New group to offer alternative to MC USA

Ohio meeting plans for a network emphasizing evangelism, accountability

Jan 23, 2015 by and

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HARTVILLE, Ohio — A new Anabaptist network of churches that expects to attract some who leave Mennonite Church USA plans to launch in the fall, organizers announced during a consultation Jan. 16-17 at Hartville Mennonite Church.

From left, Matthew Williams, pastor of South Union Mennonite Church in West Liberty, Ohio; Nehemiah Chigoji, pastor of Upland (Calif.) Peace Church; Sanford Yoder, pastor of Asheville (N.C.) Mennonite Church; and Allen Lehman, Franklin Mennonite Conference minister of Chambersburg, Pa., take part in a time of anointing at the “Reimagining New Life Together” consultation in Hartville, Ohio. — Kelli Yoder/MWR

From left, Matthew Williams, pastor of South Union Mennonite Church in West Liberty, Ohio; Nehemiah Chigoji, pastor of Upland (Calif.) Peace Church; Sanford Yoder, pastor of Asheville (N.C.) Mennonite Church; and Allen Lehman, Franklin Mennonite Conference minister of Chambersburg, Pa., take part in a time of anointing at the “Reimagining New Life Together” consultation in Hartville, Ohio. — Kelli Yoder/MWR

The event, “Reimagining New Life Together,” attracted about 170 people, largely former or current members of MC USA from Ohio, Indiana-Michigan, Lancaster, South Central, Franklin and New York conferences, among others.

Participants discussed a working document of the new entity’s vision, values and core commitments. They explored what the group might look like in regard to structure, authority, accountability, theological unity, evangelism and the role of women, among other things.

“I don’t think it is unreasonable to think that there may be at least 100 congregations or more that decide to become a part of the new network over the course of the next year,” said Matt Hamsher, a member of the consultation’s steering committee, in an email after the meeting.

“We don’t see ourselves as a small splinter group but as a group that can articulate deeply felt beliefs and a vision that will resonate with a large number of congregations.”

Lloyd Hoover, a member of the event’s listening committee and a bishop/overseer in Lancaster Conference, announced the anticipated launch.

“We have a mandate that calls for a courageous people, a radical people to carry forth what Jesus has put in front of us as a great commission, . . . a mandate for creating a church home where individuals can live out what they sense is their call to faithfulness in carrying forth this message,” he said.

The group is still developing a name.

Voice for renewal

People interested in forming an alternative to MC USA began talking last year after Mountain States Mennonite Conference licensed Theda Good, a lesbian pastor at First Mennonite Church in Denver, according to Hamsher, the pastor of Longenecker Mennonite Church in Winesburg.

Differences within MC USA over authority, membership guidelines and sexuality had been surfacing for a while, Ham­sher said. Good’s licensing clarified some of those differences.

Eastern Mennonite University’s re-examination of its hiring policy that prohibits hiring people in same-sex relationships sparked more conversation.

“Lacking a clear path forward [in MC USA] led a lot of people to say, ‘OK, where is the hope for renewal within the church?’ ” Hamsher said.

A desire for renewal led them to Anabaptist Renewal Circles, a group that emerged from within MC USA after the 2011 convention in Pittsburgh out of concern for the church’s spiritual health.

“We sense that we have some common understanding, some common goals,” Hamsher said.

Many met for the first time while networking at ARC’s first national conference in July.

Those interested in forming a new church asked for ARC’s help in convening a consultation.

Sunoko Lin, an ARC leader who was on the consultation’s steering committee, said ARC facilitated the weekend but will remain a movement within MC USA and won’t be officially involved with the new church.

“When [the new group] shared their inspiration, their dreams, their hopes, it connected well with the purpose of ARC,” said Lin, pastor of Maranatha Christian Fellowship in Northridge, Calif. ARC supports spiritual renewal with a mission focus, so this was a way to help with “new life emerging,” Lin said.

“My hope is for them to flourish and be the vessel of God’s word,” he said.

