NEWTON, Kan. (Mennonite Church USA) — Representatives of Mennonite Church USA’s (MC USA) Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) discussed their role as the spiritual elders of the denomination during their first meeting of the biennium on October 15-16 via Zoom. The CLC also provided feedback to the Executive Board on how to equip and care for the church, as delegates prepare to discern “A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation” at the special delegate assembly on May 27-30, 2022, in Kansas City, Missouri.
MC USA Moderator-Elect Jon Carlson chaired the CLC virtual gathering of leaders, representing the 16 area conferences, five denominational agencies, constituency groups, racial-ethnic groups and Executive Board staff.
The meeting was bookended by worship sessions led by Paula Snyder Belousek, pastor of Salem Mennonite Church, Elida, Ohio, and featured storytelling on the topic of transformation by Joanne Gallardo, conference minister of Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, and Zach Martinez, pastor of Sojourn Mennonite Church in Greeley and Fort Collins, Colorado.
“You are the heart and soul of Mennonite Church USA,” MC USA Executive Director Glen Guyton said to the CLC representatives. “Your hopes and dreams, and even your fears, play an important role in the direction of Mennonite Church USA,” he said.
Michael Danner, associate executive director of Church Vitality, gave a presentation on the denomination’s organizational structure and polity. (See excerpts of Danner’s slides below.)
Representatives were then asked to gather in small groups to reflect on the role of the CLC, as well as on their role as elders. The groups described the ideal characteristics of an elder and affirmed the advisory function and relational nature of the CLC.
Discussion about the “Repentance” resolution process
On the second day of the meeting, Carlson invited CLC members to work in small groups to provide the Executive Board with feedback on further processing of the “Repentance” resolution.
The delegate body at the May session will have the opportunity to decide whether to vote on the “Repentance” resolution and, if they affirm this, will have the opportunity to vote on the resolution itself. The resolution, written by the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors leadership team, calls for the church to repent for the past exclusion and harm to LGBTQ people and for full inclusion moving forward. At its Sept. 23-25 meetings, the Executive Board ended an impasse in the denomination’s resolution process by voting to allow the delegate body to decide whether or not to act on the resolution.
“As we think about the special delegate assembly in May 2022, I want you to think about this as a gathering for empowerment,” Guyton said. “The action by the Executive Board is not an endorsement of the resolution, rather it shows their commitment to allowing delegates to discern key issues facing the church … consistent with our bylaws and Article 16 of our Confession of Faith [in a Mennonite Perspective],” he added.
Speaking on behalf of her discussion group, Snyder Belousek of Ohio Mennonite Conference, said, “We don’t want to use the words, ‘breach of trust,’ but it’s important for the Executive Board to be aware that, in our small group, with several people across conferences, the choice to bring forth this resolution has significantly upset conference processes [for preparing for the Delegate Assembly].”
In feedback to the Executive Board, CLC participants requested more details about the voting and discernment process for the “Repentance” resolution, as well as easy-to-understand educational tools to help congregations prepare for the Delegate Assembly.
Carlson and Guyton noted that the denomination has already provided a lot of information on these topics and encouraged leaders to utilize them.
“I don’t want us to wait and say that someone who’s in charge has to give us directives and provide all the resources for us,” said Carlson. “[Let’s] be mindful of the ways that we can resource and support each other as conferences and constituency groups,” he added.
CLC participants also recommended developing ways to help congregations who cannot afford to send delegates to the assembly.
James Rissler, president of the board of directors for Central District Conference, said that his discussion group was interested in “articulation by leadership of how this resolution, if it were to pass, would affect all of our congregations and conferences and reassurance that those holding traditional views of marriage, for instance, would still be fully welcome within this denomination.”
Stanley Green of Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference group, said his group considered multiple perspectives and asked, “If the question of inclusion is a justice question, then justice deferred is justice denied — and can we tolerate that?”
“People want reassurance that this is not just a process for people to fight with each other,” said Lois Barrett of Western District Conference, on behalf of her discussion group, “and people need to be reminded that we can agree and disagree in love.”
Katherine Jameson Pitts, executive conference minister of Pacific Northwest Conference, speaking on behalf of her group, said, “It seems very important to be aware that if it passes or fails, there will be people who are deeply hurt and feel their identity is being violated. Maybe pastoral care needs to happen beforehand, but it certainly is going to be needed afterward and should be grounded in the fact that we are all beloved children of God.”
The next meeting of the CLC is May 27, 2022, in Kansas City, Missouri, in conjunction with MC USA’s special delegate assembly.
The CLC is an MC USA council of denominational elders from the area conferences and Racial-Ethnic and constituency groups that meets one or two times per year to counsel and advise the Executive Board, the Delegate Assembly and Mennonite Church USA on issues relative to faith and life.
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 58 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana, and Newton, Kansas. mennoniteUSA.org
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For more information
- 5, 2021, MC USA Executive Board looks toward future with seven new members
- July 14, 2021, Delegates approve bylaw changes
- April 16, 2021, MC USA Executive Board sends resolution to retire its Membership Guidelines to the Delegate Assembly
- March 27, 2021, MC USA Constituency Leaders Council meets, recommends two resolutions to go to the Delegate Assembly
Menno Snapshots blog
- Renewing my own vision by Joanne Gallardo