By MC USA Staff
The Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) Executive Board met in Los Angeles on April 13-14, 2023, and voted to forward three proposed organizational resolutions to the Delegate Assembly, including one that recommends shifting the Delegate Assembly to a three-year, or triennial, cycle.
The proposed resolutions were positioned as necessary updates to MC USA’s governance and organizational structure in response to significant changes in the global landscape and the denomination, such as changing congregational dynamics, post-pandemic challenges, shifting demographics and changes in how services are delivered and used.
“We’re not going to go back to how it used to be,” said Iris de León-Hartshorn, MC USA associate executive director, who led several board development sessions on adapting to change. “COVID changed a lot of things. It shook up the church and America, and that’s not necessarily bad. We need to start thinking of the future church generation. How do we prepare the ground for the next generation?”
The introduction to the proposed resolutions reads, “Our structures and how we function at the denominational level need to align with our theology, be flexible and be forward-looking.”
The first proposed resolution seeks to lengthen the Delegate Assembly cycle from two years to three, as “our two-year meeting cycle does not allow for adequate discernment, processing or execution of MC USA Delegate Assembly actions.”
An integrated church impact statement forecasts that, if both the Delegate Assembly and MennoCon convention are shifted to a three-year cycle, attendees and the denomination will reduce costs by 30 percent in each six-year period. Higher attendance may also lower per-person expenses.
The action on the triennium cycle passed unanimously, with Moderator-elect Jon Carlson abstaining because the proposed change will have a direct impact on his term of service. If delegates pass the resolution at the upcoming Delegate Assembly in Kansas City, Missouri, on July 7-8, the next Delegate Assembly will be held in 2026.
Clarifying the role of program entities
The second proposed resolution aims to revise the bylaws to clarify the role of program entities. According to the proposed resolution, “These entities are often made up of organizations that share a common interest, values or goal, yet they may have their own systems for operating. By updating its bylaws, Mennonite Church USA [Executive Board] seeks to clarify and formalize the roles and responsibilities of these partnering entities within the larger church community yet retain a close partnership.” MC USA currently has no program entities. The last program entity was The Mennonite magazine.
The Executive Board voted unanimously to send the proposed resolution to the Delegate Assembly.
Change in agency status
The Executive Board also will be requesting the counsel and advice of the Delegate Assembly for a mutually supported proposal to shift Everence and MHS Association from program agencies to program entities/ministry partners, administered by covenant agreements rather than current, inflexible structural agreements. The proposal cites the legal complexity of managing “member-driven” organizations and the complex federal regulatory obligations of Everence and MHS Association as some of the reasons for the change.
“Repositioning our relationship will help MHS Association enhance the ways it can serve the best interests of MC USA and its Anabaptist and other like-minded organizations,” said Karen Lehman, president and CEO of MHS Association, in a separate interview. “Additionally, this arrangement will align the governance structures for both MHS Association and MC USA more effectively and accurately. It is important for MHS Association to continue to have a close relationship with MC USA to fulfill our mission and vision,” she added.
“Over the past 21 years, Everence has valued the ongoing support of and shared work with the MC USA Executive Board, agencies and colleagues,” said Ken Hochstetler, president and CEO of Everence. “Adapting a new ministry partnership between MC USA and Everence will not diminish these significant relationships – but will require new and intentional ways to connect, communicate and collaborate,” he added.
If the feedback is positive, delegates will be asked to vote to provide approval to make the necessary revisions to the bylaws that reflect the new status of these organizations.
The proposed resolutions and bylaw changes will undergo parliamentary review and be posted to the MC USA website by May 5. For more information, see the accompanying FAQ.
In a step toward more intentional communication, the Executive Board also reviewed and provided feedback on a proposed interagency communication plan.
The Resolutions Committee also received a proposed church statement resolution from a congregation in Virginia Mennonite Conference, calling for a reaffirmation of the 2015 “Forbearance in the Midst of Differences” resolution, according to Carlson, chair of the Resolutions Committee. The Resolutions Committee did not advance the proposal because it did not meet the criteria for a new church statement, as it simply restated a previous one and did not include any new actionable items.
