Area conference ministers and executives from Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) and Mennonite Church Canada gathered Nov. 30-Dec.3 in San Francisco, California, for renewal, training and collaborative work around a new misconduct accountability and prevention guide.
Eighteen conference ministers from MC USA and eight regional ministers from Mennonite Church Canada met at The Kimpton Alton Hotel at San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf. It was the first time conference ministers met in person as a group since a pre-pandemic retreat in Banff, Canada, in November 2019.
“Serving as a conference minister is a unique ministry context,” said MC USA Associate Executive Director Michael Danner. “The annual conference ministers retreat is an important event. Being with other conference ministers, who understand the nature and pressures of the work creates a space for reflection, growth and support.”
Executives from both national denominations hosted the meeting. In addition to Danner, MC USA staffers included Iris de León-Hartshorn, associate executive director; Rachel Ringenberg Miller, denominational minister for Ministerial Leadership; Lorraine Stutzman Amstutz, denominational minister for Peace and Justice; Duncan Smith, director of The Corinthian Plan, and Rod Hollinger-Janzen, administrative assistant for Church Vitality. Doug Klassen, executive minister for Mennonite Church Canada, also helped to lead the event.
Attendees participated in a day-long training on Strategies for Trauma Awareness & Resilience (STAR), provided by The Center for Justice and Peacebuilding of Eastern Mennonite University (EMU), Harrisonburg, Virginia. EMU instructors Matt Tibbles and Carolyn Stauffer led the STAR training, which helps leaders bring a trauma-informed perspective to their personal and professional lives and equips them to use the tools with others.
“The STAR training was helpful in its description of different kinds of trauma, various responses to trauma, and how trauma is embodied within our lives individually and collectively,” said Heidi Regier Kreider, conference minister for MC USA’s Western District Conference. “This awareness is crucial for us as conference ministers in our work with congregations and ministers, as we recognize the impacts of trauma and nurture the church’s ministries of justice, healing and peacebuilding.”
“With ongoing stress and trauma in our local and global communities, we need leaders who are trained in trauma awareness to help bring healing to a hurting world,” agreed Sharon Witmer Yoder, conference minister for Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference. “As leaders learn to listen deeply and respond effectively, trauma victims find brave space to share their stories; they are empowered to find their voice and, ultimately, find hope for some sense of justice to be restored in their lives.”
On the second full day of the meeting, the ministerial leaders reviewed a rough first draft of the proposed new misconduct policy guide, a shared binational resource that addresses prevention of abuse by lay and credentialed leaders, as well as leadership accountability. Reflecting on the STAR training, ministers provided feedback and participated in scaling exercises to determine consensus around several statements:
- “A complainant should be able to remain anonymous throughout the misconduct process.”
- “A person found guilty of misconduct should never have their credential restored.”
- “Our misconduct policy should include provisions for facilitating forgiveness and reconciliation between complainants and accused.”
- “We should use the same policy and process for persons accused of misconduct who are dead.”
The feedback will help inform the volunteer reference team, which is developing the prevention and accountability guide. Mennonite Church Canada and MC USA are hoping to submit the completed policy guide to their respective delegate assemblies in 2023.
MC USA area conference ministers and Mennonite Church Canada regional ministers also held separate meetings to discuss topics specific to their respective national denominations. MC USA executive board staff members presented information on a proposed new administrative structure for handling misconduct complaints, The Corinthian Plan, peace and justice projects and ways to engage constituency groups. Attendees also provided feedback on leadership development needs and pastoral search processes.
MC USA Executive Board staff began holding annual in-person conference minister gatherings immediately following the formational merger between General Conference and Mennonite Church in 2001. MC USA has held the gatherings every year, including online meetings in 2020 and 2021 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
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