Bilateral Conversations and Relationships

Mennonite Church USA is presently cultivating conversation and relationship with two denominations, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Church of God, Cleveland, a historic Pentecostal denomination.

Grassroots initiatives are also fostering conversation and relationship with Catholics, Orthodox and Reformed Christians.

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

In June 2014, Ervin Stutzman sent a letter on behalf of the Executive Board to Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of the ELCA.  The letter celebrates the remarkable things God has done in the relationship between Mennonites and Lutherans in the past fifteen years, acknowledges the need for confession on our part as Mennonites, gives thanks for being part of the body of Christ together, and expresses support for further steps in this relationship (including a trilateral dialogue on baptism between the Mennonite World Conference, the Lutheran World Federation and the Vatican).

At a historic gathering of the Lutheran World Federation held in Stuttgart, Germany in July 2010, the Lutheran world body asked Mennonites for forgiveness for the persecution of Anabaptists in the 16th century. On behalf of the world-wide Mennonite community, Danisa Ndlovu, president of Mennonite World Conference from Zimbabwe responded:

“We believe that today God has heard your confession and is granting your appeal for forgiveness. We joyfully and humbly join with God in giving forgiveness. In the spirit of the rule of Christ, we believe that what we are doing together here today God also is doing in heaven.”

A report of the recent MWC-LWC dialogue entitled Healing Memories: Reconciling in Christ is available at the Mennonite World Conference website.

Between February, 2002 and March, 2004, four persons appointed by the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board (Tom Finger, Jim Juhnke, Gayle Gerber Koontz and John Roth) engaged in five dialogue sessions with a team appointed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

The two years of conversations were concluded in March 2004, and the final report has been issued under the title, “Right Remembering in Anabaptist-Lutheran Relations” .

A “Declaration of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America on the Condemnation of Anabaptists” was adopted in October 2006 by the ELCA Conference of Bishops and then unanimously in November, 2006 by the ELCA Church Council. In January, 2007 the Executive Board of Mennonite Church USA received “Right Remembering” and asked Executive Leadership staff to send a letter to the ELCA conveying appreciation for the ELCA Declaration.

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and MWC International Study Commission met in 2006 and 2007 in Strasbourg to consider the condemnations of Anabaptists in Lutheran confessional writings and their appicability to the teaching of Anabaptist-Mennonites today. The 2007 meeting also included discussion on the “Called together to be peacemakers” report from the Mennonite and Catholic dialogue.

On April 10, 2012, Lutherans and Mennonites gathered in Elkhart, Indiana for a day of celebration and thanksgiving for ten years of relationship and dialogue.  Participants in the international and national dialogues, national staff, bishops, area conference ministers, pastors and lay leaders all participated.  The day included prayer and worship, lectures and conversation, a tree dedication, a meal and times of fellowship.

A four-session study guide has been prepared for congregations by Mennonite Church Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Mennonites and Lutherans are meeting to celebrate and reflect on these events in various local and regional settings. Menno-Hof, an interpretive center for Anabaptist and Mennonite life, is developing an exhibit to tell the latest chapter in the story of Mennonite and Lutheran relations.

Church of God, Cleveland

In May 2005, three Mennonite Church USA leaders, Jim Schrag, Gilberto Flores and Tom Finger, met for two days in Cleveland, Tennessee with leaders of the Church of God, Cleveland, beginning a relationship with this historic Pentecostal denomination. A joint consultation on mission was held in Sept, 2006. Church of God, Cleveland guests have attended several Mennonite Church USA assemblies.

Growing out of these relationships, Cheryl Bridges Johns, Professor of Discipleship and Christian Formation at Pentecostal Theological Seminary, has been a guest speaker at both Eastern Mennonite Seminary and Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary.  She contributed a lead article in the Spring 2012 issue of Vision devoted to “The Holy Spirit and the Christian life” (a journal for church and theology published by AMBS and Canadian Mennonite University).

After several years of conversations between scholars and pastors, senior leadership from both churches are now engaged in conversation and relationship.

In July 2012 Ervin Stutzman, Virgil Vogt and André Gingerich Stoner, director of interchurch relations, were Mennonite guests at the Church of God assembly in Orlando, Fla. Including a reception with incoming General Overseer Mark Williams and the Church of God Executive Committee.  Read a report about this visit and the unfolding relationship from the Church of God Faith News Network.

In October 2016, six Mennonite scholars met with six counterparts from the Church of God in Cleveland, Tennessee for what is hoped to be the first of a series of theological exchanges and dialogue.