Mennonite Church USA Delegate Assembly 2009
Report by Ryan Koch, Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship
July 7th, 2009
Tom, Isaac, and I arrived in Columbus on Tuesday afternoon just in time for evening worship which inaugurated the conference. A few details about the conference: all together nearly 7500 individuals attended. The total number of delegates was around 850.
Wednesday delegate sessions mainly sought to orient the delegates to the process and agenda for the week. During the afternoon the delegates were presented with an overview of the Executive Board’s work during the last two years. One of the Executive Board’s main agendas during the last two years was to find ways to consolidate the central Mennonite agencies. While the Executive Board’s desire for the creation of one new administrative board instead of four central agencies failed, still the board was able to get the agencies to commit to greater system collaboration which should provide simplification, allow for resource allocation, and create a broader web of relationships between the central agencies and the Executive Board. This consolidation financially should also save money for MC USA. One of the more interesting topics discussed during the first day was the dialogue between Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and Mennonite Church USA. In recent years, ELCA has apologized for the events which transpired in the 16th century and even altered statements within their confessions of faith. In 2010, the Lutherans will officially be asking for forgiveness. The next step will involve celebrating this new place in our relationship locally. What will it mean to accept the Lutheran’s request for forgiveness? What can be done locally to develop Mennonite-Lutheran relationships?
On Thursday, two main issues were discussed by the delegates. First, we explored what it means to formulate our American Mennonite identity while living in the midst of the most powerful and wealthiest nation on earth. In particular, the delegates discussed the importance of telling our personal Mennonite stories for the continual re-shaping of our identity. In the afternoon, the delegates discussed the new 11.5 million dollar building that will be build in Elkhart, Indiana which will serve as MC USA’s denominational logistics center. This center will cut costs and consolidate the offices currently in Newton, KS and Elkhart, IN. The Church asked us to help raise 2.3 million dollars by the end of the year to the completion of this project. Delegate support for this new facility appeared mixed at best.
Friday morning centered upon a discussion of the Corinthian Plan. For the Corinthian Plan to succeed, 80% of the 900 congregations within MC USA need to commit to the program. Currently just more than half of the congregations have reported their intentions and around 77% are planning to participate. It is important to note that the Corinthian Plan has a one time option for entering and all decisions are due by October 1st. Any employee who works for a Mennonite Church is allowed to participate within the Corinthian Plan if their churches accept to participate. I believe pastors who work 20 hours per week are eligible as well as other employees who work 30 hours a week or more. While the plan will increase costs for a number of churches, it will also help the 100 pastors who currently do not have health insurance. This doesn’t even take into account the other employees such as secretaries, janitors, etc who work 30 hours a week who are without access to healthcare. Moreover, MC USA’s commitment to the Corinthian Plan is also theological: it is a step towards greater justice for the American healthcare system.
On Friday afternoon, the youth from Stand Up joined our delegate session. Here we discussed their opinions on what it means for Mennonites’ first loyalty to be to the Kingdom of God instead of our nation. We also discussed the role of technology upon their (and all of our) generation(s). After discussing this topic with the youth, the delegates gave their attention to the need for racial healing and reconciliation among Mennonites. During this time we discussed what are the ramifications for Mennonites who have largely benefited from the genocide of Native Americans. We also discussed the denomination’s continual need to listen to and hear the voices of our racially ethnic congregations.
Saturday was primarily focused upon the presentation of three new resolutions for consideration by the delegate body. Yet before discussing these resolutions, the listening committee reaffirmed the stance presented in the open letter to the MC USA about peace-building in Palestine and Israel. It was also a commitment to following up on the initiatives presented within this letter. The first resolution was a statement against Human Trafficking prepared by Mennonite Women, MCC, and MC USA Peace and Justice. This resolution passed unanimously. The second resolution committed to working for healthcare access for all Americans. Here we committed to work with others (Christian and non Christian organizations) in hopes of bringing about the desired result. Furthermore, the resolution asked individuals to contact their congressional representatives and urge them to support legislation that would extend access to healthcare for all. This resolution passed as well.
Finally, the third resolution – a resolution on following Christ and growing together as communities even in conflict – centered on the issue of human sexuality and conference response to congregations in variance. This was the most hotly debated and dividing issue present at the delegate assembly all week. After over an hour of discussion, a resolution was passed where Mennonite Church USA committed to work together with conferences in order to provide and encourage the use of resources that will help both conferences and congregations discern their stance on human sexuality. Moreover, the resolution asks congregations to be respectful and attempt to create more healthy, safe environments as they continue the dialogue on issues of human sexuality. Personally, I am not sure if anyone felt relieved with this resolution; nevertheless, it is a commitment to continue dialogue and gain more educational resources before the next convention where it appears that this topic will be presented again. The final versions of the resolutions will be posted at http://www.mennoniteusa.org/?tabid=258. As of this report, only the resolution of human sexuality has been posted.
Finally, we learned that the 2011 convention will be held in Pittsburgh’s new convention center and that the 2013 convention will be held in Phoenix.