South Central Conference offers short-term home

MC USA region provides a haven beyond its geography

Jul 4, 2016 by and

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South Central Mennonite Conference has more than 30 congregations or church plants in Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Texas and even Mexico. So why would a congregation from northern Indiana want to be part of it?

Delegates get to know each other around tables at South Central Conference’s June 12-14, 2015, annual assembly at Bethel Mennonite Church in Inman, Kan. During last year’s assembly, delegates accepted into membership New Hope Fellowship in Perryton, Texas, transferring from Mountain States Mennonite Conference; and Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., transferring from Indiana-Michigan Conference. — South Central Conference

Delegates get to know each other around tables at South Central Conference’s June 12-14, 2015, annual assembly at Bethel Mennonite Church in Inman, Kan. During last year’s assembly, delegates accepted into membership New Hope Fellowship in Perryton, Texas, transferring from Mountain States Mennonite Conference; and Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., transferring from Indiana-Michigan Conference. — South Central Conference

For Pleasant View Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., the reason was SCC’s offer of a home after leaving Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference.

Tyler Hartford, pastor of Pleasant View, said his congregation had been discerning its relationship to Mennonite Church USA. He saw a statement issued in March 2014 by SCC welcoming congregations to consider short-term conference membership while discerning their long-term affiliation.

“The current reality is that a number of Mennonite churches have left their conferences or are in the process of leaving and seeking to find a conference or network that fits their values and commitments,” the statement reads. “The leadership of South Central Mennonite Conference has decided, with the encouragement of Terry Shue, Mennonite Church USA denominational minister, to be open to helping these congregations maintain some relationship to the larger Anabaptist Mennonite church tradition rather than become independent congregations.”

Pleasant View began the process of transferring its affiliation from Indiana-Michigan Conference to SCC in 2015.

“The thought of leaving Mennonite Church USA was a difficult process for us,” Hartford said. “We’re still very Anabaptist in identity. We’re wanting to engage the community with the gospel in ways that don’t always feel like ‘the quiet in the land.’ ”

The congregation later joined the newly formed Evana Network, an evangelical Anabaptist group with a focus on mission.

“There was a real affinity with South Central,” Hartford said. “Their emphasis on church planting and revitalization was attractive to us.”

A renewal identity?

SCC moderator Gary Wolfer said several congregations had transferred their affiliation from other conferences to SCC after feeling that their concerns regarding same-sex marriage weren’t always appreciated.

“Most of the ones we’ve had — except for Tyler’s congregation — are right in our backyard,” he said.

According to the conference’s 2015 annual report, the 2014 statement was issued in response to discussions that would later lead to the formation of Evana, as well as conversations among the Anabaptist Renewal Circles movement, which is focused on spiritual renewal in MC USA.

“If you look at what’s been happening in the Mennonite Church over the last few years, we’ve been spending a lot of time on an issue which is very divisive and has taken huge amounts of time from doing anything else,” said Wolfer, referring to the debate on the morality of same-sex marriage. “We’ve taken the approach that God’s in control, and we have ministry to do. We’re going to do that ministry instead of arguing and getting upset about things happening in MC USA.”

Journey Mennonite Church in South Hutchinson, Kan., where Wolfer attends, is hosting the Anabaptist Renewal Circles annual conference July 28-30.

“Churches often spend time looking inward, and people look at church as a place they go to get things,” Wolfer said. “The ARC is coming back to the idea that God has already given us everything that we need. Our goal is to share this good news with the world.”

While SCC has taken a position of remaining committed to MC USA, Wolfer spoke positively of Evana, which some congregations have seen as an alternative denomination.

“I had my ideas about who Evana was and who they weren’t, and after having a conversation with [Evana director of church development] Wes Furlong, it was completely different from what I thought,” he said, adding that he initially thought the network might be a threat to MC USA but changed his mind. “It seems like they’re something that MC USA might want to embrace because of the goals that they have, which is to revitalize churches and spread the gospel of Christ.”

But Wolfer admitted things could change in the future.

“We believe God will be at work, but we don’t know how God will be at work,” he said. “I don’t know what the future holds for South Central Conference and MC USA, as I don’t know what the future holds for anything.”


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