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MC USA plans for Future Church Summit in Orlando

2.6. 2017 Written By: Janie Beck Kreider, MC USA 1,521 read

Photo: Future Church Summit Design Team members, pictured left to right: Terry Shue, Isaac Villegas, Luke Gascho and Chantelle Todman Moore, discuss the future of Mennonite Church USA using the World Cafe method of collaborative dialogue. Photo by Janie Beck Kreider.

“I feel we have lost our vision, and it needs to be reignited. I came to this church to be part of a different narrative–a counter-cultural, anti-Christendom movement that follows a radical Jesus. The first Anabaptists chose to be radical–not assimilated to culture or the spirit of the age. We need to go back to the beginning–our radical reformation theology–and reignite an Anabaptist vision in our own context.” —Hyun Hur, co-founder and director of ReconciliAsian in Pasadena, California, speaking at the first planning meeting for the upcoming Future Church Summit, a gathering to imagine an Anabaptist future for Mennonite Church USA

Twelve people representing diversity across the denomination came together in Orlando, Florida, Jan. 9-11 to design a process for Mennonite Church USA to forge a path into the future. Under the guidance of consultant Catherine Barnes of Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding, Harrisonburg, Virginia, the Design Team set plans in motion for a generative, open space for denomination-wide conversation—the Future Church Summit—to dream together, reset priorities and engage one another in answering the question: How will we follow Jesus as Anabaptists in the 21st century?

The Future Church Summit will be held July 6-8 during Mennonite Church USA’s 2017 convention in Orlando. After a truncated, four-hour Delegate Assembly session for essential business, including the consideration of a revised resolution on Israel-Palestine that was tabled by delegates in Kansas City in 2015, approximately 300 additional people will join the official delegate body for the Future Church Summit.

The summit will include generating a timeline of key events, turning points and developments in the Mennonite Church to name and reflect on the denomination’s historical legacies, taking stock of where the church is now and the direction it is heading. Conversation at table groups will include appreciative inquiry interviews and the World Café model of collaborative dialogue. Additionally, the summit will include a time for “speed networking” interviews with participants at the convention, with a special emphasis on gathering input from youth and young adults. Trained teams will be equipped to listen and gather input from table groups, synthesizing ideas to report back to the plenary. These “Theme Teams” will include artists working in various media, including poetry, music and visual art, to generate responses to the ideas and themes as they emerge.

Talks about the new process began in fall 2016, when Glen Guyton, chief operating officer and director of Convention Planning for Mennonite Church USA, presented a proposal to the Constituency Leaders Council and Executive Board.

“It has become clear that we can no longer do business-as-usual; something needs to change,” Guyton said. “Somewhere between the formation of Mennonite Church USA and now, we have forgotten how to talk to each other. Trust in the institution has eroded. The Future Church Summit is an opportunity to take a risk and see where we go from here. Hopefully we can start to rebuild trust in the denomination.”

The summit at Orlando will be the first step in an ongoing process that will continue through the next biennium. Denominational leaders and institutions—including all the churchwide agencies, Executive Board and staff—will use the vision generated at the summit to reshape denominational priorities and restructure their work.

The Design Team is hopeful that the summit will lead to:

  • A deeper capacity to listen to each other across our diversity, helping to strengthen our ability to live together within our church and in the wider world.
  • A pathway toward greater trust and meaningful relationships, which will enable us to develop greater resilience and ability to act together as we follow Jesus.
  • An emergent understanding of what it means to be a church together. This will be rooted in our shared and different understandings of our history together and the legacies it has created.
  • Relevance and application at all levels of the church – that the summit will not be “yet another process,” and that the outcomes set priorities that guide denominational, conference and congregational leaders.
  • Deep engagement in what it means to be Anabaptist-Mennonite in the 21st century, including what it means to be a peace church and how we understand our evangelism.

The Design Team is energized by the thought that there are no set answers to any of the questions

Design Team members generate a historical timeline of key events, decisions and turning points in Mennonite Church USA. Pictured left-right: Luke Gascho, Ken Burkholder, Terry Shue, Michelle Armster, Isaac Villegas, Catherine Barnes and Chantelle Todman Moore. Photo by Janie Beck Kreider.

participants will be exploring at the summit and that the values, ideas and priorities that come out will emerge from the group as a whole. The anticipated outcome will be a document that brings together the convergent ideas and priorities that emerge through the process, with all participants expressing their personal preferences through interactive polling technology.

Immediately following the summit on Saturday, the Delegate Assembly will convene for an opportunity to officially affirm the outcomes of the process. The affirmation by delegates will be essential for the process moving forward, specifically directing the priorities of the Executive Board.

“It is our hope that both the emergent understandings and the ideas and priorities generated through the summit will be given weight by Mennonite Church USA leadership, agencies, organizations, conferences and congregations in myriad ways,” Barnes said. “This gathering and the outcomes created will need to be carried forward in multiple layers to give it life beyond the Orlando convention.”