ARC invited three speakers who addressed spiritual renewal and mission, in between table conversations: Wesley Furlong, lead pastor at Cape Christian Fellowship in Cape Coral, Fla.; Bishop Leslie Francisco, pastor of Calvary Community Church in Hampton, Va.; and Howard Wag­ler, lead pastor of Journey Mennonite Church in Kansas, with locations in South Hutchinson, Yoder and McPherson.

Keep in touch

MC USA executive director Ervin Stutzman offered a brief blessing.

“I lament that Mennonite Church USA cannot be all that we want it to be for all of us,” he said. But he noted there are “hundreds of people in Mennonite Church USA who left other fellowships because those fellowships weren’t for them.”

Whether they leave or stay, all should keep in touch with each other, Stutzman said.

“I bless you to be in renewal in ways that keep building those bridges so we go back and forth and see what God is doing with each other,” he said.

Hamsher said that’s what he hopes for the new network.

“We would like to set a tone that would follow Ervin’s modeling for us the way to continue relationships, even if it’s not the relationships that are inhabited by official structure,” he said.

Still Anabaptist

Hamsher, who facilitated the table discussions, said a big question was how the new network’s polity, or governance, would differ from MC USA’s.

The network’s working document includes vision and identity statements, four values and eight common commitments.

The four values include obedience to God, faithfulness to Jesus, transformation through the Holy Spirit and “embodiment of the Anabaptist tradition in our contemporary context.”

The first commitment says the 1995 Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective, which MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada use, “serves as a description of our common belief and practice and as a standard for accountability.”

Hamsher sees differences in how the new network of churches will live out the Confession in contrast to MC USA.

“One big difference would be looking for clarity in polity and common understanding in where authority lies and how it can and should be exercised,” he said.

The group plans to use significant financial resources for mission and church planting.

“There has not been a desire to leave Anabaptism or to lose our Anabaptist identity,” Hamsher said. “We had questions about how well that word communicates to those around us, but we are committed to be in that tradition.”

Nancy Rodriguez-Lora left the consultation feeling excited. She attended on behalf of the congregation she pastors, True Vine Tabernacle in Elkhart, Ind.

“I feel like there’s some things to pray about and think about. Nothing’s going to be perfect,” she said. “But I feel a leading of the Holy Spirit.”

She will bring her observations back to her congregation’s leaders. The church will wait to decide whether to leave MC USA until after the delegate assembly in Kansas City in July.

But she doesn’t have much hope for major change. Without change, she said, “we’re probably going to fold with this new structure.”

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  • John M Troyer

    I think it’s important to clarify that this new network is both an alternative and a complement to MCUSA and the headline is misleading. There is an interest from congregations both inside and outside MCUSA and some have indicated no desire to leave at this time. With the trend in MCUSA toward a strong congregational polity and focus on being together because of a shared history, it is becoming more of a “family home” rather than a “spiritual home” for some people. This new network takes this perceived deficiency at face value and provides the spiritual home that is desired without a need to cut ties with the existing denomination.

  • Charlie Kraybill

    Renewal schmenewal. These folks are setting themselves up to be viewed as the holy remnant of pure Mennonitism (or Anabaptism, or whatever), implying that those who favor inclusion are backsliders and laxitarians. The Mennonite “renewal” crowd (who themselves are peddlers of foreign influences in the church, namely neo-pentecostalism) may think they have a special pipeline to the Holy Spirit. But to some of us observers, their displays of public piety are nothing more than psycho-emotional self-delusion. Here’s the ironic thing: it’s only a matter of time until this new breakaway group of “pure” Mennonites will have to face the question of what to do about gay persons within its own ranks.

    • Dale Welty

      Charlie, perhaps your comments would also apply to Menno Simons when he departed from the Catholic faith. Dale Welty

      • PGregory Springer

        Dale, keep in mind are talking about people here, not methods of baptism or worship. The new group is simply a way of keeping certain kinds of people out of fellowship.

    • Dawn Good

      Charlie, I’ve read many of your posts these past few months. Somehow you equate disagreement with hatred, as if individuals & churches who do not accept homosexual activity are hateful and spiteful people. One can disagree and not hate.

