DAWG report & upcoming Zoom
by June Miller
Denominational Work Group Report
Zoom Meeting, November 27, 2023, 7PM
Join the Conversation. Register Here
The Denominational Affiliation Work Group (DAWG) was created by Conference Council at their April 20, 2023 meeting. The members appointed were: Beth Good as co-chair, Craig Maven as co-chair, Pearl Hartman, Aaron Kauffman, Zach Dey, Juan Carlos Malvaez, Vivian Stevens Lyons, and Beryl Jantzi. The mandate from Conference Council was:
The working goals at this point are: (1) to examine the VMC/MC USA relationship for the future and bring back a proposal or proposals for CC to consider, (2) to gather information from other conferences such as Ohio and Mosaic, (3) to gather information as needed from experts in theological and legal/bylaw aspects and options available. The working group will further refine the goals and timeline.
The group first met on May 11, 2023. It was decided that the first task to undertake was contacting all the current and former MCUSA conferences that are or have examined their relationship with MCUSA. The conferences were Mosaic, LMC, Franklin, South Central, Gulf States, Southeast, and Ohio. We developed a standard list of questions to ask so all interviews would yield uniform information. The questions were:
- What prompted the conversation about the relationship with MCUSA?
- Where did that prompting originate? (Leadership, congregants, etc.)
- What were the steps in your process of discernment regarding the relationship with MCUSA? Do you have any documents relating to your process that you would be willing to share? (not minutes or details, but process-related documents)
- What did you learn about the process itself? What went well? What did not go well?
- Did you have a vote at the end of the process and if so what % of approval to realign was required? Was this a helpful part of the discernment process?
- Looking back on the outcome, was the process worth doing?
- What other advice would you have for VMC as we look at the process of determining a conference’s relationship with MCUSA?
During the Summer Delegate Assembly in July the delegates approved a resolution that stated:
The delegate assembly affirms CC’s decision to create the Denominational Affiliation Work Group (DAWG) to examine the legal and practical implications of VMC seeking to leave (the delegate body of) MC USA and asks that the Task Force bring their recommendation of decisive action forward for delegate approval by no later than VMC Summer Assembly 2024.
This added the further task of looking at the legal ramifications of leaving MCUSA.
In August DAWG developed a survey that was sent out to all the pastors of VMC church with three questions:
- Is your congregation currently considering the possibility of leaving the denomination?
- If Yes, will you be taking a congregational vote in the next 3-6 months?
- Has your congregation already made a decision to leave MCUSA?
On Tuesday, November 7, DAWG met in person for the first time (all previous meetings were on zoom). First Mennonite Richmond graciously opened their doors to us. The first part of the business was to review the major learnings from our conversations with other conference leaders. Helpful themes emerged that informed our proposal. We then spent the rest of the morning brainstorming about possibilities. These were divided into possibilities of process or outcome. We created a long list of options. Following lunch we honed in on what we think is the best way forward in our relationship with MCUSA and with each other and the processes or actions to help us get there.
What emerged in our conversation was the sense that VMC needs to reimagine itself. VMC’s struggles with the relationship with and participation in MCUSA are a reflection and outgrowth of our own internal struggles. While it might seem outside of DAWG’s mandate to propose, we are starting with the idea that VMC should recognize its center and build from there.
Proposals for Testing: Building From The Center
- Reaffirm our commitment to the Confession of Faith In A Mennonite Perspective as the teaching position of VMC. Affirm that in regards to same-gender marriage that the 2013 Statement of FLC will remain in place. And affirm VMC as a member conference of MCUSA with the provision for congregations to consider themselves not part of MCUSA to continue.
- Suspend VMC’s bylaws except for those that are necessary to pay bills and supervise staff for a two-year period. This creates the urgency to reimagine VMC. Who is God calling us to be (identity)? What is God calling us to do (purpose and mission)? This levels the playing field because the old power structures are immediately removed, allowing new voices to be heard. As we reimagine VMC we can redefine our relationship with MCUSA to fit who we are becoming.
A Final Note
We are working further on any legal ramifications should Virginia Conference leave MCUSA. Currently VMC operates under MCUSA’s tax exempt status. Also, VMC’s corporate status is uncertain. Neither of these are difficult obstacles to deal with. It does appear that the IRS is changing its rules regarding tax-exempt status and may not be accepting new group applications. Further research will need to be done.
Members of the Denominational Affiliation Work Group see our work as not yet complete. We expect there to be changes and refinements to our proposals. Feedback from VMC delegates and interested parties is welcome.
Contact Craig Maven, DAWG chair, at [email protected].