By MC USA Communications staff, with Sheldon C. Good of The Mennonite and Paul Schrag of Mennonite World Review
(Mennonite Church USA) — The MC USA Executive Board (EB) and Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) met for joint meetings on April 11-14 at Dock Mennonite Academy, Lansdale, Pennsylvania. Shannon Dycus led worship based on materials for Journey Forward, the two-year process of discernment growing out of the Future Church Summit held in Orlando, Florida in 2017.
The CLC heard an update on Journey Forward and got a sneak peek at the newly launched Journey Forward website and “Pathways” study guide that will be released to congregations by June 1. The study guide will encourage small groups to engage in scripture and storytelling about how the Holy Spirit is moving in their churches and communities. Input from across the church will shape worship and delegate sessions for the 2019 convention in Kansas City, Missouri.
Leaders emphasized that Journey Forward is a process, not a document, and that the “Renewed Commitments” document emerging from it does not replace earlier church statements.
Journey Forward is designed as a churchwide renewal process to guide the creation of a new strategic plan and to set priorities at all levels of the church.
Ervin Stutzman’s Farewell
Members of the MC USA Executive Board organized a retirement program and reception to recognize and thank Ervin Stutzman for his service to the denomination on Friday, April 13. Members of the public also attended. The ceremony, led by EB member Diane Zaerr Brenneman, included a slideshow displaying photos and comments collected from people across MC USA expressing gratitude, and stories shared by several people who have worked closely with Stutzman. Read more about the program here.
Stutzman’s term will end on April 30. He presented reflections on his tenure in remarks to the EB and CLC on April 12, as well as in a Menno Snapshots blog post, “Reflections on unity for MC USA.”
Sexual abuse prevention report
Anna Groff, Nancy Kauffmann and Jenny Castro, members of the Panel on Sexual Abuse Prevention, presented guidelines for MC USA congregations and organizations to respond when non-credentialed individuals are accused of sexualized violence. Other panel members include Regina Shands Stoltzfus, David Miller and Ross Erb. The panel concluded its two-year term in January 2018.
The panel created a document, titled “Prevention and Response: Sexual Abuse and Non-Credentialed Individuals,” which is currently available online and will be made widely available in print and translated into Spanish.
The presenters offered observations and recommendations for congregations, conferences and institutions in the prevention of sexualized violence and presented guidelines for response when non-credentialed individuals are accused. Read more about the presentation here.
“In the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse, we made a commitment to protect the vulnerable among us,” said Castro. “How do we protect the vulnerable? Our goal is to create a new culture that prevents sexual abuse.”
Doug Luginbill, conference minister of Central District Conference, and Shana Peachey Boshart, conference minister for Christian formation of Central Plains Conference, reported that a group of conference ministers met April 11 to discuss ministerial credentialing issues. The credentialing of LGBTQ individuals was the main topic. Three conferences — Mountain States, Central District and Allegheny — have taken a varying position from the denomination by credentialing those who are in same-sex relationships.
The group of conference ministers recognized that they all value the denominational documents that address this matter, but they interpret and carry them out differently.
These documents include the Confession of Faith, the Membership Guidelines, the delegates’ 2015 reaffirmation of the guidelines and the 2015 forbearance resolution. Further, the group stated that they respect various conferences’ discernment.
The conference ministers agreed to create a statement of understanding that denominational polity grants authority to conferences to establish credentialing criteria.
They said their time together inspired hope, trust, honesty and grace, and reminded them how much they need each other.
By a unanimous vote, the Executive Board approved a policy allowing anyone to serve in leadership roles appointed by the board if they are in good standing with their congregation or, if a credentialed person, the area conference holding the credential.
The need for clarity arose because of what moderator David Boshart called “a painful experience” last year. The board appointed a person to the Leadership Discernment Committee whom most did not know was in a same-sex relationship. After additional board members learned of the relationship, the board suspended the appointment.
In September, the board reconfirmed the appointment, but one member resigned amid the controversy. The board recognized that the lack of a policy contributed to the problem. The approved policy says “lifestyle factors . . . will be taken into consideration when nominees are presented to the board.”
Placing authority at the congregational or conference level is consistent with the board’s desire to lead by “advancing a vision rather than resolving conflicts and disagreements within and among conferences and congregations,” the policy says.
The board asked the CLC for counsel before making a decision. A poll showed CLC members about equally divided, though some wanted revisions that wouldn’t have changed the policy’s basic position. Later during an open sharing and reflection time, several CLC members expressed their disapproval about the board appointment policy as it relates to people in same-sex relationships and wished to make their concerns known.
On Friday, April 13, the EB considered a proposal calling for a merger between The Mennonite, Inc. (TM), and Mennonite World Review, Inc. (MWR), to create an independent media organization that explores “the intersection of faith, life and culture through an Anabaptist lens.” Sheldon Good, who began as executive director of TM in February 2018, invited the board into conversation and an approval process that will continue until the EB’s next meeting in August 2018, when the board will be asked to respond to the proposal.
A task force led by the chairs of each organization’s board — Barth Hague of Newton, Kansas, for TM; and John Longhurst of Winnipeg, Manitoba, for MWR — began working on the proposal in April 2017. The CEOs of each organization — Hannah Heinzekehr, executive director of TM until January 2018, and Paul Schrag, editor of MWR and publisher of MWR, Inc. — worked closely with Hague and Longhurst. They were joined on the task force by other board and staff members and later by EB member Phil Rich of Archbold, Ohio. During the EB discussion, Rich offered his endorsement of the task force’s preliminary work and expressed his support for both entities and the church.
According to the proposal, the new periodical and digital platforms would be independent, not affiliated with any denomination or conference, but would give priority to serving the members of MC USA. If approved, the new organization would begin operations in summer 2019. The new, merged print periodical and digital platforms would likely begin in 2020. Read more about the proposed merger here.
“I look forward to working with Sheldon and our respective boards to ensure we have a transition that honors our agreements and our members who contributed to The Mennonite magazine over the years,” said Glen Guyton, who will begin as MC USA’s new executive director on May 1, 2018.
“Despite significant changes in the media landscape, the members of MC USA should feel confident that our denominational staff is committed to inform and engage them in new and exciting ways as we process what this potential merger means,” Guyton continued. “We continue to hold great value in creating forums for the diverse voices of MC USA members to be heard.”
Introducing new staff
Glen Guyton, who will begin as executive director on May 1, introduced new denominational staff to the EB and CLC who will fill all open positions. New staff includes Sue Park-Hur, who began as denominational minister of Leadership Development on March 19; Michael Danner, who begins in the adjusted role of associate executive director for Church Vitality and Engagement on June 1; and Shana Peachey Boshart will begin in the expanded role of denominational minister for Faith Formation on August 1. Iris de León-Hartshorn, who has worked as the director of Transformative Peacemaking, is transitioning into the new role of associate executive director for Operations. Park-Hur will now lead Transformative Peacemaking initiatives as part of her role. Read more about the new staff here.
It was also announced that an installation will take place for Glen Guyton on Saturday, August 18, 2-4 p.m. at College Mennonite Church in Goshen, Indiana. All are invited to attend.