“On the Way…” PNMC and MCUSA Conventions, June & July 2015
Report to Evergreen Mennonite Church from Pastor Meg Lumsdaine
Under the canopy of a radiant summer sunset in the Yakima Valley, our family gathered around a campfire, sharing time together and words of prayer. The wood used for our fire had been cut by Tony Dean. Peter brought this wood — a symbol of the collective journey we share as members of Evergreen Mennonite Church – honoring the connection we hold as a church family and also to the place each of us shares in partnership with God’s work of Creation.
The theme of the 2015 MCUSA Convention, “On the Way”, finds its biblical roots in Luke 24 with the account of the two walking with Jesus on the road to Emmaus. With this undergirding scripture, each of us was called to ask ourselves how we come to recognize Jesus in our midst, and where we experience resurrection. Clearly within our Mennonite church body, there was a wide variance in how we might each respond to these questions, yet our goal was always to find a way to listen with respect, and respond with compassion.
Despite understandable apprehension and weariness that many at the conventions were experiencing, laughter and joy was a common expression as new friends were made, and old acquaintances renewed and celebrated. On the way to Lebanon, it was a joy to spend time with Andy and Susan Wade, when they invited us over to share a meal and time of renewing friendship. At PNMC, Dan Smith Derksen had the opportunity to speak to participants of the Convention about the ministry their family looks forward to in South Africa, beginning in 2016. It warmed my heart to see Ellie Yoder cheerfully embracing the full experience of the MCUSA Convention within an energetic grouping of friends. Participants from Washington Mennonite Fellowship were present at both conventions with warm interactions shared. Break-times between delegate sessions, along with mealtime and other times of fellowship lent themselves to offering space for support and connection at both conventions.
Both Roy Derksen and Dan Smith Derksen offered words during the opening candle-lighting ceremony at PNMC, recalling times of celebrating resurrection within our congregation. Worship time at PNMC included an opportunity for District Pastors to pray for congregations’ needs – including prayer for the Smith Derksens in their anticipated ministry in South Africa — which I and others deeply appreciated. Prayer time through word and song was made a priority at both conventions, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide us into an unknown future trusting in the steadfast hand of God’s love.
Peter and I conducted three successful workshop sessions (two at PNMC and one in Kansas City), focusing on mining justice and robotic warfare, emphasizing EMC’s role in sending us on the REMA delegation to Zacualpan, Mexico in February.
There was much discussion at the PNMC convention about the same-sex relationship debate in the church, though no formal decisions were made. CIHAN, the association of Hispanic Mennonite congregations within PNMC, issued a strong statement of concern, including the possibility of withdrawing from the conference, but after the national MCUSA Convention decided to stay within PNMC and MCUSA at this time. At the national convention, IMH (Iglesia Menonita Hispana) likewise issued a statement of strong concern about the possible revisions in the church stance on marriage, but remains within MCUSA pending a survey, time of fasting and prayer, and a special IMH meeting later this calendar year.
Our MCUSA delegate assembly had moments of displaying wide unity in perspective, as demonstrated for instance, by passing the resolution on Faithful Witness Amidst EndlessWar, with a friendly amendment authored by Peter Lumsdaine, through a near-consensus vote of over 95% in favor. [The amendment, as reported in Mennonite World Review and The Mennonite, states that the Mennonite Church USA “calls for an immediate ban on research, development, production and deployment of robotic and autonomous weapons, including military drones and associated artificial intelligence technologies, placing them in the same category as chemical and biological weapons.”] The national church convention delegates also unanimously passed the Expressions of Lament and Hope Resolution from AAMA, expressing “regret and grief over the horrific fatal shooting of the nine parishioners attending Bible study at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC on June 17, 2015”, and calling for Mennonite USA to identify and end violence, oppression, and hatred which is directed toward all people of color, no matter how subtle or overt. The MCUSA delegate body also nearly unanimously approved the Churchwide Statement on Sexual Abuse.
Other resolutions were more polarizing. The Resolution on Israel-Palestine elicited strong emotions of differing viewpoints, resulting in a 55% to 45 % vote to table the discussion for two years. Of the all the resolutions, no two tested our resolve to love and respect one another despite our differences more than the Resolution on Forbearance in the Midst of Difference (passed by a 71 % majority) and the Resolution on the Status of Membership Guidelines (passed by a 60 % majority). While the passing of these resolutions elicited strong emotions in almost everyone, for some the experience was one of profound relief, while for others these decisions were cause for painful lament. Nevertheless most seemed to see the passing of these two resolutions as a means of balancing and integrating different understandings within the national Mennonite Church.
All of the seven MCUSA delegate assembly sessions were challenging, but I am thankful that my delegate discussion table was a very positive, candid, and thoughtful circle of Mennonites, including my esteemed colleague Brad Roth, the former pastor of Warden Mennonite Church. Despite differing perspectives at times, we parted with mutual affection, and affirmed our intent to stay in contact with one another.
Although grief and pain were a very real dynamic experienced by many, I feel that the overall conclusion of the MCUSA Convention was, on balance, a positive outcome – affirming the Holy Spirit’s movement within our midst. Peter and I look forward to participating and celebrating with others, including Andrew and Karina Derksen-Schrock, Darryll and Linda Graber, Rebekah Maldonado-Nofziger, and Julianne Stutzman Mai, the unity we share as a global Church at the Mennonite World Conference later in July. We ask for your prayers as we seek to recognize Christ beside us and before us, striving to walk together in service to the will of God.