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Allegheny and Central District conferences explore new relationship

6.27. 2017 Written By: Hannah Heinzekehr, The Mennonite 581 Times read

Allegheny Mennonite Conference and Central District Conference (CDC) are entering a process to explore the possibility of more intentional connection in the future.

At the June 22-24 annual meeting of CDC, held at Bluffton (Ohio) University, the two conferences announced the formation of a six-person Network Group that will focus on building connections and conversation between the two conferences. Four members of Allegheny Conference were present at the meetings. Representatives from the conferences will also spend time getting to know one another by attending each other’s annual sessions, worshiping with congregations and learning more about each conference’s polity and structure.

Doug Luginbill, CDC conference minister, said in a June 27 interview that there are many possible scenarios for connection the two conferences might pursue, including merging, but the groups “haven’t talked through all of those different possibilities yet.” The Network Group will meet for six months, and Allegheny leaders hope to bring a more formal recommendation to conference delegates at their Nov. 4 annual meetings.

When introducing this idea to delegates, president of the CDC board, Lisa Weaver, Madison, Wisconsin, said, “I think the beauty behind this Network Team idea is that if Allegheny discerns that they want to pursue a path forward to join officially with Central District in some way, we will all be a step ahead, for having formed some significant relationships, and for having informed ourselves to some degree about each other’s conference.”

“We hope to have some kind of a formal report together from the Network Team work,” says David Mishler, conference minister for Allegheny. “I’m not certain we’ll be in the position to make a final decision, but we hope to at least process next steps in November.”

Conversations about new models for being a conference emerged as Allegheny processed questions about its own sustainability. Mishler notes that Allegheny’s numbers have decreased significantly over the last three years. Mishler notes that some congregations left the conference in 2001, during the merger to form Mennonite Church USA, and others left in the following years due to disagreements over the inclusion of LGBTQ people in congregations. When Mishler began in July 2016, the conference included 18 congregations. Today, that number is down to 14, with another two congregations indicating the potential for withdrawal.

“There is a new spirit in Allegheny,” says Mishler. “Delegates express a sense of great loss and at the same time a readiness to move forward. We’re not exactly sure what we’re able to do together as a small group, but there is a sense of cohesiveness and enthusiasm, renewal and desire to be together to worship and see what God has for the next chapter in Allegheny.”

Allegheny leaders explored connections with five other MC USA conferences but found themselves drawn to explore further connection with CDC.

During their recent assembly, CDC delegates had an opportunity to share feedback with their conference leaders about the potential benefits and drawbacks of more formal connections between the two conferences in the future.

Members of the Network Group from Allegheny are Julie Swartzentruber, Pittsburgh Mennonite Church; Enos Tice, moderator-elect from Springs (Pennsylvania) Mennonite Church; and LeAnne Zook from Hyattsville (Maryland) Mennonite Church. Members from Central District include James Rissler, Atlanta Mennonite Fellowship; and Jane Roeschley, Mennonite Church of Normal, Illinois. CDC will appoint one additional member yet to be determined. Luginbill and Mishler will serve as conveners and ex-oficio members.

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