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Photo: Marion Mennonite Church, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, was the site for the annual meeting of Franklin Mennonite Conference.
At its annual spring delegate meeting Monday April 18 at Marion Mennonite Church, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, Franklin Mennonite Conference (FMC) members voted to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA by a vote of 44 to 13. The 77 percent approval was well beyond the necessary two-thirds. The action takes effect immediately, and the conference will remain without affiliation for one year.
Franklin is the third conference to withdraw from MC USA over the course of the past year. In July 2015, North Central Mennonite Conference voted to leave MC USA, followed by Lancaster Mennonite Conference in November.
The proposal to withdraw first came from an ad hoc committee that surveyed credentialed leaders last fall. The board of FMC adopted the recommendation, and congregations began processing it last November. In a November 13 interview, Conference Minister Allen Lehman noted that movement towards condoning “noncelibate homosexuality” was a “lightning rod” for the conference.
When asked about the driving factors behind the conferences decision to leave, Moderator Ray Geigley wrote in an April 22 e-mail, “The pressure by several congregations [and] conferences in MC USA…to force acceptance of their rewriting [of] God’s creative intent and definition of marriage in order to validate sexual relationships between same-sex persons and to credential such persons into pastoral leadership roles. This is a direct violation of our agreed to ‘Confession of Faith’ and MC USA seems without authority or courage to confront such breaking of covenant with other MC USA conferences.”
In an April 19 phone interview, Lehman said he didn’t know exactly how the vote would turn out but was ready to work with either outcome. “Some congregations may want to remain in Mennonite Church USA,” he said, “and they have a year to decide that.”
According to Geigley, the conference will form a task force to explore options for future affiliation and to “seek new vision.” He noted that several conference leaders have attended events with the Evana Network and that the conference has invited Wes Furlong, director of church development for Evana, to serve as the resource person for the conference’s annual leadership retreat at Cove Valley Camp in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, this weekend.
FMC includes 14 congregations. According to Lehman, two or three may want to remain with MC USA.
“While I understand the circumstances that led to the decision by the Franklin conference to leave Mennonite Church USA, I grieve this loss,” wrote Ervin Stutzman, executive director of MC USA, in an April 20 e-mail. “I have fond affection for this group of churches, and I will miss them. I hope we find ways to stay in touch with each other.”
Terry Shue, director of leadership development for Mennonite Church USA, attended the meeting. In an April 19 phone interview, he said FMC’s process, which took about six months, was “exemplary, not a knee-jerk reaction.” Shue said he spoke after the vote about the valuable role of FMC leaders in MC USA as part of the Constituency Leaders Council. “I told them that Mennonite Church USA will miss Franklin Conference’s voice in the church,” he said.
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