      I agree there are people on Earth who hate people who are gay. The majority of Christians I know who believe homosexual activity is a sin, DO NOT hate anyone, not even a homosexual person – practicing or celibate. I believe this to be true of most Christians who believe homosexual activity is a sin.

      You’ve posted so much negativity, criticism, and spitefulness, what is in your heart and in your spirit?

      • PGregory Springer

        Dawn, I know both you and Charlie. I agree with Charlie. You say you do not hate gay people, but whatever you want to call it, when you deny equality to a group of people simply because they are not like yourself, it is bigotry and history will recognize it as hate, even if you don’t.

      • Charlie Kraybill

        Dawn, your belief that “homosexuality” is sin is itself a sin. The prejudice that causes you to want to exclude gay persons from the church is no different than the prejudice that kept whites from admitting blacks into the church, because “race mixing” is sin, they said. And they had the Bible verses to prove it. What is in your heart, and your spirit, Dawn? Are you going to follow some out-of-context proof-texts, or are you going to follow your God-given conscience and the reasoning powers She gave you?

        • Conrad Ermle

          Charlie. Charlie. Charlie. What is wrong with you. You are equating the black struggle with the gay struggle. I am black and I am a Mennonite, a veteran of the civil rights movement. I walked with King. And for your information, I voted for Obama (twice). You do not speak for black people. The black struggle and the gay struggle have nothing in common. — Conrad Ermle

          • Conrad, you don’t believe the struggle for civil rights for African-Americans and the struggle for civil rights for gay persons have anything in common? Really? I couldn’t disagree with you more.

          • Johnny Stoll

            Charlie, have gays been denied access to “straight’ drinking fountains and restrooms? Have they been literally lynched, hanged, dragged to death behind trucks, jerked from their native lands and sold like common animals? The slightest whimper of speculated mistreatment or injustice from the gay community sparks a media frenzy and cries of homophobia and discrimination. Let it go!

          • Charlie Kraybill

            Johnny, the ignorance of your response is astounding. If you’re not aware of the history of persecution, oppression, and yes lynchings of gay persons throughout history, including U.S. history, then I can only assume you live in a place where maintaining an ignorant state of mind is considered a virtue, like Alabama, or rural Virginia, or Lancaster County.

          • Johnny Stoll

            The fact that you can’t respond without insults is astounding as well. Whatever atrocities were committed against gays throughout history are deplorable but you seriously can’t be that uninformed regarding the history of the black slave trade. Conrad is right. There’s no comparison but if you chose that mindset, I can’t stop you.

          • James Regier

            Johnny, this “Let it go!” argument demonstrates woeful ignorance, not to mention appalling lack of compassion and breathtaking arrogance. It takes but a brief search to reveal:

            Many who have been murdered or beaten because of their non-hetero orientation.
            Many more who have been bullied and shamed to the point of suicide because of non-hetero orientation.
            Many more driven from families (often by their own families) because they were not heterosexual.
            Countless people who have been wrecked for life in misguided attempts to change their orientation.
            Scores of GLBTQ people who have been refused services because of their orientation. (And it’s not just flowers or wedding services. A pediatrician in Michigan just rejected a child from treatment because her parents are lesbians.)

            The suffering is real and devastating. Choosing to argue that the very real suffering of one marginalized group is not real because it is not exactly the same as that of another is choosing to engage in a gruesome act of rationalization for inhuman treatment.

          • Kelli Yoder

            Three comments here have been removed: one by a commenter who withdrew a comment and I (as moderator) removed two responses to the comment that was withdrawn.

        • Dawn Good

          I assure you that my post was out of my God given conscience. Since I did not quote any “out-of-context proof-text” I don’t know for certain what you refer to, but am assuming you mean the Word of God. I also assure you I don’t advocate excluding ANYONE from attending church to worship and seek God.

          Using scripture to rationalize or validate homosexual activity is as out of context as using scripture to rationalize racial and gender predjudices. Misusing scripture in these ways is the false teaching Paul warned of in 1 Timothy 1: 3 – 11. Lest you think I would quote this passage out of context, I think it best that you read 1Timothy 1 for yourself and decide.