The Design Team and convention staff are working at intentional efforts to ensure the summit is as representative and inclusive of the diversity throughout the denomination as possible. All registered delegates—representatives from Mennonite congregations, area conferences and Racial/Ethnic groups across the country—will automatically serve as participants in the summit. As participants in both the Delegate Assembly and the Future Church Summit, delegates at Orlando will have an especially important role to play in forging the future of the church.

Additional participants in the summit will go through a separate registration process, and must be nominated by an entity connected to Mennonite Church USA. For more information about how to participate in the summit, go to http://convention.mennoniteusa.org/future-church-summit/.

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8 Responses to “MC USA plans for Future Church Summit in Orlando”

  1. Wayne Steffen says:

    It would be helpful if the leaders of MC USA would commit to use the fruits of this process, or some other process of the leaders’ choosing, to make decisions moving forward. The article states, “Denominational leaders and institutions—including all the churchwide agencies, Executive Board and staff—will use the vision generated at the summit to reshape denominational priorities and restructure their work,” but that assertion is not credited to a source. Consultant Catherine Barnes is later quoted as saying, “It is our hope that both the emergent understandings and the ideas and priorities generated through the summit will be given weight by Mennonite Church USA leadership, agencies, organizations, conferences and congregations in myriad ways.” Granted we don’t know what recommendations will come out of the summit, so it might seem foolish to agree to anything. But if they are merely recommendations, they can be watered down or ignored entirely. At some point we need to have the courage to risk the foolishness and say that we will change and this is how.

    • GUYTON says:

      Wayne, I believe the leaders are committed, but execution is always the most challenging part. Also MC USA is made up of multiple layers and places of authority. It is not just the Executive Board staff. The quote comes from the design team and has been approved by the Governance Council, the group that approved the process.–Glen Guyton

  2. Jake says:

    I’d like to point out that the Israel/Palestine resolution was not simply “tabled” at the convention in Kansas City. Feedback was collected for the resolution to be revised, and a call was issued to a period of prayer and learning about this issue. We are still in this period, and I hope people are being faithful to the call. I am interested to hear about what people have learned since 2015. Jake Janzen

  3. I would feel much better about a “Summit” plan designed and implemented by the owners of our church: area conferences. Instead, we have a plan developed by an ad hoc team. Of course, every convention is planned in such a fashion, but then not every convention pretends to be a “Summit.” And not every convention planning process dilutes the authority of the delegates via an undisclosed “diversity” selection process adding 300 carefully chosen people to the delegates’ process of deliberation.
    I hope the planners have been paying close attention to our national political scene, where identity politics has succeeded only in creating more identity politics, never community.
    Who will have authority to select the extra participants in this Orlando hothouse conversation? Obviously, only the owners of our church have that authority, but somehow, that’s not where I sense this is going.

    • GUYTON says:

      Barry, the Summit is made up of church owners. The agenda flow and logistics were designed by an ad hoc team. In March, the members of CLC will test that design, and adjustments will be made. Check out the info page for the Future Church summit. http://convention.mennoniteusa.org/future-church-summit/ Remember 70% of the people are selected by conference and congregations. The remaining 30% will come from a variety of MC USA agencies and organizations. We are looking at over 19 demographic areas to make up the 30%. It is not identity politics but trying to be representative of the work and people who are MC USA. The Summit is one step in a process that has to involve our conferences working with the outcomes.–Glen Guyton

      • Glen, I’m an owner of my congregation, my congregation is an owner of the conference in which it holds membership, that conference is an owner of MC USA. That’s all pretty clear by now (or at least I thought it was).
        Out of respect for how MC USA was put together (i.e., who the owners are) and recognizing the downward spiral the denomination is in, I suggest we can go forward with confidence only through a simple and straightforward recovenanting process among the conferences.
        The plan for the Summit does not respect how MC USA was put together and thus is unlikely to restore confidence in MC USA.

        • John Gingrich says:

          Berry, what good would a “recovenanting process” be? After the first “marriage” in 2009, it was said over and over that some of the conferences told their people to not worry about the Membership Guidelines because they only had to say they agreed to them to get the conservative conferences to join. The original covenant “vows” were not taken seriously. Why do you think a “recovenant” would be any different? The current strategy is to hope everyone can accept an “open covenant” in a desperate attempt to somehow save this marriage. MC USA, like Canada, has decided that relationships are more important than doctrine, and in my opinion that will fail. A relationship and covenant that is not built on shared beliefs and trust is not in truth a relationship. Any vision or priorities or “recovenantlng” that might come out of the Orlando Summit are only significant if the leadership of the conferences go back home and abide by them, and the track record of that happening is not very good.

        • GUYTON says:

          Berry, if you can put together a plan to restore confidence and rally the owners, I won’t fight you. I will join hands with you. But the status quo will not get us anywhere. I hope to see you in Orlando, or I look forward to working with anyone who helps the people of this denomination live out their call. But everyone who is part of this process is a member of a congregation and conference. I am not sure who is being dishonored, and feedback from conference leaders was sought very early in the process. I promise you, no one came forward with a better plan if they had one.

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