At its recent online meeting on Jan. 22 and 23, 2021, the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) Executive Board (EB) forwarded a resolution, entitled “Clarification on MC USA polity and the role of the Membership Guidelines of MC USA,” to the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) for feedback. The resolution calls for the retirement of the Membership Guidelines.
The EB commissioned the resolution based on feedback from consensus testing among all levels of denominational leadership, as recapped for the EB by Michael Danner, associate executive director of Church Vitality, and Linda Dibble, moderator-elect.
The EB also reviewed a report from the Resolutions Committee highlighting several additional church statement resolutions that may be forwarded to the CLC for processing. The CLC will address proposed resolutions at its upcoming virtual meeting on March 12-13, 2021.
The EB will review the CLC’s feedback on the Membership Guidelines resolution at its next online meeting on April 16-17, 2021.
According to the Guidelines for Developing Resolutions, final decisions on church statement resolutions are made by the Delegate Assembly.
In response to gathering restrictions related to COVID-19, however, the EB voted to hold an abbreviated virtual Delegate Assembly on July 10 as part of MennoCon21, postponing decisions on church state resolutions. These will be addressed at a future delegate session to allow for in-person table group discernment.
“This delay gives delegates more time to consider how the resolutions may impact their conferences and congregations,” said Dibble, noting that resolutions approved for distribution by the EB or the Resolutions Committee for delegate study or discernment will be posted on the MC USA website and/or printed to enable continued engagement in the meantime.
The EB also discussed recommended changes to the MC USA bylaws. These changes include:
- Updating the agency description of Mennonite Education Agency to reflect its current role more accurately
- Removing The Mennonite as an agency of the church (The Mennonite merged with Mennonite World Review in 2020 to become Anabaptist World, an independent organization.)
- Reducing the approval threshold by which bylaw amendments are approved from 100% (unanimous) to 75%
- Clarifying language concerning state requirements and denominational procedures for electronic meetings
As these are more routine changes, the 2021 Delegate Assembly will vote on these recommendations during its virtual gathering in July.
Denominational research study
In another motion, the EB voted to move forward with plans to conduct a strategic research study of the denomination, pending a vendor vetting process. The research is intended to serve as a follow up to the 2006 denominational survey, “Road Signs for the Journey.”
“The goal of this research is to assess churchwide health and vitality by looking at who we are, where we’re going and how best to get there,” said Glen Guyton, MC USA executive director. “It will equip us to do short- and long-term strategic planning.”
Executive Director’s report
Guyton reported the denomination is doing well financially. As of Nov. 30, 2020, the denomination’s second quarter operating fund balance was up 15% compared to 2019. This was partly due to lower travel expenses during the pandemic.
Guyton’s report also showed that there was an increase in individual contributions and endowments. However, conference giving was down 16%, which he described as “a small drop when thinking about the significant impact on congregations due to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
A key highlight of the report was the widespread denominational support for the Justice Fund. Launched in June 2020, the mutual aid fund provides a way for individuals and congregations to support MC USA churches that are actively involved in dismantling racism, reimagining policing in our society or combating poverty. To date, MC USA has raised more than $35,000 and awarded six grants.
The EB voted unanimously to increase its size by two members for the 2021-2023 biennium. Currently the EB has only 13 of its available 21 slots filled. EB members affirmed the change, saying that increased size will allow for broader representation, greater diversity and larger committees.
“There was a time when we intentionally downsized due to cost,” said Joy Sutter, moderator, “but with the EB’s shift to more virtual meetings, a larger board is now possible.”
Additionally, Iris de León-Hartshorn, associate executive director of Operations for MC USA, presented the work of an EB-MEA task group, which included input from the Racial Ethnic Council. The task group recommended that MEA’s educational programming through IBA and SeBAH, which provide Anabaptist theological education to Hispanic Mennonites, should continue, as it is doing well and close to breaking even financially. The Task Group also provided direction for the handling of specific scholarship funds. The EB will vote on these recommendations at its April meeting.
Mike Sherrill, executive director of Mennonite Mission Network, the mission agency of MC USA, updated the EB on current church planting efforts. Mission Network partners with conferences to recruit, equip and prepare church planters using its Sent Network resourcing curriculum.
According to Sherrill, the shift from in-person to online church during the pandemic provided new opportunities for church planting. He pointed to new Sent network cohorts that are forming in Europe, Ireland and Central America, as well as the organic growth that MC USA has experienced with new congregations, such as Grand Rapids Mennonite Fellowship in Michigan.
The EB responded to Sherrill’s report with words of encouragement for continued collaboration.
Danner noted that MC USA also actively supports the work of area conferences in developing church plants through its Thrive: Church Planting Grants. (See “Mennonite Church USA seeks church plants for Thrive grants”)
Mennonite Church USA is the largest Mennonite denomination in the United States with 17 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
For more information
Webinar on MennoCon21 Convention & Delegate Assembly
Wednesday, February 10 at 8 p.m. ET/7 p.m. CT/6 p.m. MT/5 p.m. PT
Join MC USA’s Glen Guyton, Iris de León-Hartshorn, Michael Danner and Scott Hartman for an informational webinar on our first-ever hybrid convention and our virtual Delegate Assembly. Get the latest information on registration, elections, the resolution process and more. Presentation on Zoom and simulcast on Facebook. Intérprete al español disponible (Zoom). Register here.
About the resolution process:
Do you understand the MC USA resolution process? By Glen Guyton