          Oh, you asked me as well what was in my heart. It is this, to grow close to God the father and His son, Jesus Christ. That and to love and serve others better. That is what is in my heart. So you know.

        • Conrad Ermle

          Surely you will agree that sex outside of marriage is sin, hetro or homo. Period. — Conrad Ermle

      • Conrad Ermle

        I guess Charlie thinks there aren’t any gays who “hate” people who don’t agree with them, or think the same way. Rubish. — Conrad Ermle

    • Stephen Johnson

      Charlie- While I understand your motivation I do not find your post particularly helpful. Both sides of this issue believe themselves to have an in with God that is missing from the “others.” Name calling and foot stamping are more likely to give offense than to change minds.

      If those who feel they can no longer worship with those who support equality for our LGBTQ brothers and sisters then MCUSA should grant them our blessing and allow them to organize as they see fit. When those who feel unwelcome in those congregations in the future look for a new home they can be welcomed back. When the issue comes to a head for the new group (and it will) MCUSA will be in a position to offer assistance and safety.

    • PGregory Springer

      Amen, Charlie.

  • Phil Schroeder

    Wow Charlie, so much for showing the love of Christ to people different from ourselves! Quite a bit of name calling there.

  • Conrad Ermle

    Here we go again. Another “fellowship”? Really? There are already far too many of these groups. Why not just one of them or try to get all them to come together into something or other? Enough is enough. — Conrad Ermle

    • Cathy Johnson

      If all of the various branches of the churches would repent of their ways that do not honor God and uphold His holiness (as He has said “be holy, for I am holy”) then we would be able to come together in unity as He intended. It is not His desire for the church to be fractured- but if that is what it takes for people to have a place that they can express true devotion to Him and live a separate lifestyle of godliness instead of taking on the sinfulness of the world then this is a good thing. This issue is nothing new. Paul addresses it below:

      2 Corinthians 6:14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness?

      15 And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?

      16 And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

      17 Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you.

      18 And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.

  • Jane G. Lehman

    A “courageous” people? This article is an attempt to put a pretty face on yet another inflexible group who splits off to be more “pure,” to form a new group where they can call the shots. It’s all about control (a less polite word for “polity”). Give this group a few years and some of them will splinter off in yet another power struggle. I am weary of this. I have seen this happen over and over re coverings, long hair, plain coats, music, flowers in the church, organs, women in leadership,and on and on. Take your toys and leave. I am done. I can’t do this any more. After nearly 68 years, I have moved into the “none” column. Jane G Lehman

    • Bruce Leichty

      I am not part of this group but I support them. Of course it is about control, as it has to be when the culture-blinded driver is pointing the car into the ditch. And yes, it is more than wearisome. However, long hair, plain coats, flowers, and musical instruments pale as issues in comparison to the normalization of same sex marriage, which is the tipping point for many in our MCUSA today. I am sorry you feel you “can’t do this any more,” but I’m scratching my head because it is not apparent what you personally are being asked to do. It’s important for us as Christians to find godly like-minded people to be in community with, and I suggest that is what the Ohio conferees are most about — agree or disagree with all their premises. Regaining control is a byproduct. So I hope when you are declaring “none” you simply mean you have despaired of finding your brothers and sisters within any camp of Mennonites (a sad but not totally unexpected development — and perhaps one you could reconsider when you are less upset?), and that you are not giving up on the Reign and Reality of God expressed (imperfectly) in some human form.

      • Jane G. Lehman

        And what if it were not really a ditch, but only seemed that way to a frightened passenger who found himself on an unfamiliar road, driven by someone he does not trust, although he has traveled with the driver and other passengers for decades. Does the fearful passenger seize the wheel and declare “I am the only one who can read the map?”

        What I cannot do any more is watch the church I love tear itself apart over the crisis du jour. And wait it out, and cling to the hope that eventually this too will pass, as it always does. And put up with endless lectures and haranguing on the same topic. Why not address the actual sins of greed, violence, and injustice?

