After 10 years, Allegheny reinstates Hyattsville church

Three congregations leave the conference

Mar 11, 2015 by and

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In a 72-70 vote on March 7, Mennonite Church USA’s Allegheny Mennonite Conference reinstated Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church as a full, voting member.

Allegheny Mennonite Conference reinstated Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church as a full, voting member on March 7. — Jake Short

Allegheny Mennonite Conference reinstated Hyattsville (Md.) Mennonite Church as a full, voting member on March 7. — Jake Short

The congregation, which takes an affirming stance toward gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, had been a nonvoting member for 10 years.

Conference minister Donna Mast said the reaction to the vote at Springs (Pa.) Mennonite Church was “soberness.”

“There are no winners in a decision like this,” she said. “There is deep awareness of our brokenness when we are so very divided.”

After the vote, Red Run Mennonite Church in Grantsville, Md., submitted a letter of withdrawal from Allegheny Conference.

Two other congregations left earlier, over disagreement with the conference’s direction, Mast said. Glade Mennonite Church in Accident, Md., voted to withdraw in January, and Gortner Union Church in Oakland, Md., announced its departure in a February letter.

“No one wants to say goodbye to congregations that have been a part of us for so many years,” Mast said. She anticipates more departures.

In 2005, delegates moved Hyattsville to nonvoting participant status by a vote of 90-49. Hyattsville has accepted gay and lesbian members since 1986. The discipline process began after Hyattsville sent a gay man as a delegate to an annual meeting.

The 2005 vote found Hyatts­ville to be inconsistent with MC USA’s Membership Guidelines, which affirm the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective article stating marriage is between a man and a woman.

This year’s resolution, which reinstates Hyattsville, says the conference “is willing to live together with theological disagreements” using the Confession as a “guiding document, not a disciplinary document.”

If the resolution to reinstate Hyattsville had not passed, the delegates next would have considered a resolution to remove Hyattsville “and other congregations at variance with the membership guidelines for which Hyattsville was sanctioned.”

Is it reconciliation?

Cynthia Lapp, Hyattsville’s pastor, said she felt “a collective gasp” when the vote was announced.

“I had no idea it would be that close,” Lapp said. “It’s hard for me to get very excited about it. It’s nice to be full members again, but it doesn’t feel like a full welcome.”

Hyattsville has sent nonvoting representatives to conference and denomination delegate sessions for the past 10 years.

Lapp said Hyattsville appreciated the chance to vote and send delegates to the national convention in Kansas City in July. Yet the change doesn’t feel like healing has taken place.

“Is what happened on Saturday reconciliation?” Lapp asked, wondering especially about the congregations that left. “It doesn’t really feel like it to me.”

She said it is painful to think “half the conference doesn’t want us there.”

But she said as far as the congregation’s day-to-day life, not much should change: “We want to keep moving forward in love as we’ve been trying to do for the past 10 years.”

Mast said a faithful congregation has been welcomed back.

“They are a vibrant congregation with worship that honors God, attitudes that demonstrate the love of Jesus,” she said. “They study Scriptures together; they desire God’s best for the church.”

Restructuring

The conference is looking at the possibility of restructuring. Mast said it has been drawing on reserve funds for several years. The loss of congregations adds to this concern.

“We know this cannot continue,” she said. “We will need to face these [financial] realities, but we don’t yet know exactly how we will be facing them, only that we will face them.”

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