Journey Forward and MC USA Sexual Abuse Panel results reported to Constituency Leadership Council
by Jon Trotter
The Constituency Leadership Council, together with Executive Board of MC USA, met at Dock Mennonite Academy in Lansdale, Pa., April 12-14. A highlight for me was worship time each morning, and in particular, worship with Dock Mennonite Academy students during their chapel service.
These students, leaders of the future for many denominations, shared ways God is working in their lives now, and dreams for the future. Inspiring!
Ervin Stutzman, retiring from his position as Mennonite Church USA Executive Director, gave his report centered on what makes him love his job: the people of the denomination. He shared pictures and stories of people throughout the church. On Friday evening, there was a special ceremony in honor of his faithful service. Glen Guyton is the new Executive Director, and was welcomed at the meeting.
Journey Forward, “a churchwide renewal process of engaging in scripture, storytelling and sharing how God is at work in the lives of people and congregations across MC USA”1 was presented as a process, a living movement, and a discernment tool for the church, not a new document. The writing team and staff created a website providing information and resources, distributed “Renewed Commitments” to conferences, and created a study guide available from their website.
Hope was expressed that at Kansas City 2019, inspiring stories of how this Journey is taking root in our conferences and congregations will be shared.
The Mennonite Church USA Sexual Abuse Panel, formed in October 2015, finished their work and shared their report: “Prevention and Response: Sexual Abuse and Non-Credentialed Individuals.” While they began with a particular case, they came to the realization that sexual abuse is prevalent throughout the church and prevention is the number one goal.
Congregations and conferences cannot assume that if sexual abuse happens, they can just make their way as they go. In order to be proactive, policies and procedures must be in place beforehand, and conversations must begin before there is a crisis. This includes addressing such issues from the pulpit.
The Panel calls on us to believe the victim when we are told about a situation. Their challenge for us is this: when we first hear about a situation of sexual abuse, is our first concern about the fallout for the perpetrator—their family, their job, their influence? Or is it concern for the victim?
The Council desires to make our churches places of safety by teaching and walking in the truth that we are all created in the image of God.
Iris de León-Hartshorn, Associate Executive Director for Operations; Glen Guyton, Executive Director; Leslie Francisco III, Executive Board, Zenobia Sowell-Bianchi, Executive Board; and Ervin Stutzman, former Executive Director, converse in between sessions at the Constituency Leadership Council. Photo: MC USA staff
The Executive Board asked CLC for guidance on their policy on board and staff appointments. With regard to the board’s own appointment to governance structure roles, the board makes these commitments as a matter of policy:
1. The Executive Board will exercise its leadership limited by the boundaries described by the bylaws, church statements, and policies adopted by the delegate body.
2. Because the church is a moral organization involved in discerning matters of faith and life, lifestyle factors that are inconsistent with church statements will be taken into consideration when nominees are presented to the board.
3. The board will appoint, and direct the LDC to appoint, credentialed leaders to governance roles who are in good standing with the conference that holds their credential, and non-credentialed leaders who are members in good standing in their congregations.
4. In their appointments to committee or other volunteer roles in the church, we will expect the national staff to follow the same commitments as the Executive Board.
This was discussed by CLC and voted on at tables. Affirmative results, with some revisions, led to Executive Board unanimously approving the policy.