March 3, 2022
By: ACC Staff
Atlantic Coast Conference pastors gathered at Neffsville Mennonite Church on March 1 to listen to one another and to the Spirit as part of a process leading up to the Mennonite Church USA delegate gathering in May.
The morning session was designed as a time of listening to better understand the values and practices of those across the conference. The session was also intended to honor the ACC value of placing responsibility within each congregation to discern application of Biblical principles to matters of current pastoral care.
“Our hope,” said Bob Petersheim, chair of the task group charged with planning the gathering, “is that this gathering can be a step toward clarifying the position of others…We need to better understand those with whom we disagree if we hope to continue relating to and loving one another.”
Pastors gathered in one large circle around the light of Jesus Christ, represented by a large candle in the center of the colorful worship table. In an open ritual of light proclaiming, “Jesus is the Light of the world, of MC USA, of Atlantic Coast Conference”, each congregation added their light around the Christ candle proclaiming, “Jesus is the light of” their congregation. In this way, every ACC congregation’s presence, voice and light was welcomed and recognized.
Throughout the morning, pastors and representatives of ACC congregations were asked to briefly share responses to two questions:
How does your congregation regard the MC USA Membership Guidelines and what effect will retiring the Membership Guidelines have in your congregation?
Responses to this question indicated a variety of thought among, and even within, ACC congregations. Some congregations reported some level of indifference to the Guidelines, naming the Confession of Faith as a more highly valued document. Others shared that while the Guidelines may not be highly influential, its retirement would signal an uncomfortable shift in policy on the topic of sexuality.
What is your congregation’s response to LGBTQ+ persons? What congregational discernment have you engaged in regarding LGBTQ+ membership, marriage, and/or ministry?
To this question nearly all representatives noted their congregation’s desire to be welcoming but clear differences in biblical interpretation and level of past discernment on inclusion were evident. Some ACC congregations maintain a traditional view of marriage and sexuality while others have welcomed LGBTQ+ individuals into the life of the congregation to various extents. Some noted that their desire not to be at variance with MC USA policy on issues of sexuality creates dissonance between that policy and their discernment of how God has called them to apply pastoral care to LGBTQ+ members.
Following the time of sharing and listening, pastors were given opportunity to share what they heard the Spirit saying through the voices of one another. Many of these responses celebrated that faithfulness to God and scripture is a common link among ACC congregations, even if that faithfulness looks different in various contexts.
29 of ACC’s 31 congregations participated in sharing. Some have fully engaged the question of whether and how to include LGBTQ individuals and some have not engaged for a variety of reasons.
Though the gathering was not designed to reach decisions, it marked another opportunity for ACC leaders to participate in the Anabaptist practice of mutual discernment. For some representatives, the time of listening helpfully illustrated the diversity of thought within ACC. Others noted the fatigue of this ongoing conversation and the toll that it takes on leaders and LGBTQ+ individuals.
Bob Petersheim closed with the encouragement of all to build connections with those who think differently. “The Body of Christ includes those with diverse opinions and the Spirit calls us to know and listen to those who are different. Knowing one another helps us better fulfill the Biblical call to love one another.”
A special session of the MC USA delegate body in May, 2022 will address at least four resolutions:
- Clarification on Mennonite Church USA Polity and the Role of the Membership Guidelines of Mennonite Church USA
- MC USA For Justice Resolution
- MC USA Accessibility Resolution
- A Resolution for Repentance and Transformation
Several of these resolutions were tabled before the virtual delegate gathering in 2021 in favor of waiting for an in-person gathering. The Delegate Resources page on the MC USA website provides the text of these resolutions, answers frequently asked questions on these resolutions, and offers several helpful webinar recordings to help delegates understand the process and the resolutions.
Each congregation of the Mennonite Church USA is eligible to send one (1) delegate for each one hundred (100) congregational members, or fraction thereof. Also, congregations may send an additional youth delegate (ages 16-21).
Pastors and delegates will have additional opportunity to ask questions and engage in conversation during seminar times at the upcoming ACC Assembly at James Street Mennonite Church on April 23.
ACC’s Executive Committee and Ministerial Leadership Committee have convened a second task force that will develop a conference-wide process to review any ministerial credentialing changes to MC USA policy following the May delegate session.