Convention 2013 will be held in Phoenixby Anna Groff
Mennonite Church USA's convention in 2013 will be held in Phoenix.
During its Jan. 7-9 meeting in Tampa, Fla., the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board affirmed the decision to hold the convention in Phoenix, a site first selected in January 2009.
However, the EB also committed to finding ways to offer an additional location for delegates who will not attend "because of conscience or concerns for safety," due to Arizona's controversial immigration law.
Thirteen board members voted for the recommendation and three against it. The three who voted against were: Juanita Nunez, Elizabeth Soto Albrecht and Samuel Voth Schrag. Two EB board members were absent.
In a December 2010 letter sent to Mennonite Church USA leaders, Iglesia Menonita Hispana (Hispanic Mennonite Church) leaders made it clear they want to abstain from Arizona.
"If the Phoenix site is chosen," they wrote, "we will bless the people who will be attending the event and will continue to pray. While we are blessing the people and the event, it does NOT mean we endorse the decision."
Prior to the decision, the EB and its staff spent several hours deliberating about the decision in several closed sessions over two days. They shared personal stories, asked difficult questions, prayed, worshipped and brainstormed creative ways to address the fact that some delegates will not attend.
"We are committed to work on creative ways to include those delegates who because of conscience or concerns for safety will be unable to gather with the church in Phoenix," says the EB's resolution on the decision, "and at a minimum to find a satellite location at which delegates can participate in the delegate work of the assembly."
The EB also reaffirms its commitment to the 11 action items described in the recommendation regarding the churchwide convention in 2013.
The first-ever meeting of Mennonite racial/ethnic leaders is meeting today and tomorrow for a gathering called "Hope for Change ... Hope for the Future."
More than a dozen of these attendees met with the EB on Jan. 9 to discuss the Phoenix decision.
Carlos Romero, director of Mennonite Education Agency, asked about the "satellite location" mentioned in the resolution and if it is intended for delegates only, other adults or youth.
Glen Guyton, Mennonite Church USA's associate executive director for constituent resources, responded that the plan for a satellite location for the 2013 convention is still in the early stages. The convention staff will invite input on what it should look like.
"It's still in flux," said Guyton. "I'm open to the possibilities."
At Pittsburgh 2011, the delegate assembly may set aside church statements for conversation, discernment and missional church discussions.
During its meeting, the EB also passed a recommendation for a new model of "ongoing discernment rather than a more mainline denominational model adopting church statements that may be viewed as controlling rather than empowering," according to the board docket. Mennonite Church Canada has worked at this model at their gatherings.
J. Richard (Dick) Thomas, Mennonite Church USA's moderator-elect, said he hopes delegates see this experiment as empowering to delegates.
A paper by Dale Schrag of Bethel College, North Newton, Kan., on "Conflict in the Academy" influenced this recommendation, Thomas said. Schrag's paper raised concerns that schools tend to promote a culture of debate with winners and losers rather than a culture of dialogue.
Thomas said some delegates enjoy the debate and will miss that, but others hesitate to be delegates because of that culture. "You do not gain by forcing everyone to talk about controversial things," Thomas said.
The important question is, "How does this experiment enhance our journey to be a missional church?" Thomas said.
As one part of this experiment, the Conversation Rooms planned for Pittsburgh 2011 will offer a place for mediated dialogue on topics such as human sexuality, immigration and more. (Click here to read about the Conversation Rooms).
"We see [the rooms] as an extension of the delegate body," Thomas said. "Conversation Rooms would be open and functioning for delegates to attend."
Ed Diller, moderator of Mennonite Church USA, supports the Pittsburgh Experiment recommendation because "missional church theology calls us to do things differently," he says. However Diller described three responses he predicts delegates may have to the recommendation.
First, some will say this recommendation as a way to keep delegates from doing their work. Second, there are histories of various bodies working in different ways. Third, some people are accustomed to Robert's Rules of Order and will miss using them. Other board members affirmed Diller in naming these potential responses, and still moving forward with the experiment.
"We're going to have to have two or three alternate plans," he says. "It's an easy decision to make and a hard one to implement."
Board members affirmed and expressed excitement for the recommendation.
Addie Banks, a member of the EB executive committee, said, "This experiment will have delegates enter into a missional church experience. People will come away with that."
The EB’s next meeting is at Portland Mennonite Church April 14-16.
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