On October 13, representatives from the twenty-one conferences of Mennonite Church USA gathered at Amigo Centre, in Sturgis, Michigan.
Additionally, representatives from the Executive Board of MC USA, MC USA staff, key staff leaders from Mennonite Mission Network, Everence, and Mennonite Education Agency, as well as representatives from Constituency Groups were present.
This gathering of church leaders assembles twice annually to engage in conversation about our common life. Members from Virginia Mennonite Conference present at this gathering were Ervin Stutzman, Executive Director, Mennonite Church USA, Nichole Francisco, African-American Mennonite Association, Mauricio Chenlo, Mennonite Mission Network, Shirley Yoder Brubaker, Moderator, VMC, Barbara Moyer Lehman, CLC Representative, VMC, and Clyde G. Kratz, Executive Conference Minister, VMC.
In light of our experiences in mission and in our relationships there was a desire to acknowledge the goals and activities that helped us to achieve our plan, but also to add items to our overall plan based on our new experiences.
Secondly, church planting is an essential part of our overall mission. As various conferences and church agencies participate in planting, developing, and sustaining new missional communities, there is a desire to convene a church planting summit.
This event would enable leaders, educators and church planters the opportunity to study scripture, share stories, knowledge and concerns about church planting, and encourage continued development of this work based on our emerging knowledge.
Finally, a conversation on funding and the financial health of MC USA was held. Funding the mission of the Church is a very important part of the work of leaders. Larry Miller, president of Everence, highlighted the awareness that congregational giving is declining at the rate of 3%. At the same time, there is an increase in the development of non-profit organizations which contributes to more competition for dollars from donors.
The most emotionally laden part of the conversation was on matters of reconciliation. Ervin Stutzman provided an overview of the discernment activity surrounding the John Howard Yoder legacy.
John Howard Yoder’s legacy includes the tension between his brilliant theological and ethical ideas that have captured many a keen mind and the brokenness of his life that includes misconduct and abuse of women that has left a trail of scarred women. Chuck Neufeld, conference minister for Illinois Conference, shared a painful story of abuse involving John Howard Yoder.
As Ervin and others work at this discernment process, there is a keen awareness of the necessity of doing this type of reconciliation work on behalf of the broader church. As this work is unfolding, care is also being provided to family members of John Howard Yoder during this time of clarity.
As we engage in the mission of being the people of God new challenges emerge at various corners of the Church.
As some leaders see the leading of God’s Spirit in a particular way, their new engagements and activities contribute to uncertainty about faithfulness and appropriateness of responses from other corners of the Church. Confusion emerges not unlike the challenges Paul and Barnabas faced as they eloquently proclaimed the Good News, engaged in evangelism, and empowered people for ministry.
We hold in tension the belief that God has spoken to us in the past through scripture, experience, and community discernment which should be honored. We also believe that God can and does provide new revelation of God’s will to the people of God through our reading of scripture, activity of mission, and community discernment.
This tension that we experience between honoring God’s past revelations to us and God’s unfolding revelation to us necessitates the convening of leaders to engage in worship, hearing one another’s experiences in mission, and discerning our future life together based on our core values as a people of God. The Constituency Leaders Council represents this activity in the life of Mennonite Church USA.