By MC USA staff
Despite a time marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, racial injustice and cultural polarity, there was an atmosphere of hopefulness in the virtual boardroom during the meeting of the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) Executive Board (EB) on Sept. 11-12, 2020.
Held via video conference, the meeting focused on the denomination’s performance in meeting the strategic plan, the review and approval of the budget, and the affirmation of a process for addressing polity concerns, including those related to the denomination’s Membership Guidelines.
“I believe leaders are born for times of crisis,” said Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA, in his encouragement to the EB. “Scripture reminds us that times of adversity have the potential to bring us together,” he said, referencing Proverbs 17:17.
Strategic plan results, budget and giving
Guyton presented an overview of the staff’s progress in meeting the goals of the MC USA EB strategic plan for fiscal year 2019-2020, which ended July 31, 2020. The plan focused on equipping, empowering and resourcing members and practicing intercultural competency.
- Reducing the proposed deficit budget by more than 86% (goal was 25%), from a projected deficit of $134,919 to an actual year-end deficit of $18,540. Guyton attributed this to pandemic-related cost savings, such as reduced travel, coupled with successful fundraising. He added that overall giving is up almost 33%, individual giving is up 70% and contributions to the MC USA archives are up 90%.
“MC USA also is in its strongest cash position in four years,” said Guyton, noting a general fund balance of $2.6 million and operating cash for 186 days.
- Launching a new website, featuring curated, online faith formation resources and new easy-to-use, online giving platform.
- Introducing MenoTicias, a Spanish-language e-newsletter and web portal in collaboration with Hispanic Ministries of Mennonite Education Agency (replacing Meno Acontecer).
- Creating a new, user-friendly Ministerial Leadership Information process.
- Fostering intercultural competency through online resources, events and greater access to training for conferences and congregations.
- Strengthening relationships with area conferences and agency boards.
- Providing a strong peace witness through anti-racism and other social justice initiatives. “Some have said this is the best work people have seen from MC USA,” said Guyton.
- Developing a process for advancing the conversation on the MC USA Membership Guidelines.
Some goals, such as plans for in-person events and church planting, were directly affected by COVID-19. Despite this, MC USA introduced the Thrive: Church Planting Grant in support of Mennonite Mission Network and conference church planting efforts. Also in 2020, the first group of 24 students completed the Sent Network church planter training program led by Mission Network.
EB unanimously approved a budget for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2021 with a projected deficit of $46,000, acknowledging the continued fiscal uncertainty of the coming year.
Clarification of MC USA polity and the Membership Guidelines
In a second action, the EB voted unanimously to move forward with an eight-step process for gathering feedback on the details of a potential 2021 Delegate Assembly resolution and polity clarifications. The primary work will center on:
- Delegate Action to Retire the Membership Guidelines
This recommendation is positioned as a commitment to live into forbearance by doing the difficult work of being church together amid our differences when working at biblical discernment on disputable theological matters. The decision will rest in the hands of the Delegate Assembly. In discussion, Guyton noted that neither General Conference nor Mennonite Church, the two conferences that formed MC USA, had denominational membership guidelines. “Looking back over the past 20 years, it is clear to see that the Membership Guidelines have been a persistent source of confusion and contention, limiting our effectiveness as witnesses to God’s peace,” Guyton said.
- Reviewing MC USA bylaws and A Shared Understanding of Ministerial Leadership to bring clarity between our documents and current practices
MC USA will work with the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) and the executive conference ministers as elders to make recommendations around polity and practice within the church and to equip the Delegate Assembly to update MC USA bylaws as needed, clarifying what power and authority is housed at each level of the denomination.
The eight-step, staff-driven process that the EB approved for gathering feedback is:
- The EB discusses the process and recommendations and determines a course of action. (Completed – September 2020)
- Executive conference ministers provide feedback and results from consensus testing. (October 2020)
- CLC provides feedback and results from consensus testing. (Meeting virtually October 16-17, 2020)
- Conference moderators review during their monthly meeting. (October/November 2020)
- EB makes final decisions regarding recommendations and prepares bylaw and resolution updates for MennoCon21. (January 2021)
- EB staff will lead implementation in collaboration with executive conference ministers and others. (January – June 2021)
- EB staff will develop a communication plan that clearly outlines the proposed recommendations. (January–June 2021)
- Delegates vote on final recommendations at MennoCon21. (July 2021)
This action was based on the work that the EB has done since the Delegate Assembly in July 2019, including seeking broad input from all levels of church leadership, as well as from the EB-appointed Advisory Group, EB staff, EB Executive Committee and a focus group.
“As we go through the eight-step process, we are committed to ensure that those most impacted by these decisions will have a voice in the process,” said Michael Danner, MC USA associate executive director for Church Vitality.
Other discussions at the EB meeting:
- The EB agreed to move forward with plans for MennoCon21, MC USA’s biennial convention scheduled for July 6-10, 2021 in Cincinnati, Ohio, acknowledging that adaptations may be required for safety during the pandemic.
- The EB discussed its response to South Central Mennonite Conference’s (SCMC) Discovery 20.21 process and approved a letter to SCMC leadership regarding MC USA’s desire to engage congregations and the conference directly in this process.
- The EB Executive Committee reported on its periodic agency performance review of MennoMedia. Executive Director Amy Gingerich discussed the agency’s performance and the paradigm shift that was required due to the pandemic. The board affirmed the value of a denominational publishing agency and MennoMedia’s response to the circumstances of 2020, which EB member Phil Rich described as “stellar work in the midst of uncertainty.”
- Tom Stuckey, interim executive director of Mennonite Education Agency, discussed ideas for increased collaboration with the EB. The board affirmed a desire to continue this discussion.
- The EB reviewed a letter from the Racial Ethnic Council regarding scholarships and educational funding for its various constituency groups through Mennonite Education Agency. A committee will be formed to further review and address this.
- The EB Board Development Committee discussed potential changes to EB policies on grievances as well as the denomination’s governance relationships with the agencies. The committee will continue to refine its recommendations.
The next EB meeting is scheduled to be held January 22-24, 2021, in Dallas, Texas, or via video conferencing on January 23-24.
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 16 conferences, approximately 530 congregations and 62,000 members. An Anabaptist Christian denomination, MC USA is part of Mennonite World Conference, a global faith family that includes churches in 86 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org