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Theda Good ordained at First Mennonite Church of Denver

12.12. 2016 Written By: Gordon Houser and Hannah Heinzekehr 6,343 Times read

Photo: Mary Etta and Linford King, interim conference ministers for Mountain States Mennonite Conference, led the ordination service for Theda Good (center) on Sunday Dec. 11. Photo by Rod Stutzman. 

On Sunday, Dec. 11, in an afternoon service, Mountain States Mennonite Conference leadership ordained Theda Good for ministry at First Mennonite Church of Denver. Good is pastor of nurture and fellowship. This marks the first time an openly LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer) individual has been ordained in Mennonite Church USA.

In a talk given during the ordination service, Carol Wise, executive director of the Brethren Mennonite Council for LGBT Interests (BMC) said, “This is an amazing day for the Mennonite LGBTQ community. I feel such joy and excitement and elation in this moment. We have waited for such a long time, and it has been a struggle.”

In 2014, Good and MSMC also broke new ground when Good was licensed for ministry on Feb. 2. In response, Mennonite Church USA’s Executive Board issued a February 2014 letter, naming MSMC at variance with the denomination’s polity and Confession of Faith, which states, “We believe that God intends marriage to be a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” In June 2014, the board released a statement noting that the national conference would not recognize Good’s credential or list it in the national database unless the MC USA Delegate Assembly changed these documents. The June statement also called on MSMC to not consider a request to ordain Good unless there was a change to stated polity. (Read more about MSMC and the Executive Board’s decision making processes in this 2015 article).

Since these 2014 statements, MC USA delegates passed two resolutions at the July 2015 assembly in

A group prays for Theda Good during her ordination service. Photo by Rhoda Blough.

A group prays for Theda Good during her ordination service. Photo by Rhoda Blough.

Kansas City, Missouri: a resolution on Forbearance in the Midst of Difference and a resolution on the Status of the Membership Guidelines. While the Membership Guidelines resolution states that MC USA delegates will not consider a change to current polity documents for four years, the Forbearance resolution states, “Because God has called us to seek peace and unity as together we discern and seek wisdom on these matters, we call on all those in Mennonite Church USA to offer grace, love and forbearance toward conferences, congregations and pastors in our body who, in different ways, seek to be faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ on matters related to same-sex covenanted unions.”

Although Good’s credential will still not be listed in the national MC USA directory, Executive Director Ervin Stutzman notes that the Executive Board is stepping back from regulating area conference credentialing processes: “Our approach is to clarify our ministerial policy and also to give room for area conferences to work it out in the way that seems best in their local context. We trust that MSMC understands the national policy and has acted as they believe to be best,” he wrote in a Dec. 10 email.

Current moderator Patricia Shelly did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

In November 2015, MSMC received a request from First Mennonite Church of Denver to consider Good for ordination. According to conference moderator Karen Cox, this request set in motion a yearlong discernment process, during which MSMC sought counsel from congregations and leaders across the conference and throughout MC USA. The conference received over 100 letters of counsel, and members of the conference’s ministerial council, which leads the credentialing process, spent time praying over each of them. In August, MSMC’s leadership board and ministerial council affirmed ordaining Good by a vote of 93 percent.

“We are working to follow the Spirit of God in our midst,” said Cox. “I realize not everyone in MSMC is

Theda Good (center) stands with Rhoda Blough, former Mountain States Mennonite Conference moderator, and Karen Cox, current MSMC moderator, after her ordination on Sunday Dec. 11. Photo provided.

Theda Good (center) stands with Rhoda Blough (left), former Mountain States Mennonite Conference moderator, and Karen Cox, current MSMC moderator, after her ordination on Sunday Dec. 11. Photo provided.

on board with this, but the bylaws give the ministerial counsel the authority to discern credentialing and ordination of people.”

Speakers at the Dec. 11 service included Wise and Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship. Villegas first met Good during a worship service at the MC USA convention in Kansas City when she served him Communion. Following convention, Villegas wrote a public letter to Good, affirming her ministry, and Good responded. Following this public exchange, CHMF invited Good to come preach and lead the congregation in Communion. In May, Villegas’ own pastoral credentials were suspended by Virginia Mennonite Conference and he resigned from the Executive Board after performing a same-sex wedding ceremony.

“I wanted to be involved in Theda’s ordination to celebrate her ministry because I realize that ordination is a way of recognizing that the Holy Spirit is at work in somebody’s life and in their ministry and I’m grateful for the way MSMC and First Mennonite in Denver have already recognized Theda’s ministry and want to honor her in this way,” said Villegas in a Dec. 9 phone interview. “I’m just grateful to be a part of that recognition of what the Spirit has done, is doing and will do in her life.”

Villegas preached a sermon based on the lectionary text for the day, Mary’s Magnificat, Luke 1:46-55. Villegas used Mary’s statement “My soul magnifies the Lord” to explore the role of a minister.

“I wanted to think about how the call upon somebody’s life as a minister when they are ordained is to be invited to magnify the lord through their work in the church and the world and to point out the signs of God’s mercy in our lives,” he said.

Wise also affirmed Good’s call to ministry and ordination. “Somehow in spite of the many trials and disappointments and challenges that have presented themselves, Theda has managed to hold fast to her identity, to her faith, her compassion, her heart. She has been so patient and so gently persistent and so generous in her openness and care. Theda, you are amazing and so deserving of this moment.”

