(Mennonite Church USA)—For the third time this year, Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board (EB) gathered in Kansas City, Missouri. On the agenda for the Sept. 17–19 meeting were discussions of the implications of decisions made by the Delegate Assembly at the Mennonite Church USA convention in Kansas City this summer (June 30–July 5, 2015).
Forbearance and membership guidelines resolutions
EB members discussed the implications of two resolutions for their work: the Resolution on Forbearance in the Midst of Differences and the Resolution on the Status of the Membership Guidelines, both passed by delegates this summer.
The EB emphasized that the resolutions discourage punitive action while affirming that the current church documents, especially in regard to same-sex relationships, still represent the position that marriage is intended for one man and one woman for life. EB members emphasized that they want to move forward with humility.
“We recognize that no decision we make will represent the point of view of everyone in the church,” said Patricia Shelly of Newton, Kansas, moderator. “We are trying to make decisions that will help us move forward in being the church that God is calling us to be together.”
Given these resolutions, EB members determined that they would not make changes to the text of A Shared Understanding of Church Leadership, the updated denominational ministerial leadership polity manual, prior to the planned review of the document in 2016. The manual now includes the statement, “Pastors holding credentials in a conference of Mennonite Church USA may not perform a same-sex covenant ceremony.”
Shelly and Ervin Stutzman, executive director for Mennonite Church USA, appointed a new task group to explore possibilities for fraternal relationships with conferences or groups that leave Mennonite Church USA. The task force includes David Boshart, Wellman, Iowa, moderator-elect; Iris de León-Hartshorn, Portland, Oregon, director of transformative peacemaking for Mennonite Church USA; Nancy Kauffmann, Elkhart, Indiana, denominational minister for Mennonite Church USA; Lois Kaufmann, Goshen, Indiana, Central District Conference minister; and Terry Shue, Kidron, Ohio, director of leadership development for Mennonite Church USA.
There will be further discussion at future meetings about the specific implications of these two resolutions for EB work.
Constituency Leaders Council role
David Boshart, who as moderator-elect chairs the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC), presented the board with a proposal about ways for the CLC to move more intentionally into its role as discerning elders.
“CLC is focused on finding common understandings,” said Boshart. “We won’t be doing peer reviews at the October meeting but will focus on clarifying our role as denominational elders. How should we expect our work as a discerning body to change what we are doing in our area conferences? Given biblical and theological foundations for our role as elders, how do we act in the midst of conference-to-conference conflict?”
Robert J. (Jack) Suderman, former general secretary for Mennonite Church Canada, will join the CLC in October to present on biblical and theological teachings for the role of elders in the church.
The EB also unanimously commended a proposal to the CLC to begin a Dialogue and Discernment Forum that would bring CLC members and LGBTQ individuals into conversation with one another. The proposal states, “The objective of this process is to open a space for dialogue and discernment where members of the CLC and the LGBTQ community will seek to develop common understandings for a future with hope for Mennonite Church USA where traditional views of marriage and matters of same-sex relationships are concerned.”
The EB also received a petition with more than 300 signatures (140 of them delegates) asking that the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests be named as a constituency group and therefore given seats on the CLC and EB. The board received the petition and tabled it for discussion at a future meeting.
Goals for 2015–2017 biennium
Shelly and Stutzman presented a list of items for EB discernment and action over the 2015–17 biennium. The list included reviewing Mennonite Church USA agencies/entities; clarifying the role of the CLC; updating board governance policies; planning for the 2017 convention in Orlando; revising the Purposeful Plan; and updating covenants with organizations such as the Mennonite churches in the Congo, Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Church Canada.
The board affirmed a process for revising the resolution on Israel-Palestine that was tabled by delegates at the KC2015 convention. EB staff will identify a three-person writing team, as well as a broader reference team representing a range of perspectives, to revise the resolution. Congregations will receive an early draft for study and feedback; the team will use the feedback to adapt the statement as needed prior to the 2017 Delegate Assembly.
