A call for an ecumenical Mennonite denomination

Apr 11, 2014 by

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I’m wondering if Mennonite Church USA can reframe our current anxiety over issues of sexuality into an ecumenical dialogue and partnership. Can we focus on points of convergence instead of one issue of divergence?

We have the model of partnering together since 1920 in the mission and service of Mennonite Central Committee. When I was on staff in the early 1980s we would say that MCC was the one thing all Amish and Mennonites did together along with Mennonite Disaster Service. Relief, service, peace and justice were the building blocks of this focused coalition of Anabaptist groups in North America.

Growing up in General Conference Mennonite Church and working for Central District Conference right out of college, I knew the fine balance of a congregational polity. At that time the CDC covered six states and had 60 congregations that ranged from urban to rural, large to small, liberal to conservative. We came together each year to sing, pray and celebrate our joint work in supporting missions, youth work, camp and college. We celebrated the unity we shared in our diversity. We didn’t try to fix or change one other at the congregational level. We chose to be in relationship because we could do more together than on our own.

Our local ministerium is a rich mixture of mainline Protestant, independent evangelical, Anabaptist and Catholic congregations. We agree to hold the local community as our shared parish. We partner together in community meals, the nonprofit social service agency, food banks and homeless ministries. We stay connected to the local school district and are mindful of community-wide issues and initiatives. We created an ecumenical understanding of working together on common interests. Beyond that, we respect each other’s way of worship and core beliefs.

What holds us together is our common commitment to Christ. We give witness in word and deed through an Anabaptist theology and missional ecclesiology. We seek local and global partnerships while remaining true to our core identity. We are voluntarily accountable to one another, just as we are in our congregational life together.

Serving as a pastor for seven years in Eastern District Conference, and now in Atlantic Coast Conference for 13, I long for that way of being church, especially at the mid-level of conference. It is really a form of ecumenical partnership.

A congregational polity within an ecumenical framework allows us the breathing room to be who God calls us to be while providing the vehicle for greater partnerships. The structure serves our common mission and identity, not the other way around.

I hope and pray that Mennonite Church USA can find a way forward that helps us be salt and light and a city on a hill in those communities where we live, work and worship.

Jim S. Amstutz is lead pastor of Akron (Pa.) Mennonite Church.


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