Committee makes two-part decision after three same-sex unions
May contribute to two churches leaving CDCby Anna Groff
Last year, Megan Ramer, pastor of Chicago Community Mennonite Church (CCMC), performed three same-sex convenant ceremonies for couples and friends of the congregation after receiving the blessing of her church. As a result, one congregation may leave Central District Conference (CDC), and the action may contribute to a second congregation leaving.
According to a ministerial credential report from a May review, CDC’s ministerial committee announced an unprecedented two-part decision: The decision includes an affirmation of Ramer’s ministerial gifts and work at CCMC; it also finds that Ramer’s actions are at variance with Mennonite Church USA’s membership guidelines and will note that in her Ministerial Leadership Information (MLI) form.
Civil unions became legal in Illinois on June 1, 2011. In the summer of 2011, Ramer contacted conference leadership with the request of performing such ceremonies. Then she informed the conference of her plans.
A statement by Ramer and Celeste Grace Groff, CCMC council chair, representing the church reads: “Our practice around weddings and commitment ceremonies is one of the many ways we as a congregation seek to care for all those who join us in worship, mission and community life.”
The same-sex couples were members of and connected to the congregation. This is also true for the opposite-sex couples she marries, says Groff.
“[Ramer] has several ceremonies upcoming this summer,” Groff says, “and I think at least one of them is a same-sex couple. But again, our congregation’s ministry in this area is to continue with an inclusive marriage practice, not celebrating ceremonies for same-sex couples in exceptional cases.”
Over the past year, the CDC ministerial committee met with Ramer, Groff and the congregation. They requested that Ramer write her “theological and biblical underpinnings” for performing same-sex covenant ceremonies, according to the credential review report. The CDC ministerial committee also planned a retreat day for discernment.
“[Through this two-part decision] we are responding out of who CDC is,” said Lois Johns Kaufmann, conference minister, on May 29. “We have always had a conference polity that respects the discernment of its congregations as well as recognizes the diversity in our conference.”
Since the two-part decision, two congregations in CDC “expressed their readiness” to engage in conversation with CDC leadership about seeking membership in another Mennonite Church USA conference. One of the two churches was “moving to leave CDC before they ever knew about the credential review for Megan Ramer,” Kaufmann said. Kaufmann serves as an ex-officio member of the ministerial committee.
They will follow the procedure set by Mennonite Church USA Executive Board when congregations seek to change conference affiliation.
Kaufmann said the other responses she has received “reflect the diversity in the church.”
Kaufmann said she received affirmation from several Mennonite Church USA leaders for the carefulness of the process and openly sharing about it with the wider church. Additionally, several conference ministers shared their appreciation for CDC’s desire for accountability demonstrated in the second part of the ministerial committee decision, she said.
“It seems important for future search committees to have that information about Ramer if they would be considering her as a pastor,” said Kaufmann.
Kaufmann said she hopes that congregational leaders will speak directly to other congregational leaders they disagree with, rather than “triangling” conference leaders.
“I acknowledge that’s hard, but it’s the healthiest,” she said, adding that direct conversation between congregations has occurred in the past.
At CDC’s annual meeting June 21-23 at the Mennonite Church of Normal, Ill., conference delegates will have the opportunity to respond to the committee—although the decision cannot be overturned, since the committee has the authority to make these decisions.
Kaufmann said there are no other situations similar to Ramer’s in the conference.
The ministerial committee members include: Kaufmann; Joel Miller, Jep Hostetler, Ken Hawkley, Rachel Miller Jacobs and Rachel Siemens.
Correction: The June 4 version of this article incorrectly used the term "same-sex marriage." Under the Illinois Religious Freedom Protection and Civil Union Act, the ceremonies performed by Ramer were civil unions.
Full disclosure: Celeste Grace Groff and Anna Groff are sisters-in-law.
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