Good herself prefers to keep a low profile and wishes her ordination were not “newsworthy.”

“I think of myself as an ordinary person who has found my gifts and calling to be in pastoral ministry. I am grateful to the congregation at First Mennonite Church of Denver, who has called and affirmed me as one of their pastors,” wrote Good, in a Dec. 9 email.

Good also sees a broader stirring of God’s Spirit happening in MC USA and beyond. “Next year will mark the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, which began when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the Wittenberg Church door. The shift that event created has had a profound and lasting impact on many of our faith traditions in the Protestant as well as the Catholic Church. I believe we are in another seismic shift. What is God’s Spirit saying to the church today? What is our invitation to pay attention to in how we creatively grow in our spiritual formation for the 21st century? I believe God is still speaking.”

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6 Responses to “Theda Good ordained at First Mennonite Church of Denver”

  1. Craig and Karen Long says:

    “Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way. That Day of YHVH will not come until the apostasy occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction.” Apostasy, apostasia, apo-stasis: apo: to depart from; stasis: state of or stand. So apostasy means to depart from one’s state or one’s stand. A mass departing from the faith, obedience to the Word of the Living YHVH and departing from the state of which he created us to function in and by the truth. Because the creation comes from the Word and from the Word comes the creation, so the departure from the Word of Truth will lead to a departure from the stasis or state of being, a departure from manhood, of womanhood, of fatherhood, of motherhood, of marriage between a man and a woman for life, as YHVH intended, the Image of his creation.

    • Isaac Villegas says:

      Through baptism, we have been brought into the life of Jesus Christ, an identity that renders irrelevant your male/female construction of sexual identity. The apostle Paul taught us to no longer categorize people according to that binary: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). For Paul, these binaries no longer exist in the church, and therefore cannot be used as justifications to restrict the fellowship of the church, including the fellowship of marriage–or to restrict a person’s call to ministry. According to Paul, the gender binary of male and female dissolves in the waters of baptism. Therefore, that distinction is no longer relevant when the church decides to bless a marital union between two people or to ordain someone. If those binaries are no longer visible in the body of Christ, then we have no grounds to use someone’s sexuality as criteria for ordination. I’m grateful to be part of a church tradition that has taken seriously part of this teaching from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, namely the part about the rejection of the distinction between enslaved people and free people. Our Mennonite ancestors proclaimed this good news when they co­authored the first recorded protest against slavery in the colonies in North America in 1688. They proclaimed this good news when Mennonites ordained their first female pastor in the United States in 1911. We are rooted in this Mennonite tradition as we continue to proclaim the same good news: that discriminations based on these categories are rejected in Christ’s church, including discriminations based on the categories of male and female.

  2. Isaac Villegas says:

    Lynn, I’m sorry to hear that you are no longer part of our Mennonite church.

    • Lynn Miller says:

      “Our” Mennonite church? I get you loud and clear. I am a member of THE CHURCH, the Body of Christ. I left the Mennonite church long ago, but if I were still a member I would most definitely have to leave now under the extreme liberal leadership of Mennonite Church USA.
      The leadership and pastors can’t minister to the members if the truth of the Word is ignored, changed and dismissed. Love is honesty. We deal with sin first, by acknowledging that it is sin. I understand that the LBGTQ issues are tough. All sin is tough to overcome, and I have empathy for all of us on this journey. But if we just give up and say, “God made me this way,” we stay stuck in our rebellion against God. Pedophiles say God made them that way, so what is your approach with this sexual sin? We live in a fallen world and we are under attack by Satan. He has many crafty ways to distort our minds and bodies, but he can not change our DNA. It can never be the answer to approach an issue from a position of rejecting God’s Word.
      The way you treated Galatians 3:28 really stunned me. Paul said the Gentile is equally a child of God as the Jew. He said the slave is equally a child of God as the freeman and that the female is equally in Christ just as a male could be. It is astonishing to hear anyone say that Paul did away with male and female binaries. Paul does not have the ability or authority to dismiss this basic essential component to our humanity thatour DNA testifies to. God created us male and female and instructed us to be fruitful and multiply. Every cell in our body confirms our sex. Paul went on to give us details on the role of the male and female in the church–so obviously he did not do away with them.
      Please don’t accuse me of having a religious spirit. I am just a believer who has had her own share of sin and rebellion in my own life. I tried to justify it and even used the excuse that God surely would want me to be happy. But I ALWAYS knew I was sinning. The Holy Spirit would not let me be at peace. I tried to maintain my relationship with the Lord, but instead of reading my Bible, I read lightweight junk by lightweight so-called Christians. The Bible convicted me of my sin–so it was not pleasant to read. I had to stop what I was doing and try to make it right (which is never entirely possible after the hurt has happened). But I have done my best and the Lord has restored my relationship with him.
      I know you are deep into what you believe, but as your sister in Christ, I ask you to at least think about what I have said. We have a standard–it is not ours vs. theirs; it is God’s.

      • xmenno says:

        Lynn, thank you very much for your response to both of Isaac’s comments. I, too, am a strong supporter that God created both man and woman for each other and that marriage is only between a man and a woman and that in marriage they are one flesh in God’s eyes. Nowhere in Scripture is same-sex ‘marriage’ viewed as one flesh in the eyes of God. Satan came to Eve with the suggestion that if she would eat the forbidden fruit, she would have a better understanding of God. Satan uses the same thinking to religious leaders today that same-sex marriages reveal a better understanding of God. Dale Welty

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