“Forbearance is not just a resolution,” said Guyton, in a separate interview. “It is a biblical principle to embrace. Our conservative siblings are as much a part of MC USA as any other group across our diverse denomination. Our board and staff have consistently said that ‘we are better together.’ Forbearance is the fruit of our love for Jesus and each other,” he said.
Executive Board members and staff then brainstormed ideas for emphasizing the importance of forbearance in other ways, including in upcoming Menno Snapshot blogs.
In other business
- Audit report: The Executive Board received the audit report for the fiscal year ending July 31, 2022, which showed a $233,000 decrease in net assets due to a downturn in investments. “Because of good management practices, this is still a very strong audit,” said Richard Aguirre, who serves on the Executive Board’s Finance/Audit Committee.
- Board appointees: The Executive Board appointed the following persons recommended by the Leadership Discernment Committee for terms running from 2023 to 2027:
- MC USA Executive Board: Lesley Francisco McClendon (first term, representative of the African American Mennonite Association)
- Mennonite Education Agency: Rose Bender Cook (first term)
- MennoMedia: Rafael Barahona, Jr. (third term), Edith Yoder (second term)
- Mennonite Mission Network: Don Kempf (second term), Anthonia Onya, (first term)
- Prevention and accountability project: Michael Danner, associate executive director of MC USA, presented an overview of the prevention and accountability project, a binational guidebook for MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada that addresses prevention of abuse by lay and credentialed leaders, as well as leadership accountability. The Delegate Assembly will have the opportunity to preview a “very clean first draft” of this new resource that has been in development for more than a year.
- Credentialing concerns: Danner also highlighted a “significant vulnerability” in the pastoral credentialing system that Rachel Ringenberg Miller, denominational minister for ministerial leadership, has noticed. Some conferences are allowing pastoral candidates to bypass MC USA’s Ministerial Leadership Inquiry (MLI) system, which includes important background checks. Danner explained that congregations may not know, for example, that their new pastor, who was credentialed by the area conference, hasn’t had a background check in 10 years. MC USA Executive Director Glen Guyton pointed out that this is a serious concern, especially as the denomination is currently addressing three active misconduct cases.
- MennoMedia bylaw changes: The Executive Board reviewed several proposed changes to MennoMedia’s bylaws and voted to send them to the Joint Executive Committee of MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada for final approval and acceptance. One of the proposed changes is to disband the board’s Executive Committee because “with our board only having six people, an executive committee of four would concentrate power in an unhealthy way,” said Amy Gingerich, executive director of MennoMedia.
- Church Benefits Board charter: Mitch Kingsley presented a report from the Church Benefits Board and a new proposed charter aimed at reducing potential liability through stronger documentation. The Church Benefits Board sponsors and maintains various benefit plans for pastors and church workers, such as The Corinthian Plan. The Executive Board voted unanimously to accept the charter, effective April 14, 2023.
De León-Hartshorn led several development sessions throughout the meeting based on Dr. Nadya Zhexembayeva’s book, “The Chief Reinvention Officer Handbook: How to Thrive in Chaos.”
During breakout sessions, she challenged Executive Board members to evaluate the denomination’s ability to anticipate change, face fears, and assess strengths and risks, and to brainstorm how to strategically reimagine and reinvent MC USA in response to the disruptions congregations have experienced in the last few years.
“We need to think about what’s next for Mennonite Church USA,” said Guyton. “We want to thrive. We have a very unique message that we can share with the world … We don’t want to lose that focus. We need to encourage one another and support one another. We are all one church, and we should be pulling in the same direction, focusing on the vision that God has for MC USA.”
The next Executive Board meeting is July 3, 2023, at the Kansas City (Missouri) Convention Center.
“Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness, your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight. I will always show you where to go. I’ll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—firm muscles, strong bones.
“You’ll be like a well-watered garden, a gurgling spring that never runs dry. You’ll use the old rubble of past lives to build a new, rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
“You’ll be known as those who can fix anything, restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate, make the community livable again.”
Isaiah 58:10-12 (The Message) – Read by Leslie Francisco, III, during Executive Board devotions.
For further reading
CLC looks at ways to make the denomination more nimble, April 3, 2023. Read it here.