Other items and actions
The EB heard reports from Glen Alexander Guyton, chief operating officer and director of convention planning for Mennonite Church USA, about Kansas City 2015 and emerging plans for Orlando 2017. The EB Anti-Racism Team made several recommendations for changes to conventions in the future, including ensuring more diversity in the delegate body and providing anti-racism orientation materials for all convention attendees prior to convention.
The board also passed a motion thanking the Discernment Group for sexual abuse and the church for their work. This group was formed to examine the legacy of John Howard Yoder’s sexual abuse, address questions about how the church responded to it, and help shape healing and reconciliation efforts.
The EB statement said, “While the work of helping all members find healing for experiences of sexual abuse is an ongoing ministry for the whole church, we commend the committee for courageously documenting this painful chapter of the church’s recent history, taking seriously the devastating pain of those victimized by John Howard Yoder, and leading the church to adopt practices that will contribute to the safety of our members from all manner of sexual abuse.”
EB staff will work with Mennonite Education Agency and others to call another group to continue the work of prevention of and education about sexual abuse in the church, growing out of the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse passed by delegates at KC2015.
This was the first meeting of the biennium for the EB, which includes six new members: Diane Zaerr Brenneman of West Union Mennonite Church, Wellman, Iowa; Jim Caskey of College Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana; Michelle Dula of Blossom Hill Mennonite Church, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; Leslie Francisco, III, of Calvary Community Church, Hampton, Virginia; Joyce Kusuma of Upland (California) Peace Church; and Zenobia Sowell-Bianchi of Bethel Mennonite Community Church, Chicago.
Board members were invited to sign a list of commitments, including expectations that they attend all meetings, be part of the discerning community and remember the vision of Mennonite Church USA. EB members also discussed the role of policy governance in their work and explored what it means to speak with “one voice.” The board explored the question of limitations on board members expressing personal opinions that differ from board decisions in articles and on social media. Board member feedback suggested that no changes to current policies on board member relationships to the media were needed.
Shelly opened the meetings by inviting board members to focus on a wooden statue of a praying woman and a prayer lamp.
“This figurine was carved in Bethlehem, and when I received it, the artist pointed out that it was cracked,” said Shelly. “This is a reminder that we are all flawed creatures, but God calls us nonetheless, and we’re called to be in a posture of yieldedness before God.”
Board members Joy Sutter of Salford Mennonite Church in Harleysville, Pennsylvania; and Samuel Voth Schrag, pastor of St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship, led the board in worship. Board members joined in prayer, inviting the presence of the Holy Spirit to guide their work.
The next meeting of the EB will take place Feb. 11–13, 2016, in Chicago. For past EB news, see online.
—Mennonite Church USA staff
Images available (photos by Hannah Heinzekehr):
(clockwise from upper left) Mennonite Church USA Executive Board members Nisha Subaiya Springer, Plano, Texas; Joyce Kusuma, Upland, California; Yvonne Diaz, Terlingua, Texas; Michelle Dula, Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Isaac Villegas, Durham, North Carolina, during the board’s Sept. 17–19 meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.
(l. to r.) Mennonite Church USA Executive Board members Jim Caskey, Goshen, Indiana; Samuel Voth Schrag, St. Louis, Missouri; Joy Sutter, East Norriton, Pennsylvania; and Zenobia Sowell-Bianchi, Chicago, Illinois, during the board’s Sept. 17–19 meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.
(l. to r.) David Boshart, Wellman, Iowa, moderator-elect; Patricia Shelly, Newton, Kansas, moderator; and Ervin Stutzman, Harrisonburg, Virginia, executive director, during the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board’s Sept. 17–19 meeting in Kansas City, Missouri.
Mennonite Church USA Moderator Patricia Shelly invited Mennonite Church USA Executive Board members to focus on a prayer lamp and a wooden statue, carved in Bethlehem, of a praying woman during their Sept. 17–19 meeting in Kansas City, Missouri. (Shelly and Ervin Stutzman appear in the background.)