HARPER, Kansas (Mennonite Church USA) — South Central Mennonite Conference delegates voted to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA on July 22, 2023, during a hybrid delegate assembly, which met in person at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church, Harper, Kansas, and via Zoom. Eighty-one percent of delegates voted (64 yes votes, 15 no) to support the “Resolution Regarding the Affiliation of SCMC with MC USA,” which called for withdrawal from the denomination.
SCMC is comprised of 30 congregations, representing approximately 1,640 members, or about 3% of the overall MC USA constituency. Of the 30 congregations, 10 churches had already voted to disaffiliate from MC USA. This is significant, according to SCMC Network Chair Phil Rosenberger, who moderated the delegate assembly, because they represent about half of the constituents in SCMC. Rosenberger is pastor of Light of Life Mennonite Church in Farmington, New Mexico, which voted to withdraw from MC USA in August 2022.
The resolution reads, “After focused listening to the constituency of SCMC, it seems clear that the majority of SCMC congregations no longer find affiliation with Mennonite Church USA to be helpful, desired or consistent with our core beliefs and practices.”
This was the second vote to disaffiliate in two years. At the SCMC delegate assembly on July 24, 2021, a resolution to dissolve SCMC and leave MC USA failed to achieve the constitutionally required two-thirds majority vote.
The primary issue driving the disaffiliation was inclusion of LGBTQ persons and same-sex marriage. Speaking to delegates, Rosenberger described the conference’s year-long listening process in response to “what MC USA had done in Kansas City in May of .” The reference was to the MC USA 2022 Special Session of the Delegate Assembly, in which delegates voted to rescind the denomination’s Membership Guidelines, which prohibited pastors from performing same-sex covenant ceremonies, and to approve “A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation,” a nonbinding church statement which calls the church to repent for harm done to LGBTQ people and to broadly include LGBTQ people.
In terms of next steps, SCMC “will begin a process of dis-associating from MC USA to be completed on or before October 31, 2024,” according to the resolution. SCMC also “will facilitate the process of finding and opting into another Anabaptist/Mennonite conference, network or organization…”
“We want to lean into healing because there is hurt over the last number of years and hurt this weekend,” said Rosenberger, in a separate interview. “We intentionally have not yet begun the process of seeking another denominational affiliation because it didn’t seem appropriate,” he added.
MC USA Associate Executive Director Michael Danner, attending the delegate assembly as a guest via Zoom, told delegates. “At MC USA, it’s our desire that every congregation in South Central Mennonite Conference remain a part of MC USA. If your congregation wants to remain connected with MC USA, simply let us know, and we will walk with you and help you to form a new conference or join an existing MC USA Conference.”
According to MC USA bylaws, congregational membership in MC USA is derived through membership in the area conference.
In response to delegate questions, Danner also clarified the following points for those congregations who will be disaffiliating:
- Pastors credentialed through Mennonite Church USA will be marked as “withdrawn” effective July 22, 2023, in MennoData, the denomination’s ministerial leadership database. This is more of a formality, as pastors’ credentials are held at the conference level, and SCMC has committed to holding those credentials.
- MC USA Executive Board members, appointees and representatives who are members of an SCMC congregation that chooses to disaffiliate will no longer be able to serve in those roles.
- Congregations who are covered by MC USA’s Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3), nonprofit tax status will maintain that coverage until MC USA files its updated documentation with the Internal Revenue Service in April 2024. SCMC, which previously was covered by MC USA’s nonprofit designation, has filed an application for its own 501(c)(3) designation. Conference delegates voted to amend the SCMC constitution to reflect this, pending IRS approval.
Danner said that when conferences have voted to disaffiliate in the past, there have been congregations that wanted to remain connected with MC USA. He used the example of Southeast Mennonite Conference, the most recent conference to withdraw in 2018. Eight congregations in the conference wanted to stay connected to the denomination, and MC USA helped them form a relationship with Mosaic Mennonite Conference.
Don Weaver, a delegate from Hesston (Kansas) Mennonite Church and the only delegate to offer a statement, said, “At Hesston Mennonite Church, we want to continue to affiliate with MC USA because it allows for the wide variety of perspectives that we have across our own congregation, which we see as a strength, and it’s healthy. We grieve the time consumed and the conflict experienced over the past several years, as well as the loss that we expect that everyone will likely feel … That said, we respect that congregations are at different places. We believe that it’s important for each church to be affiliated where it enables them to spread the gospel and do the work of Christ. Our hope is that … each church will pursue the path that is best for them … we want to make sure that we give our blessing to every church on their path forward from here.”
For more information on how to remain in MC USA if your conference leaves, please see MC USA’s Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) here: https://www.mennoniteusa.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/06/How-to-remain-in-MC-USA-if-your-conference-leaves_2023_Final.pdf
Written by Camille Dager, MC USA staff.