Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) has received a proposed resolution from the South Central Mennonite Conference (SCMC) Network Leadership Team that calls for the dissolution of the conference, effective July 24, 2022. SCMC’s delegate body will vote on the “Resolution for Moving Forward” at its 2021 summer assembly, to be held July 23-25 online and in-person at Whitestone Mennonite Church, Hesston, Kansas.
SCMC’s Network Leadership Team also moved to suspend the conference’s constitutional requirement of a 2/3-majority vote, lowering the threshold for approval to a simple majority. The motion calls for this action be taken prior to the vote on the resolution.
Michael Danner, MC USA’s associate executive director of Church Vitality, said, “The proposal to dissolve the conference – rather than just allowing congregations to leave – will have consequences for all pastors and congregations if it passes.” These include:
- Congregations that wish to remain in MC USA will be forced to either form a new conference and seek membership in MC USA or join an existing MC USA conference.
- Pastors will lose their MC USA credentials if their congregations do not join an existing MC USA conference or form a new one.
- Congregations who do not join an MC USA conference will lose access to MC USA’s ministerial leadership inquiry system for vetting credentialed leaders and assisting in pastoral searches.
“Our prayers are with the communities and people of SCMC,” said Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA. “The inability of the conference leadership to find a path forward centered around a common vision is problematic. As Anabaptist Christians, we embrace our radical roots centered on the life of Christ and community – not the divisions orchestrated by man. As a denomination, ‘God calls us to be followers of Jesus Christ and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to grow as communities of grace, joy and peace, so that God’s healing and hope flow through us to the world.’ [MC USA’s Vision: Healing and Hope] We are deeply invested in how this process will impact our members and pastors.”
Guyton said that the MC USA staff will do everything it can to support the congregations, pastors and members who want to remain connected to MC USA and who want to live into the denomination’s Renewed Commitments of following Jesus, witnessing to God’s peace, and experiencing the transformation of the Holy Spirit as a gathered body of believers.
“If the resolution is passed, we will maintain the credentials for SCMC pastors who wish to stay a part of MC USA for up to a year following the conference’s dissolution,” said Danner. “We also will walk alongside congregations to help them find a new conference home within the denomination or form a new conference.”
If the “Resolution for Moving Forward” does not pass, SCMC will remain a conference of MC USA. Of SCMC’s 33 congregations, 29 are MC USA-affiliated congregations, representing approximately 2,600 members.
MC USA leadership learned of the proposed resolution from Anabaptist World magazine by way of email. Conference staff later shared the resolution with Guyton and confirmed that it had been emailed to SCMC congregations during the week of May 3.
The proposed resolution follows SCMC’s Discovery 20.21 discernment process that began in August 2020. According to the resolution document, the process revealed that “some SCMC churches have become uncomfortable with SCMC’s ongoing relationship with MC USA and believe strongly that it is time for SCMC to leave MC USA, [while] other SCMC churches continue to treasure their relationship with MC USA and are unwilling to cut those ties.”
Nineteen of SCMC’s congregations (58%) participated in phase two of SCMC’s Discovery 20.21 survey, including four churches that are not a part of MC USA. Five of the participating churches commented that the timing of the discernment process presented challenges, such as the inability to gather, lower engagement due to the pandemic and an Advent-season deadline for survey responses.
“MC USA reached out to South Central Mennonite Conference throughout the discernment process to offer our assistance,” said Danner, “and we continue to engage with congregations who have invited our participation. However, we were not involved with the development of the proposed resolution and do not endorse dissolving the conference.”
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 86 countries. It has offices in Elkhart, Indiana and Newton, Kansas.