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Stephen Kriss is Executive Conference Minister of Franconia Mennonite Conference. Here he reflects on his experience at the recent Constituency Leaders Council meeting in Elkhart, Indiana. This piece originally ran in the March 16 edition of Intersectings.
In our commitments for credentialing as pastors within Franconia Conference we agree to giving and receiving counsel. This week I am here in Indiana as part of our process of giving and receiving counsel through Mennonite Church USA’s Constituency Leader Council (CLC).
It’s not been an easy time in Mennonite Church USA (MC USA). Three conferences have seceded from MC USA and several have lost significant membership numbers. Three conferences have moved toward credentialing gay and lesbian persons which puts them at variance with our official confessional/polity positions.
We are not alone in our turmoil as similar processes have been playing out among United Methodists, Presbyterian Church USA and the Episcopalians. Nonetheless, we are here to keep trying to work it out. At times it feels like we are at our wits end with each other.
Franconia Conference was a founding body in MC USA. We remain engaged thus far because we believe that we can do more together than we can on our own. I recognize, though, that some of us question our relationship with MC USA because of the tensions felt around our theology and practice thereof. I understand both the acts of conscience and the levels of frustration that have meant conferences have seceded and that others have landed at variance.
I believe in the kind of love that Paul wrote about that is patient, kind and enduring. As a conference, we have an enduring history. Unfortunately, it hasn’t always been marked with enduring love that has been witness of the reconciling power of Christ’s peace.
Our current exploration of a possible reconciliation process with Eastern District Conference evidences our lack of patience with one another that now is being addressed over a century later.
Randy Heacock’s story about a surprising moment of forgiveness reminds us of the sad reality that reconciliation work on an interpersonal level is still a rarity.
So I’m committed this week to sit at these tables on our behalf and to find ways to engage constructively and generatively, along with John Goshow, our conference moderator, and Mary Nitzsche, chair of our Ministerial Committee.
In these few days, for the sake of all of us, I commit to believing and hoping and seeking the Spirit’s stirring. Of continuing to live into my ordination vows of giving and receiving counsel. Whether around tables in Elkhart or at the kitchen table or the communion table, this is our invitation. It’s an invitation that endures, a recognition that love never fails and a way of living God’s great Shalom, even through day-long meetings.
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