The Ministerial Leadership Committee (MLC) of Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) has affirmed its readiness to process credentialing requests for LGBTQ+ ministers.
The committee’s decision comes after careful discernment of listening to God’s Spirit through the diverse feedback from delegates and congregations and with affirmation of the Executive Committee. The statement released by the MLC affirms that it “will respect the position of each congregation to request, or not to request, the credentialing of an LGBTQ+ person (including someone in a same-gender marriage) and will process the request.”
The decision to open credentialing in ACC comes after a time of listening and discernment with ACC delegates on February 4, 2023. During this gathering at Forest Hills Mennonite Church, delegates read statements from their congregations on what their relationship to the Conference means and what extending credentials to LGBTQ+ individuals would mean for their congregation. Delegates also had opportunities to share personal feedback and counsel for the Ministerial Leadership Committee in table groups. This feedback was reviewed and discussed before a decision was made.
During delegate sharing, a majority of ACC congregations and delegates expressed support for expanding credentialing opportunities to LGBTQ+ individuals, including both congregations that have discerned they are ready to call an LGBTQ+ individual to ministry and congregations that respect this position held by other congregations. Other responses shared how difficult such a change would be for their congregation to accept.
One delegate noted the feeling of sadness from individuals approaching the topic from opposing perspectives. “Some are sad for the ways that LGBTQ+ people have been harmed and excluded, while others feel like the conference is taking them in a direction they don’t want to go.”
Others noted their appreciation for the allowance of theological diversity among congregations. “We like that congregations are given freedom to minister within their own contects,” they said. Several congregations and individuals noted their willingness to affirm a change in conference policy to include LGBTQ+ individuals if necessary, although they individually could not agree.
Another theme heard throughout the morning conversations was a desire to extend care and affirmation for those individuals and congregations for which LGBTQ+ inclusion will be difficult. Many heard how difficult a change in credentialing policy will be for several ACC members and expressed concern for the difficult conversations likely to continue in these congregations.
All congregational responses shared during the morning session included deep appreciation for the work of the conference in supporting congregations and providing paths to relationship.
Delegates were not asked to vote on a new credentialing policy because ACC’s bylaws and procedures give the MLC the final say on when to extend or withhold credentials, in collaboration with the Executive Committee on controversial matters.
A prayer team was convened during the special delegate session to listen for the Spirit in the times of sharing. Klaudia Smucker, Christine Good Shenk and Christy Heatwole Kauffman shared some of what they heard during a closing time of blessing and prayer. They noted hearing the appreciation for being something bigger than an individual congregation and a common desire to seek God’s direction together, regardless of the day’s outcome.
ACC leaders felt it important to come to a final decision on LGBTQ+ credentialing following the May 2022 vote by Mennonite Church USA delegates approving the Resolution for Repentance and Transformation which repealed the 2001 Membership Guidelines and called for the full inclusion of LGBTQIA individuals in the church.
Since credentialing is the sole responsibility of conferences, MLC felt a time of processing and discernment should take place to decide whether ACC’s practices would follow the direction decided by MC USA delegates.
ACC also has several LGBTQ+ individuals serving in ministry positions who have not yet been granted a credential by the Conference. In February 2020 MLC received a request to interview and credential an individual in a same-sex marriage. The committee interviewed them and unanimously agreed that, if not for the question of same-sex marriage, they would move forward with granting a License Toward Ordination.
The recent action by MLC will give LGBTQ+ individuals, including those in a same-sex marriage, equal opportunity for a ministry credential through Atlantic Coast Conference. MLC will process any requests for credentialing brought by an ACC congregation. Congregations retain the right to request, or not to request, the credentialing of an LGBTQ+ person.
There remains strong diversity in ACC on the topic of LGBTQ+ inclusion and a host of other questions. ACC since its beginning has affirmed this theological spread and has celebrated the diverse ways that ACC congregations do ministry in their communities. ACC and MC USA continue to view the congregation as the primary unit of the church with broad authority to do ministry as they discern in their own contexts.