Three churches leave Virginia Conference

Sexuality-related actions spark departures, discussion

Aug 4, 2014 by and

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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Three congregations formally left Mennonite Church USA’s Virginia Conference July 25 when delegates at the annual assembly passed motions to release them.

New Beginnings Church in Harrisonburg, Stuarts Draft Mennonite Church and Lambert Mennonite Church in Wymer, W.Va., requested their release as a result of recent actions within MC USA regarding sexuality.

Eastern Mennonite University’s listening process on hiring people in same-sex relationships and the licensing of Theda Good, a lesbian pastor, in Mountain States Conference sparked conversations in Virginia Conference this spring.

Conference minister Clyde Kratz called the losses “painful and disappointing.”

“We as a delegate body are saddened, and we lament the departures,” he said.

After the actions of Mountain States and EMU, he said, about 10 Virginia Conference congregations, with somewhere between 800 and 1,000 attendees total, voiced the possibility of leaving the conference.

“If the denomination remains clear and committed to the Confession [of Faith], we have a greater sense of keeping the congregations that are here,” Kratz said.

Two of the three departed congregations were part of the conference for more than 90 years.

Lambert Mennonite Church joined the conference in 1913 and, as a result of the year’s events, changed its name to Lambert Community Church.

“[They] said in some ways the word Mennonite has lost its value for them and they can’t carry forward by fellowship or by name,” Kratz said. “And that’s hard because it’s a congregation that’s been connected with us for more than 100 years.”

Stuarts Draft joined the conference in 1920. The congregation’s issues with the Confession of Faith began earlier.

“There has been a growing knowledge that the theological differences they were reasserting were probably more aligned with a previous Confession [from] 1963,” Kratz said. They see the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

“That’s not the language in the [1995] Confession,” Kratz said.

Released with regret

Before passing a motion to release the congregations, delegates amended the wording to include that the congregations’ release would be made “with regret” and to specify the congregations as the initiators of the departures.

Kratz hopes no more congregations will depart.

“We are working very hard to reassure pastors across the board that we are committed to the teaching position of the church that is stated in the Confession, and the conference has not made a decision to change that,” Kratz said. “Until there would be a discernment at the denomination or conference level, they can count on us upholding that.”

The theme of the assembly, which took place July 24-26 at Trinity Presbyterian Church in Charlottesville, was “Making Disciples as We Go.”

Registration was higher than normal and was cut off on July 4 due to lack of space. More than 220 registered, 152 as delegates.

In his report to the delegates, Kratz highlighted efforts the conference has under way to refocus its spirit, vision and mission.

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