        Interestingly, you and Phil both prove my point. The splinter group is looking for godly people who turn back to God and follow Jesus. And who gets to determine who are the godly, and who are the people actually following Jesus? Why, of course, the only people who are allowed to read the map. They are the deciders. Jane G Lehman

        • Bruce Leichty

          Huh? Who told Jane Lehman she couldn’t read the map and determine who are the godly for herself? Are you going to deny that option to Christians who have exercised it ever since the days of Jesus, even though they have disagreed about who is godly? (On good authority, I might add — look at the scathing words of Jesus about those who professed godliness in his community.) I think you are more ruffled by the direction of those professing renewal than by the act of splintering. Who indeed wielded the ax that caused the Mennonite log to splinter? Yes, we should address more than we actually do as a church the sins of greed, violence and injustice. And let’s speak about rampant drug-trafficking and human trafficking and weapons-trafficking, and economic predation (something similar to greed but not entirely the same). That is why a church’s preoccupation with sexual sins alone always has been and remains wearisome. But the fact that there are all these sins out there with very obvious and costly consequences does not mean that the church should also not address sins with less visible consequences, particularly when there is a whole movement afoot in our nation and culture to redefine sin. It’s a “both-and” proposition, with broad principles derived from Jesus and his life and teaching and less so exact directions. But let each one hew to Jesus as she or he best understands him, by means of prayer and asking for guidance of the Holy Spirit, lest obvious ditches be mistaken for passable roads in the new map to All Things Possible.

    • Phil Schroeder

      Jane, it sounds a little like you have already picked up your toys and left. If you wish to call a church’s turning back to God based on His word as an attempt to become more “pure”, then go ahead. While we will never be without sin, we have been called to leave our former life of sin when we follow Jesus. Much like the stiff necked Israelites in the old testament our churches become enamored with the world and renewal does become necessary.. Wouldn’t it be nice if the entire conference could experience this together.

      • Jane G. Lehman

        Good catch, Phil. Apparently I have left the sandbox. The difference between me and the most recent splinter group is, I am not off to build a smaller, more secure sandbox where I can be the boss and decide who is worthy. And I left my toys behind for everyone to fight over. At the moment I don’t care about sandboxes.

        As far as renewal goes, I have learned to stay far, far away from anyone who proclaims the need or search for renewal. It’s a code word used by people with an agenda, and the face of piety is a mask for the coercion which will soon become apparent to anyone who does not fall in line with the new self-proclaimed rulers. No thank you, I have no wish to experience “renewal” again. Jane Lehman

        • Phil Schroeder

          Jane, Your second paragraph is very descriptive of what others see as happening to the church at the present time. The word renewal has not been used but it appears as though there is an “agenda” by progressives to piously say that if you think that the homosexual lifestyle is sinful, then you are not loving. It should not surprise you that one movement would spawn another movement. If you belong to a civic organization and a group of members change the focus of that club, it may be disappointing, but in a church it is our devotion to and belief in our saving God that some see as being chipped away at. It should not surprise you that compromise is so difficult. This dispute has made many of us grow tired of the sandbox and desire one that we see as being faithful to our convictions.

        • Linda Rosenblum

          Jane- I really don’t see this as a push to control others. Many of the “traditionalists” see membership as a covenant between like-minded believers. Nobody was ever coerced into joining into the church, they know what the Mennonite Confession of Faith says and in my opinion, by joining the church agreed with what it says. Now some in the denomination want to change what the Confession of Faith or simply say that they agreed to our statements of faith but really didn’t mean it. That is hurtful to those who joined thinking that others covenanted equally with each other and held one another accountable to those statements. It is not about top-down control but rather each individual making a covenant with everyone else in affirming our beliefs. Linda Rosenblum

  • Johnny Stoll

    Why are we debating this? We all know where this issue is going and and that a split is inevitable. And it sure didn’t take the “Liberation” advocates long to attack. Charlie Kraybill, you know full well the ARC is a movement you have no control over and it’s bugging you. Richard L. Lindbergh’s FB post says it best. “It is unfortunate that these congregations believed that they had to leave MCUSA. It would be more honest if those who disagree with the positions of MCUSA would have decided to leave.” So those who oppose this movement, do what you expect those who don’t support inclusion to do. Let it go!

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