The Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) provided feedback on three proposed organizational resolutions from the Executive Board at its meeting in San Antonio, Texas, on March 23-25, 2023.
The proposed resolutions are aimed at enhancing organizational effectiveness amid changing demographics in the denomination and the broader Christian community by:
- Extending the MC USA Delegate Assembly cycle from every two years to three years.
- Clarifying the role of church program entities in our system.
- Repositioning Everence and MHS Association within MC USA’s governance structure
Fifty-nine area conference leaders, as well as representatives from the denomination’s racial/ethnic and constituency groups and Executive Board staffers attended the meeting, with Moderator-elect Jon Carlson presiding.
The meeting began with a discussion about the trends impacting today’s churches, such as decreasing attendance, declining trust in institutions and increased loneliness, especially among young people.
MC USA Executive Director Glen Guyton emphasized the need for churches to be more flexible and relational.
“We have complex and disjointed structures,” Guyton said. “Our denomination is smaller than it was when we first created these structures … we need to work in more effective ways. What’s going to help us to move into the future to be more nimble and effective in reaching others for Christ?”
Over the next two days, CLC members participated in table conversations and large group discussions about the proposed changes.
Feedback on the proposed resolutions
All of the proposed resolutions would require changes to the MC USA bylaws, approved by a Delegate Assembly vote.
The first proposed resolution states, “The Executive Board is recommending the MC USA Delegate Assembly move from a biennial cycle to a triennial cycle.” This means delegates would gather every three years instead of every two years, as specified by Article V, 4a of the bylaws.
“We need some time to work through the things that are important to the denomination, and this two-year cycle doesn’t give us that opportunity,” said Guyton. “We need time for us to live into the things that we decide as delegates.” Guyton also estimated that the denomination and delegates could reduce associated costs by as much as 30% in a six-year period by switching to a triennium.
The Executive Board proposed a second resolution to clarify the role of program entities, to change the entity designation to a more descriptive term, and to simplify the governance relationships in MC USA, as per Article X of the bylaws.
Guyton pointed out that the church no longer has any entities, since The Mennonite magazine merged with Mennonite World Review to form Anabaptist World in 2020. Guyton is recommending MC USA focus on strengthening this relational/service-focused category of ministry programming and update the bylaws.
Feedback to the proposed bylaw changes was positive. CLC representatives recorded the consensus of their table groups on a shared document using a gradients of agreement scale from 1 (serious disagreement) to 7 (whole-hearted endorsement). Of the seven table groups:
- Three groups selected 7, whole-hearted endorsement.
- Three groups selected 6, agreement with a minor point of contention.
- One group selected 5, support with reservations.
Several table groups shared concerns that a three-year cycle might negatively impact youth, as the MennoCon convention has historically been held in conjunction with the Delegate Assembly. Iris de León-Hartshorn, associate executive director of Operations for MC USA, explained that feedback from smaller congregations indicates support for a three-year cycle, as youth will have more time to fundraise for and participate in other summer activities, such as mission trips and camp.
One table group wrote, “…we want to see very intentional and deliberate alternatives for youth on the ‘off’ years. Mennonite Mission Network seems uniquely poised to develop and extend their summer options, perhaps in collaboration with Menno colleges and regional Menno camps.”
Feedback on proposal to reposition Everence and MHS Association
Guyton and Ken Hochstetler, President and CEO of Everence ®, presented the third proposal, with Karen Lehman, President and CEO of MHS Association, participating via Zoom.
With this proposal, the Executive Board is seeking the counsel and advice of the Delegate Assembly on the merits of repositioning Everence and MHS Association from MC USA agency status and establishing them as entities (ministry partners).
The Executive Board has the authority to establish or terminate program agencies from time to time with the counsel and advice of the Delegate Assembly, according to the MC USA bylaws Article X, 3 f. The bylaws would also need to be updated to reflect this change in agency status.
Guyton described this change as necessary, due to the expertise and capacity the Executive Board needs to effectively govern agencies that must comply with extensive regulatory requirements and that serve large groups outside of MC USA. A new written agreement will communicate shared expectations.
“[This change] will allow us to focus more on our primary work of serving conferences, congregations and pastoral needs,” said Guyton. He provided an overview of the advantages and disadvantages of the proposed change for MC USA.
- Clearer differentiation between theological/formational program groups (i.e., Mennonite Education Agency, MennoMedia and Mennonite Mission Network) and ministry services program groups, such as Everence and MHS Association.
- Better fit for the scope of the Executive Board’s leadership capacity, especially given the legal complexity of governing institutions in highly regulated industries.
- More programming flexibility for Mennonite Church USA, Everence and MHS Association.
- Clearer lines of authority.
Potential disadvantages include diminished governance influence and a need for more intentional communication between CEOs.
In a memo to the Executive Board and CLC, Lehman wrote, “… a strong relationship with MC USA continues to be the priority for MHS Association. Foundational to our association of health and human services ministries are our Anabaptist faith and values. A different relationship model will not change the importance of our connection and relationship with each other!”
“We deeply value these connections and are committed to remaining in relationship,” said Hochstetler. “Adapting our ministry partnership … will help us enhance the ways we can serve the best interests of MC USA and its members, as well as other Anabaptists and like-minded denominations, individuals, and organizations. Additionally, this arrangement will align our governance structures and practices more effectively and accurately.”
CLC feedback to the proposed redesignation was positive. Of the seven table groups:
- Two groups selected 7, “whole-hearted endorsement.”
- Two groups selected 6, “agreement with a minor point of contention.”
- Two groups selected 5, “support with reservations.”
- One group did not submit their responses.
If this proposal is moved forward by the Executive Board at its next meeting in April, the Delegate Assembly will be asked to provide counsel to the Executive Board on whether the repositioning has merit and support. If the feedback from delegates is positive, the Delegate Assembly will be asked to provide conditional approval of the necessary revisions to the bylaws that reflect the new status of these organizations. Based on these affirmations, the Executive Board could make a final decision on the agency status for Everence and MHS Association at its fall 2023 meeting.
The Executive Board will review the feedback from the CLC and the Resolutions Committee at its meeting on April 13-14, 2023, in Los Angeles, California.
In other business
The CLC Gifts Discernment Committee, chaired by Alicia Manning, announced nominees for the CLC vice chair (Stanley Green), worship facilitator (Randy Spaulding) and secretary (Bill Zuercher), and the MC USA Leadership Discernment Committee (Joanne Gallardo).
The next CLC meeting will be held October 27, 2023, via Zoom.
Clockwise from top left:
Photo 1 (left to right): Ryan Koch, Darrel Miller, Ken Hochstetler, Phil Kniss, Abraham Ulises Arenas
Photo 2: Marisa Smucker, Amy Zimbelman
Photo 3: Mitch Stutzman, Leonard Dow
Photo 4: Marlene McKitrick, Erica Lea-Simka
Photo 5: Randy Spaulding, Nathan Luitjens
Photo 6: Ken Hochstetler, Glen Guyton
Photo 7: Andi Santoso, Ruth Yoder Wenger
Photo 8: Craig Maven, Lois Barrett
Photo 9 (center): CLC meeting with Glen Guyton presenting
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 540 congregations and 56,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 59 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org
Written by MC USA staff.