend the percentage needed to adopt it. The CLC may also recommend that a resolution be considered at a later assembly if it requires more time for discernment.

The reasoning here,” says Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, “is that if the CLC can’t agree that it’s a worthy resolution to adopt, it’s probably not a good use of time to put it in front of a group 10 times that size.”

The Resolutions Committee will then work with the CLC’s recommendations—usually in interaction with those who initially submitted the resolution. The committee will determine which resolutions to take to the assembly, prepare a study guide for area conferences and congregations for discernment and prayer prior to the gathering, and distribute all related materials to delegates.

There are still other ways for resolutions to come to the delegate assembly. Resolutions proposed less than four months prior to the assembly will require signatures of 10 or more delegates from each of at least three different area conferences and must be approved by the EB. Also, at any time prior to the end of the delegate assembly, the EB and Resolutions Committee may each propose resolutions for action.

Donna Mast, conference minister for Allegheny Mennonite Conference, sees the change as an improvement.

“The new procedures for resolutions will help us think more carefully about the resolutions we choose to make,” she says.  She also affirms the fact that “conferences will have a larger voice in the making of resolutions through the voice of the CLC.”

The EB took action to adopt the revised guidelines for developing resolutions at its Sept. 20-22 meeting in Kansas City, Mo., and invited counsel from CLC members at the Oct. 22–24 CLC meeting in Wichita, Kan. The EB also moved to provide copies of the guidelines to all current pastors and all delegates who participated in the 2011 assembly, and to post the document online for church members who may wish to submit a proposal for consideration by the 2013 assembly. (See http://mennoniteusa.org/resources/statements-and-resolutions/)

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