By Jenny Castro
(Mennonite Church USA) — At every Mennonite Church USA convention, an offering is received to support a particular ministry or initiative of the church. This summer in Kansas City, convention goers will have the opportunity to contribute to the Care and Prevention Fund established through Mennonite Church USA by the Discernment Group on sexual abuse and the church and the Racial/Ethnic Leadership Education Fund (RELE) administered by Mennonite Education Agency.
Care and Prevention Fund
Over the past two years, leaders in Mennonite Church USA have been working to address the painful and complex legacy of sexual abuse by renowned theologian and professor John Howard Yoder and the church’s inadequate responses to that abuse, as well as abuse by other church leaders.
The Discernment Group on sexual abuse and the church, formed in August 2013, has taken concrete steps to provide a fuller historical account of the abuse Yoder committed while serving at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS), Elkhart, Indiana, and with other church agencies. The group is inviting the church to repent of neglecting to intervene effectively to stop Yoder’s abuse and the abuse of other church leaders. Group members have submitted a statement addressing sexual abuse and prevention for consideration by the Delegate Assembly at KC2015.
On March 3, Ervin Stutzman, executive director of Mennonite Church USA and Discernment Group co-convener, announced the creation of the Care and Prevention Fund, one step in the healing process.
“The purpose of the fund is threefold,” Stutzman writes. “ 1) to recompense, at least in some small measure, the material costs that persons victimized by John Howard Yoder or another credentialed leader of Mennonite Church USA undertook on their road to healing; 2) to provide tangible care for persons who have experienced sexual abuse; 3) to assist in prevention of sexual abuse.”
A significant portion of money donated to the Care and Prevention Fund will go directly to the victims of sexual abuse by John Howard Yoder or other credentialed leaders within the church, says Sara Wenger Shenk, AMBS president and Discernment Group co-convener.
“There is no way a fund can begin to compensate victims adequately for the pain, suffering and incalculable cost they’ve incurred,” she says. Wenger Shenk recently led an AMBS lament, confession and commitment worship event, taking institutional responsibility for abuse that happened while Yoder was at AMBS.
“Setting up a Care and Prevention Fund acknowledges that harm was done, gives it a name and is an important step in symbolic justice making,” says Carolyn Holderread Heggen, author of Sexual Abuse in Christian Homes and Churches (Herald Press, 1992) and an adviser to the Discernment Group.
A portion of the Care and Prevention fund, as determined by the Discernment Group, will be divided among Sister Care, a ministry of Mennonite Women USA, the Women in Leadership Project of Mennonite Church USA and Dove’s Nest.
Convention participants will have two opportunities to give toward the Care and Prevention Fund — on Wednesday, July 1, during adult worship and on Friday, July 3, during youth worship.
Racial/Ethnic Leadership Education Fund
The idea for the Racial/Ethnic Leadership Education (RELE) fund came from the delegate body at the 1985 Mennonite Church convention in Ames, Iowa, according to Carlos Romero, executive director of Mennonite Education Agency (MEA).
“It was one of the few times when you actually saw an idea be generated from the delegate floor at convention and the delegates took action,” recalls Romero. “We needed a fund designated to help students from classically underrepresented groups — Hispanics, African-Americans and Native Americans — gain access to training and education in Mennonite institutions.”
RELE funds three distinct programs:
- The Lark Leadership Scholarship Program, a collaboration between African-American Mennonite Association (AAMA) and Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia, provides scholarships to students who are training for leadership in AAMA congregations.
- The Native Education and Training Program, administered with Native Mennonite Ministries and Hesston (Kansas) College, provides scholarships to Native American students who relate to a Mennonite Church USA congregation and study pastoral ministry or Christian education.
- Hispanic Pastoral and Leadership Education, run by MEA in collaboration with Iglesia Menonita Hispana and others, includes Instituto Bíblico Anabautista and the Hispanic Education for Theology and Leadership curriculum. Students can pursue a certificate, an undergraduate minor or graduate credit.
In the years since its inception on the delegate floor, Romero says the RELE fund has done its job.
“So many times with programs like these we ask, ‘What’s the outcome?’ or ‘Is this program accomplishing anything?’” says Romero. “There are so many leaders who have been trained in these programs who are active in leadership across the church right now!”
Romero explains that while RELE used to have an annual operating budget of $200,000, as giving has decreased, MEA leaders have had to make many cuts.
“What does it communicate to our Racial/Ethnic communities,” Romero asks, “when we have to go back and say, ‘Sorry, we’d budgeted for your scholarship, but the money is not coming in’?” Currently there is a waiting list for Lark Scholarships.
“I’m hoping that the offering will raise awareness across the church,” Romero says. “It used to be that churches had RELE in their budget, but now very few of them do.”
The RELE Fund offering will be received on July 5 during closing worship. The goal for this offering is $20,000.