DALLAS, Texas (Mennonite Church USA) — The Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) looked to the future of the denomination during its first meeting of the biennium on Sept. 23-25, 2021. During the hybrid online and in-person session, EB members focused on board development, collaborative agency relationships, congregational leadership cultivation and the upcoming special delegate session on May 27-30, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. They also resolved an impasse in the denomination’s resolution process.
The EB for the 2021-2023 biennium includes seven new members:
- Richard Aguirre, Goshen, Ind.
- Thomas Dunn, Akron, Ohio
- Chaiya Hadtasunsern, Westminster, Colo.
- Susan Hart, El Reno, Okla.
- Mitch Kingsley, Bluffton, Ohio
- Emily Merolli, Takoma Park, Md.
- Karen Zehr, Wichita, Kan.
New EB members spent their first three hours of the meeting in an orientation led by MC USA Associate Executive Director Michael Danner. They also participated in a question-and-answer session with the EB’s new Executive Committee, headed by Moderator Linda Dibble.
Facilitator Mark Vincent, Ph.D., of Design Group International, an organizational process consulting firm in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, then led all EB members in a half-day board development session. He challenged the EB to focus its efforts on the mission, vision and values of MC USA, while considering what governance model would work best for the denomination moving forward.
“For the past 20 years, our leadership has been focused on merging two denominations,” said veteran EB member Bishop Leslie W. Francisco III, referencing the 2002 merger of General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church that formed MC USA. “Now it is time for us to lead this denomination and to ask ourselves what is best for the future, not the past,” he said.
Agency review: Mennonite Mission Network
In accordance with MC USA bylaws, the EB performed a periodic review of Mennonite Mission Network, MC USA’s mission agency.
Mission Network Executive Director and CEO Mike Sherrill provided an overview of the agency’s work during his first year of leadership. Since taking his position in August 2020, Sherrill has led the agency through a strategic organizational realignment. According to Sherrill, the goals of this pivot are to better serve MC USA conferences, churches and partners; to revitalize Mission Network’s commitment to BIPOC communities; and to expand its discipleship training and church planting. The restructuring included streamlining the organization from five departments to three, absorbing the Peace and Justice Support Network (PSJN) into the new divisional structure, and redeveloping its Missional Discipleship Initiative for training church leaders.
“These changes will impact the work of the Executive Board staff by providing numerous opportunities for collaboration and revisiting how our system works best,” said Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA.
Collaborations with Mennonite Education Agency
In his first major action as MEA executive director, Danner presented the EB with a letter from a theological education roundtable, convened by former MEA Interim Executive Director Tom Stuckey. The letter invited the EB to “make the calling and educating of leaders a key priority of the church in the coming biennium.”
The letter said, “We note that in Glen Guyton’s recent book, Reawakened, we have an executive director bringing a renewed and needed focus on leadership. Out of financial scarcity or prophetic imagination, fewer churches are locating the leadership function of the congregations in full-time professional leaders. Leadership development programs need to adapt to meet the learning goals of professional, lay and co-vocational church leaders.”
The EB unanimously affirmed the work of the roundtable group and supported empowering MEA to provide leadership for this vision, as outlined in the letter.
The EB appointed a new Resolutions Committee for the 2021-2023 biennium. The new Resolutions Committee members are:
- Jon Carlson, MC USA moderator-elect and Resolutions Committee chair, Lancaster, Pa.; Forest Hills Mennonite Church, Leola, Pa. — First term
- Bonita Croyle, Tucson, Ariz.; Shalom Mennonite Fellowship, Tucson— First term
- John Goshow, Perkasie, Pa.; Blooming Glen (Pa.) Mennonite Church — First term
- Rosetta Landis, Croghan, N.Y.; Watertown (N.Y.) Mennonite Church — First term
- Sarah Bixler, Linville, Va.; Park View Mennonite Church, Harrisonburg, Va.— Second term
According to Carlson, the Resolutions Committee will be primarily focused on preparing for the 2023 Delegate Assembly, as the agenda for the special session in May 2022 is already established. The EB tasked the new Resolutions Committee with examining the denomination’s overall resolution process and evaluating the role and implementation of church statement resolutions. This work will contribute to the EB’s biennial update of its Developing Resolutions for MC USA guidelines.
The EB also took action on “The Resolution for Repentance and Transformation,” which was at an impasse, according to the final recommendations from 2019-2021 Resolutions Committee. The resolution was not set to be forwarded to the special delegate assembly, but now the delegates at the May session will decide whether to vote on it or not. (See “Repentance” timeline.)
This EB action was sparked by a letter, dated Sept. 22, 2021 and addressed to the Resolutions Committee from the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors leadership team, who authored the “Repentance” resolution, asking that the resolution be reconsidered for delegate action.
The letter, which was sent via email and received by Dibble and Guyton, said, “The Resolution follows through on the recommendations of the ‘Report from the Advisory Group on Mennonite Church USA Membership Guidelines,’ released on January 27, 2020, by the Executive Board-appointed Advisory Group. The Advisory Group represented a diverse group of MC USA congregations and conferences. … It is important that MC USA, through the delegate body, be allowed to consider and vote on the recommendations set out in this report.”
The EB Executive Committee decided that the EB, which has already responded to the recommendations from the Advisory Group, would consider and respond to the request in the letter, instead of the new Resolutions Committee, according to Dibble.
The Executive Committee asked the EB either to affirm the recommendation of the previous committee, which would leave the resolution at an impasse, or to put it forward as an EB resolution for delegate action.
The first motion, to allow the resolution process impasse to stand, failed (4 yes, 8 no, 1 abstaining).
The second motion, to allow the delegate body to determine whether or not they would consider and vote on the resolution in the May special session, passed (9 yes, 2 no, 2 abstaining).
The delegate body at the May session will now 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.
This action enables the EB to widen the circle of discernment for this resolution. Francisco said that by giving the church ownership of the decision-making process, it would provide “a broad voice and a better perspective.”
“We affirm the Executive Board’s decision to bring the ‘Resolution for Repentance and Transformation’ to the delegate body,” said Rev. Joanna Harader, on behalf of the resolution’s writing team.
“We believe this resolution offers a faithful path forward for our denomination. In the coming months, we plan to help educate delegates about this resolution, and we will work with MC USA leadership to ensure a clear and healthy process.” Harader is the pastor of Peace Mennonite Church in Lawrence, Kansas.
The next Executive Board meeting is scheduled for February 3-5, 2022, in Elkhart, Indiana.
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