By MC USA staff
(Mennonite Church USA) — At the recent Annual Gathering of South Central Mennonite Conference (SCMC), delegates voted to affirm a new church structure, including a transitional leadership team and a process to discern SCMC’s continued affiliation with Mennonite Church USA (MC USA). This comes amid MC USA’s own discernment surrounding the denomination’s Membership Guidelines.
Cathy and Howard Wagler are serving in the newly created, shared position of SCMC network director, a part-time transitional role, for one year that began September 1, 2020. Their role is “to resource, encourage and network SCMC congregations and pastors, encouraging them to identify and accomplish their vision and purpose,” according to the SCMC website. SCMC is comprised of 29 MC USA-affiliated congregations, representing approximately 2,688 members.
Howard Wagler, former pastor of Journey Mennonite Church for 27 years, also is leading the Discovery 20.21 Process Team, a group the conference has created to assess its relationship with MC USA. An introduction to SCMC’s Discovery 20.21 process cites changes in MC USA’s “theological orientation,” specifically referencing other conferences that have approved same-sex relationships as a “tipping point” for evaluating further affiliation with MC USA.”
The Discovery 20.21 process is focused on communal discernment within the conference, beginning with a survey of congregations. “This is a listening time,” said Wagler. “We want to come to the table in humility, love and holiness to allow the Holy Spirit to work within and among us.”
Other members of the Discovery 20.21 Process team are Rod Schmucker, pastor of Hope for the Broken in Los Fresnos, Texas; Clarence Rempel, regional conference minister; and Jeff Selzer, pastor of Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Hydro, Oklahoma.
The Discovery 20.21 process is expected to be completed by SCMC’s Annual Gathering in summer 2021. Wagler said the Conference will report its outcomes to the MC USA Executive Board (EB).
“I pray for the day that all of us can struggle together as the body of Christ,” said Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA. “It grieves me when groups push to disconnect. God is bigger than our issues and our fears. We continue to focus on our renewed commitments of following Jesus, witnessing to God’s peace, and helping all our brothers and sisters as they experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit.”
Ongoing MC USA discernment
Meanwhile, the MC USA EB is continuing its discernment regarding the role of the denomination’s Membership Guidelines.
“The Executive Board is actively working to provide the Delegate Assembly with the information delegates will need to make a decision regarding the role and effectiveness of the Membership Guidelines as a governance document,” said Guyton.
The EB is scheduled to meet for a virtual meeting on Sept. 11 and 12, 2020. In preparation for the abbreviated upcoming EB meeting, the EB staff worked to streamline a process for engaging the Membership Guidelines Advisory Group report, published in January 2020.
The EB Executive Committee reviewed the staff proposal and formed a focus group to provide additional feedback ahead of the board meeting. The focus group met during two consecutive weeks for a total of three hours. Focus group participants included Guyton, Executive Committee members Joy Sutter, Phil Rich, Joyce Kusuma and Linda Dibble, and EB members Leslie Francisco and Margie Mejia-Caraballo. The group also included Richard Thomas, former MC USA moderator and current board chair of Mennonite Education Agency, and Steve Kriss, executive minister of Mosaic Mennonite Conference, who were invited to provide consultative expertise specific to organizational polity and church history during the focus group meetings, according to Sutter.
Following the EB meeting, the Constituency Leaders Council will review the Membership Guidelines Advisory Group’s recommendations at its virtual meeting on October 16-17, 2020.
Ultimately, according to MC USA bylaws, it is the responsibility of the Delegate Assembly of MC USA to “discuss and decide major issues of policy for the national conference and discern the voice and the Spirit…” The next meeting of the Delegate Assembly is July 9-10, 2021.
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. mennoniteUSA.org