CLC responds to Executive Board action
Conference leaders address gender balance and antiracism concerns.by Gordon Houser
Less than two weeks after the Executive Board (EB) of Mennonite Church USA shared its vision for a "reformed and unified churchwide system," the Constituency Leaders Council (CLC) had the chance to respond to that vision. That response included questions, uncertainty and some anger.
Meeting March 31-April 2 at Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, Mt. Pleasant, Pa., CLC members heard Mennonite Church USA executive director Jim Schrag say that “we have come to a time when we must re-examine our relationships, behavior and organization.” He asked for forgiveness for times when he failed to seek counsel from leaders as he contemplated change.
Ed Diller, moderator-elect and chair of CLC, emphasized that “this is not an event [but] a process.” One impetus for the proposed changes, he said, is that congregations are confused about Mennonite Church USA and all the requests that come to them. And such confusion, said Schrag, “is the enemy of our witness.”
Elephants dancing: Three “breakout” groups—conference moderators, conference ministers and others—talked about the EB action and interacted with Diller. Reporting the next day (April 1), the moderators said they felt some anxiety and confusion and wanted to be “in the loop, not just told.” Dave Hockman-Wert of Pacific Northwest used the image of elephants in the room, dancing.
The conference ministers reported “strong feeling and passion” in their meeting. They affirmed the board’s visioning role but not the recommendations. The announcement created “shock and anxiety,” and they didn’t have the news ahead of time. The EB needs to be aware of how such actions “can push conferences away.”
The third group, which wondered if they were “outcasts, misfits or leftovers,” looked at the Church Member Profile and wondered how to use the study to address consumerism, militarism and racism, how to articulate our vision of healing and hope. They asked how this affects young adults and racial/ethnic groups.
Tom Kauffman of Ohio, a member of a CLC task force formed in 2005, reported on its work and recommended that its work end, with the assurance that “EB will consult with agencies, conferences and constituency groups in meaningful and ongoing ways as they continue their work.”
CLC members expressed worry about whether or not EB will attend to concerns about the role of area conferences. Gordon Oyer of Central District asked if EB affirms that conferences attend to relationships. Schrag said the conferences’ role in relating to congregations “cannot be matched.”
George O’Reilly of Central Plains said the task force’s role is done, but will EB listen? Anita Amstutz of Mountain States said she sensed “a real disunity in the room,” that issues of power and trust needed to be addressed.
Schrag recommended monthly phone calls with all the conference ministers to keep the conversation going.
Marlin Birkey of Southeast asked Diller what he would say to the conference ministers.
“We’re sorry; please get over it,” said Diller. Asked to explain, he said that our society demands perfection, but leadership means making mistakes, and bold leadership will make mistakes. “Express your anger when we do, then move on,” he said.
‘New humanity’: CLC vice chair Gay Brunt Miller responded to a concern from last fall’s CLC meeting about gender balance. Only 20 percent of that meeting’s participants were women. She said this meeting had 30 percent women, including nine new women representatives. A committee appointed to review gender balance and racial/ethnic participants in CLC brought a proposed covenant, “Called to be a New Humanity,” and table groups responded to it.
The paper included a covenant “to build a CLC council of elders in which at least 30 percent of those at the table are racial/ethnic people.” Further, it said, “if we fail to build a council that reflects racial/ethnic justice, those of us who are white males covenant to forfeit enough of our seats to achieve a more just racial/ethnic balance.”
Table groups discussed the covenant and reported general support. Several asked about the rationale for 30 percent. Others said that since conferences appoint most of the CLC representatives, changes need to happen there, including mentoring. Some pointed to other exclusionary aspects of CLC, such as economics (meeting on weekdays and for days) and the pattern and style of processing, discernment and decision making. Several white men said they would be willing to give up their seats.
CLC members also heard reports on national identity and health-care access. And they affirmed EB’s recommendation of maintaining a two-year cycle for churchwide conventions.
A final table group discussion allowed members to share what is happening in their conferences. The meetings ended with a celebration of Communion.—Gordon Houser with Anna Groff
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