Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) held its first virtual Delegate Assembly on Saturday, July 10, the last day of its biennial MennoCon21 convention in Cincinnati, Ohio. The delegates approved changes to the MC USA bylaws, affirmed a slate of nominees for churchwide boards and heard reports from the Resolutions Committee and the denomination’s racial ethnic and constituency groups. Executive Director Glen Guyton also provided a State of the Church report.
Three hundred and fifteen delegates attended the online Delegate Assembly via Zoom, representing an estimated 173 of the denomination’s 530 congregations and including conference delegates from 15 of the 16 area conferences. South Central Mennonite Conference was not represented at the conference level.
The delegates reviewed and approved several changes to the MC USA bylaws. Major policy changes included:
- Allowing for virtual Delegate Assembly meetings
- Clarifying guest inclusion for Constituency Leaders Council meetings (CLC)
- Allowing for virtual CLC meetings
- Aligning the Mennonite Education Agency (MEA) section of the bylaws to align with MEA’s updated bylaws
- Clarifying the difference between church agencies and entities
- Allowing for simple corrections, such as punctuation and grammar revisions, without a formal amendment. All revisions are subject to approval by the Executive Board.
The vote also included structural changes to remove The Mennonite as an MC USA entity. The Mennonite merged with Mennonite World Review in September 2020 to form Anabaptist World, an independent media organization.
Nominees for churchwide boards
Stan Shantz, chair of the Leadership Discernment Committee (LDC), presented a ballot of nominees for churchwide boards, including Jon Carlson, pastor of Forest Hills Mennonite Church, Leola, Pennsylvania, as moderator-elect and two first-term Executive Board members, among others. Delegates approved the nominees.
Shantz noted that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, it was harder than usual for the LDC to identify volunteers who had time and availability to serve. “We are thankful when persons agreed to serve in these important positions that support our denomination and God’s good work,” he said.
Moderator-elect Linda Dibble, serving as chair of the Resolutions Committee, shared its final recommendations on five proposed resolutions:
- “Clarification of Mennonite Church Polity and the Role of the Membership Guidelines of MC USA,” submitted by the MC USA Executive Board
- Final recommendation: The committee recommended that this be presented for a vote by the delegates at the special in-person session May 27-30, 2022, in Kansas City, Missouri.
- “MC USA Accessibility Resolution,” submitted by Anabaptist Disabilities Network, Mennonite Health Services and four Mennonite congregations
- Final recommendation: The committee recommended that this be presented for a vote by the delegates in May 2022.
- “For Justice in the U.S. Criminal Legal System” by Zachariah Begly, Reba Place Church and Elizabeth Reimer, Lombard Mennonite Church, Lombard, Illinois
- Final recommendation: The committee recommended that this be designated as a study resolution.
- “A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation,” submitted by the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors and 30 congregations and organizations
- Final recommendation: This resolution is currently at an impasse. Guyton explained: “This resolution was submitted by the writers for a vote, but the Resolutions Committee recommended it to be studied. In good conscience, we could not continue to move forward without the participation of the writers in an education process.”
“’Repentance and Transformation’ invites MC USA to commit to the well-being of queer people through concrete actions of repair,” said Michael Crosby, pastor of First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, Urbana, Illinois, and one of the writers of the resolution. “We’re deeply disappointed that the Resolutions Committee rejected the resolution and is refusing delegates an opportunity to vote. Along with the 30+ MC USA congregations and 500+ individuals who sponsored this resolution, we are still awaiting an explanation as to why and how they came to this decision.”
- “Church Membership in Virginia Mennonite Conference and MC USA,” by Jim Hershberger, lead pastor of Mount Clinton Mennonite Church, Rockingham, Virginia
- Final recommendation: This resolution would significantly change the structure between MC USA and conferences. It would take considerable work to make these changes. Therefore, the resolution was not processed and will not move forward.
State of the Church
Guyton reported on the state of the church, saying “We’re not as big as we used to be, but we are still connected to the global family of Anabaptists…and that’s something that we should celebrate.”
He noted that revitalization was an important theme at MennoCon21, saying, “Revitalization and equipping leaders are essential for our denomination to thrive, moving into the next decade and beyond.
“Convention is one of those places where we can continue to mold and shape the next generation of church,” he said, adding that, when we join in community, it sets the tone for allowing us to be receptive to transformation by the Holy Spirit and our ability to live into MC USA’s Vision of Healing and Hope.
“We are only as strong as our leaders who inhabit our pews and our conference offices,” Guyton said. He challenged attendees to “move out of our silos to realize that we are diverse – geographically, ethnically, politically, racially and culturally – and to understand that if we fail to live into our Renewed Commitments…that we will allow ourselves to be pulled apart.” He noted that the first commitment is to “Follow Jesus.”
“And so, my agenda and my role as leader of Mennonite Church USA is Jesus,” said Guyton.
Racial ethnic and constituency group reporting
The delegates also heard reports from MC USA’s racial ethnic and constituency groups.
Constituency group reports
- Mennonite Women USA – Brooke Oyana, administrative assistant, reported on the group’s new flat leadership structure, their new annual Bible study, “Sisterhood Decalogue,” and their International Women’s Fund, which provides support for women seeking higher education.
- Mennonite Men – Steve Thomas, U.S. coordinator, reported on the success of the group’s three key initiatives: JoinMen (fellowship); JoinHands (financial support for new churches), and JoinTrees (a tree planting project with a goal of one million trees by 2030).
Racial ethnic group reporting
- African American Mennonite Association (AAMA) – Alicia Manning reported that congregations have been engaged in mission work dealing with violence among youth and also multicultural community building.
- Native Mennonite Ministries – Iris de León-Hartshorn, MC USA associate executive director, provided an update on the group’s scholarship programs for students attending college and for the treatment of persons coping with addictions, as well as the challenges related to gathering and identifying/equipping potential leaders.
- Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) – Pastor Fernando Ramos reported that 58 congregations are members of IMH. He discussed the challenges of the pandemic and the group’s partnerships with MC USA (the Grace Fund), Everence (the Chapter Grant program) and MEA (continuing education programs).
- Indonesian Mennonite Association (IMA) – Pastor Buddy Hannanto, chairman of IMA, reported on the group’s work with Mosaic Mennonite Conference to raise awareness of peace and justice initiatives in time of violence, as well as efforts to support a COVID-19 mass vaccination effort in Indonesia.
The meeting concluded with prayers of blessing for incoming Moderator Linda Dibble and Moderator-Elect Jon Carlson.
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