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Illinois pastors allowed to officiate same-sex marriages

3.9. 2020 Written By: Tim Huber, Mennonite World Review

After a same-sex wedding tested the limits of ambiguity in Illinois Mennonite Conference (IMC) policies, delegates voted to allow pastors to officiate such weddings at the conference’s annual business meeting Feb. 15 at Menno Haven Camp and Retreat Center in Tiskilwa, Illinois.

Delegates did not go so far as to approve ministerial credentialing of people in same-sex marriages, leaving one individual’s status in limbo.

According to a policy statement proposed by IMC’s Congregational Life Team and passed by a majority of delegates, the distinction between the two stances seeks “to demonstrate mutual accommodation and mutual forbearance between conflicting convictions among IMC churches in relation to same-sex marriage.” The Congregational Life Team reviews pastoral candidates for licensing and ordination.

Although nuances abound due to each conference establishing its own credentialing procedures, pastors in 10 of MC USA’s 16 conferences can perform same-sex marriages without it impacting their credential status, said Michael Danner, Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) associate executive director for church vitality and engagement, in an email. Many of those conferences will indicate such a pastor is “at variance” in their pastoral record. Four conferences currently have credentialed leaders who are openly gay and married.

Four other conferences actively enforce policies that prohibit pastors from performing same-sex marriages.

IMC’s action seeks to offer clarity after Michael Crosby, pastor of First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana, Illinois, officiated a same-sex wedding a year ago involving First Mennonite member Laura Brenneman, who had been credentialed for chaplaincy with both Illinois Mennonite Conference and Central District Conference, each of which is part of MC USA.

IMC informed the congregation after the ceremony last year that Brenneman’s credential would be suspended and Crosby’s reviewed, but never actually carried out either action.

The new policy gives congregations the freedom to discern criteria for membership and pastors leeway to officiate weddings they choose, if the congregation approves.

As for credentialing pastors and other clergy in same-sex marriages, IMC will neither revoke nor confer credentials during a one-year interim period of listening and study.

Sharing fellowship

Brenneman attended the IMC business meeting as a delegate from First Mennonite of Champaign-Urbana and read a statement during the meeting.

“The only way a person can trust I have a call to ministry, that I have been given the gifts I need and have the Spirit, is they have to know me,” she said in an interview. “That’s why I gave the statement I did. I wanted to show up and meet people….

“I wanted to be a delegate, and part of that is I am Mennonite all the way down to my bone marrow. This is who I am. I’m going to claim it. I’m going to live into it absolutely.

“That means showing up to Mennonite things and talking to other Mennonites, and we as Mennonites disagree on things. That seems just as Mennonite as everything else. I hope we can break bread together and sew and hammer together and get out there and do work.”

‘Not a surprise’

About half of IMC’s roughly 36 congregations were represented at the meeting.

Statements from First Mennonite of Champaign-Urbana and Christ Community Mennonite Church in Schaumburg, Illinois, in support of the policy were shared with conference churches ahead of the meeting, along with one in opposition from First Mennonite Church of Morton, Illinois.

“While personally disappointing, the action taken was not a surprise,” wrote Doug Roth, a delegate and board member of First Mennonite of Morton, a few days after the meeting on that church’s website. “I believe that [First Mennonite of Morton] should re-evaluate its continued relationship to IMC and possibly explore other affiliation options.”

Aaron Yoder, pastor of First Mennonite of Morton, said his church’s elder team asked him to vote against the Congregational Life Team’s proposal, and he confirmed that he and another credentialed pastor, along with four other delegates from the congregation, all voted against it.

“Beyond [Roth sharing his opinion], it’s too early for me to gauge the response of our entire congregation,” he said on Feb. 26.

Endorsed for ordination

Brenneman’s hope is for every congregation to stay in the conference. She believes diversity of congregations makes for a healthy body.

“I want to be part of a conference that sees the ways we are different as gifts, as things that can make us more vibrant,” she said.

While the credential of her pastor, who performed her wedding, is unaffected, Brenneman said IMC’s decision puts a pause on her credential. Central District reviewed her credential and found it to be in good standing.

In the meantime, her congregation has endorsed her for ordination in both conferences, and it will go forward in Central District.

“Probably I will be ordained and not ordained,” she said. “So that puts MC USA in an interesting position, and I will be intrigued to see what they do with this.”

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