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CLC hears update on membership guidelines, reports from conferences and constituency groups

10.21. 2019 Written By: Gordon Houser 1,284 read

Photo: Trinity Mennonite Church hosted the CLC meetings Oct. 17-18. Photo by Gordon Houser.

Participants in the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) of Mennonite Church USA heard plans for moving forward on addressing the denomination’s membership guidelines Oct. 17-18 at Trinity Mennonite Church in Glendale, Arizona.

At the CLC meeting in Hesston, Kansas, earlier this year, Michael Danner, MC USA associate executive director for church vitality, led a process of looking at MC USA’s membership guidelines. Out of that meeting came eight recommendations, which were refined and presented to the MC USA Executive Board. The EB looked at them and gave feedback, then asked Danner and Iris de León-Hartshorn, MC USA associate executive director for operations, to come up with a two-year process to look at this issue. Danner and de León-Hartshorn developed a proposal, but the EB decided not to act on that at the delegate assembly in July. Instead, the EB asked delegates two questions: Should we address this issue? Sixty-nine percent said they agree or strongly agree. Do you have the time and resources to work on this? Forty-three percent said they agree or strongly agree.

At the EB meeting in September in Dallas, Danner and de León-Hartshorn made a proposal to the EB, and the EB agreed to move forward.

During the CLC gathering, Danner and de León-Hartshorn said the plan is to pull together an advisory group of no more than 24 people that represent the various stakeholders in the church. They are working with facilitator Catherine Barnes. The group is to meet Nov. 15-17 for dialogue and discernment. The group represents many regions across the United States and is half female, half male, said de León-Hartshorn. What they come up with will go to the EB in January, then to the CLC in spring.

In response, Cyneatha Millsaps, executive director of Mennonite Women USA, affirmed them for taking this approach. She said she hopes people realize no one will get everything they want.

Heidi Regier Kreider, conference minister for Western District Conference, asked how this will be communicated to the broader church.

Danner said he hopes the group’s report will be made public.

Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA, noted that this is an advisory group. The EB will make the final decision to present to MC USA delegates.

Clyde Kratz, conference minister for Virginia Mennonite Conference, asked, “How do we hold with integrity the covenant we’re currently living under?”

De León-Hartshorn said, “Let’s be honest. We aren’t living under that covenant consistently at present. And that will be one of the topics discussed. If the covenant isn’t working, what does that mean?”

Danner said delegates need to deal with this because they agreed to the original guidelines, which are part of the MC USA bylaws.

“The most common comment from delegates [at MennoCon19 was] that congregations have already discerned this,” he added. “Maybe that can help the delegate discussion.”

De León-Hartshorn said, “Some of the people most affected by the guidelines are not represented in CLC.”

Guyton said we may be looking at a major shift in our policies, so we need a buy-in. Many people have no clue how MC USA works. So when a larger decision is made, we have a larger buy-in.

Sandra Montes-Martinez of Iglesia Menonita Hispana (IMH) said she’s glad for this advisory group. “We need to be careful how we handle this document because this is what holds many of us together.”

Representatives from the area conferences and the constituency groups each gave a report about their group and responded to these questions submitted to them before the meeting: What essential functions does MC USA provide to empower your ministry? What is missing? What relationships in MC USA do you find most supportive in the fulfillment of your mission? What does your constituency fight about or experience strong disagreement over, and how does this reflect the priorities of your constituency?

Many of the conferences affirmed the help they received from MC USA in helping congregations find pastors. Many mentioned the value of relationships across the denomination.

Among the desires for what is missing, Mountain States Mennonite Conference mentioned the need for guidelines or templates for job opportunities, such as being a good treasurer, and for a more humane maternity/paternity leave policy. Western District Conference mentioned more guidelines on sexual misconduct by credentialed and noncredentialled people and help with organization and governance at the conference level.

Eastern District Conference announced that it is not merging but reconciling with Franconia Conference, “giving birth to a new baby,” said Scott Roth, conference minister, though he declined to name a date.

During the IMH report, Montes-Martinez appealed for including Hispanic Mennonites: “We are already at the table. We are not distant cousins but brothers and sisters together.”

Few of those reporting wanted to use the word “fight” but acknowledged that disagreements exist. These range across a variety of issues, though the question of LGBTQ inclusion was often mentioned.

On Oct. 18, Shé Langley and Ashley Shuler of evangelism.pro led a seminar on tools for digital discipleship. Langley said, “People have not lost interest in churches; churches have failed to make themselves known.” And churches tend to communicate among themselves rather than reach outsiders.

Langley and Shuler looked at three areas of focus on mission: a church’s website, its use of social media and telling stories.

Following the meeting, a group of 20 people from CLC left for Tucson to take part in a learning tour of ministries supporting migrants.

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