Large Ohio church leaves MC USA

Sep 22, 2014 by and

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Hartville Mennonite Church, one of the largest congregations in Mennonite Church USA’s Ohio Conference, voted Sept. 7 to leave the denomination.

The motion passed with 95 percent support. Pastor Ross Miller said 318 people participated in a members-only vote. Average attendance is 420.

“We felt that Mennonite Church USA and Hartville Mennonite Church were going in different directions concerning scriptural authority and holiness,” Miller said.

He said feelings that built over a number of years led to an eight-month discernment process, which included prayer, fasting, congregational meetings and outside speakers. The decision of Mountain States Mennonite Conference to license Theda Good, a pastor in a same-sex committed relationship, brought urgency to the discussion.

“We felt there needed to be church discipline, and there hasn’t been,” he said in reference to two recent developments: Ohio Conference’s failure to pass a resolution urging the denomination to discipline Mountain States, and an MC USA Executive Board statement responding to Mountain States’ action.

“We didn’t really see anything from leadership that was reversing current trends,” he said.

The congregation will seek another Anabaptist affiliation and is exploring possibilities.

“We want accountability,” Miller said. “We don’t want to be independent.”

He said the discernment process led to a sense that the congregation still strongly identifies as Anabaptist.
Miller said leaving MC USA wasn’t easy because of the historical connections and especially the friends, family and co-leaders they are leaving behind.

“What made it very difficult was the relationships,” he said. “We felt very strongly that that’s where God was calling us, but it was a very painful decision.”

Conference minister Tom Kauffman said Hartville will not officially be released from Ohio Conference until delegates approve the decision at the annual March assembly.

“We respect their wishes whenever congregations choose to leave,” he said.

Kauffman said anytime a congregation leaves, regardless of its size, it is significant.

“At Hartville, they have been gracious hosts when we’ve asked to have conference events hosted there,” he said. “And we have had a couple of individuals who are members of Hartville who have served ably in conference leadership.”

He hopes they find a meaningful affiliation.

“We do wish for them a positive discernment process as they seek to faithfully live out their calling,” he said.

Ten congregations have left MC USA since January, according to denominational minister Nancy Kauffmann, based on reports from conferences as of Sept. 19. Also this year, Clinton Frame Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., left its conference but hopes to transfer to another conference within MC USA.

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