Pastor’s credentials restored, in a different conference

Sep 7, 2018 by and

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A North Carolina pastor who was sanctioned for officiating a same-sex wedding is back in good standing after his congregation switched conferences.

Isaac Villegas

Villegas

Mennonite Church USA announced Sept. 7 that Central District Conference had restored the credentials of Isaac Villegas, pastor of Chapel Hill (N.C.) Mennonite Fellowship.

Virginia Mennonite Conference had suspended Villegas’ credentials in May 2016.

The Central District Ministerial Committee reactivated his credentials after delegates accepted the Chapel Hill congregation’s request to transfer its membership from Virginia Conference on June 22.

The matter had gained additional attention because Villegas conducted the wedding while serving as a member of MC USA’s Executive Board, the denomination’s top leadership body. He subsequently resigned from the board.

Chapel Hill congregants blessed Villegas to perform the wedding ceremony, and the congregation remained in good standing with Virginia Conference.

Central District gained authority to restore Villegas’ credentials after Virginia Conference’s Faith and Life Commission relinquished them on April 2. In doing so, the commission “sought to adhere to the shared commitments of MC USA as we understood them,” said Clyde Kratz, Virginia’s executive conference minister.

Kratz cited four documents that define these commitments: MC USA’s Membership Guidelines, Article 19 of the denomination’s Confession of Faith, the 2014 version of A Shared Understanding for Church Leadership and the Forbearance Resolution that national delegates approved in 2015.

“It is my perspective that the FLC relinquished Isaac’s credentials to CDC without terminating his credentials as a statement of our forbearance on this issue,” Kratz said.

Conferences hold power

While the MC USA Leadership Development office maintains a national database of all credentialed leaders, the status of each one is determined by the area conference in which the leader serves.

Glen Guyton, executive director of MC USA, said the system needed more clarity.

“What many people fail to understand about our polity is conferences and congregations hold a great deal of authority,” Guyton said. “When there are differences among how conferences handle decisions in their context, we as denominational leaders are limited in our ability to adjudicate the matter as definitively as some would hope.

“According to our polity, we can create forums for discussion and encourage area conference leaders to work out their disagreements and come to a mutually agreed-upon path forward.

“Our system has its strengths and weaknesses, guided by our bylaws and other documents. Our denomination has work to do to bring clarity to the system.”

Ardean Friesen, who chairs the Central District Ministerial Committee, said the committee reviews the credentials of pastors who perform same-sex ceremonies. It notes the motivations, theological understandings and processes that the pastor and the congregation used to make the decision.

“When the pastor and congregation are mutually in agreement with the action, and when a faithful discernment process has been followed, no disciplinary action has been taken,” Friesen said.

‘Does not fit neatly’

Conference ministers will talk about this topic at the Constituency Leaders Council meeting on Oct. 11-13 in Chicago and at the annual National Area Church and Conference Ministers’ meeting of MC USA and Mennonite Church Canada on Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Los Angeles.

The processes that the area conferences used to resolve the Villegas case tested denominational polity in unusual ways.

“The decision of VMC to relinquish the suspended credential of Isaac Villegas to CDC, CDC’s receiving of that credential and CDC’s subsequent decision to restore Isaac’s credential to active status does not fit neatly into our current polity,” said Michael Danner, director of MC USA’s Office of Leadership Development. “Therefore, we will seek broader discernment from conference leaders about what precedent this sets.

“We respect the discernment of both of CDC and VMC and commend the way they have worked together on this matter.”


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