a sign of hope

As someone who raised a bit of a stink about the whole Lancaster Mennonite Conference-vote-to-not-ordain-women thing, I want to direct your attention to some good news. There was also a letter from the bishops recently to people in the conferece that I would also call hopeful.

So, to the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board, I want to say “Thank you.” I must confess, I wasn’t sure you had it in you, but with a little time for pondering and for the dust to settle, I see hope, strength, and wisdom in this resolution. I guess I had too little faith. Well done, the church will be better for it. I’m curious to see how this will play out.

To the bishops – you are asking some good questions and bringing up some important issues and I’m also curious to see where this will go.

Comments (3)

  1. TimN


    Thanks so much for sharing this sign of hope. I’m surprised that the letter from the bishops hasn’t received more publicity. Having grown up in Lancaster conference until I was 12, I realize I have a lot of negative images of the Lancaster County bishops and that letter shatters a lot of them. In particular:

    • A call to repent for a “spirit of control”. I’ve grown up hearing stories about the controlling history of the Bishop Board. They go on to talk about healing generational patterns of divisiveness.
    • A call to build relationships between congregations that don’t really know one another. This is a huge issue at a time when issues like homosexuality are causing parts of the church to write off whole other parts of the church. I believe that building relationships between members of churches (not just pastors) who disagree theologically could have revolutionary potential. Especially across the rural/urban divide. But they would take a lot of work too. Are we willing to invest?
    • A call to revisit the structure of Lancaster Mennonite Conference. They say, “What would it look like to start over as a fellowship of congregations, uniting around a shared mission?” And they discuss the concept of the centered set vs. the bounded set. The centered set is the idea of moving towards central values rather than maintaining strong fences. Its an idea we discussed on YAR quite recently: Carl compared it to moths moving towards a flame. But I’m used to seeing in networks and movement, not in century old bastions of conservatism. Maybe its time I had a few stereotypes challenged …

    I hope that there are people with the resources and skills to follow up and support the Bishop’s Board in building on these revelations in concrete ways. The possibility of change along these lines gives me real hope for the Mennonite church.

  2. Darrell Gascho

    i also want to say thank you for pointing out the “letter” and the “good news”. I especially was filled with appreciation and a sense of maybe hope. I also heard some serious grabbling with pain that connects me to their struggle.

  3. TimN

    The letter from the Lancaster County Bishops that Katy refers to seems to have disappeared from the original page she linked to, so I’m reposting it here:

    To: Lancaster Mennonite Conference Credentialed Leaders and Members
    From: The Board of Bishops
    Date: February 24, 2007

    Greetings in the Name of Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church!

    Thank you for praying for the Board of Bishops as we met on Friday, February 23, to reflect on the outcome of the recent vote in which the recommendation regarding the ordination of women was not affirmed.

    We felt your prayers and the presence of the Lord in our time together. Meeting in executive session, we engaged in deep-heart, vulnerable
    sharing about the impact this outcome is having on congregations as well as on us personally. There was a genuine acknowledgement that part of our faith family finds the outcome acceptable or even preferable, while another segment of the LMC body is experiencing deep grief and pain and considers the outcome unacceptable. How, then, do we lead a divided conference? Will we, once again, experience the pain of division over differing beliefs?

    A consensus emerged in our conversation. It seems the Holy Spirit is using this difficult experience to summon us as a conference to do deeper spiritual work. God is inviting LMC to boldly address a set of systemic dysfunctions that are surfacing in this current conflict and that, if not addressed, will hinder our response to God’s missional call in Vision 2010.

    In our meeting, bishops agreed to give urgent attention to these deeper systemic issues, including:

    1. Confession and Repentance
    We sense God calling us to confess the tendency within LMC to control too tightly. This “spirit of control” flows out of fear and lack of trust in God. One bishop described this as “functional atheism”. The result is an exclusive, closed system that holds people at a distance, especially when we think or believe differently. If Vision 2010 is to be realized, there must be repentance!

    2. Generational Healing
    We acknowledged that there is a need for generational healing in LMC. We agreed to do some reading on Collective Trauma Theory. Is it possible there is within LMC generational pain from the days of our bitter persecution that is being transferred from generation to generation through reenactment in our divisive habits? Can we begin a journey that includes spiritual and emotional healing?

    3. Embracing Diversity
    An important part of the wonderful unity and collaboration we have come to experience in our work together as bishops is a result of really knowing one another. The love and trust that those relationships yield enable us to embrace the diversity that exists in our group. We noted that LMC congregations don’t really know one another. That lack of relationship results in an inability to trust and embrace diversity. Can we create structures that nurture deeper relationships and provide healthier ways to listen to one another in our diversity. Can we learn to value diversity as a sign of the Kingdom and God’s gift to the church?

    4. Polity Considerations
    We talked about important polity considerations, especially as it relates to how we make decisions. Can we describe as spiritual discernment a process that ends with an up/down vote? Can we find a way to include a larger portion of congregational membership in discernment? How do we understand authority, particularly from passages like Acts 15? What is the role of the bishops in leading LMC, especially now that our recommendation was not affirmed? What would it look like to start over as a fellowship of congregations, uniting around a shared mission and functioning as a nurturing community rather than a controlling community?

    5. Core Values
    We agreed that good work is being done in the area of core values for LMC. But we have a long way to go towards shared understandings about how we read and interpret the Word of God. Can we move from “bounded set” thinking that depends upon the control of a closed system towards “centered set” thinking that functions with an open system that points us to a shared center in Christ?

    We cried and prayed together as we grappled with these important systemic issues. It is not our intent to minimize or side-step the credentialing issues that the recent vote leaves unresolved. Rather, we believe the current issue compels us to attend to underlying causations.

    We agreed to meet for a full day on March 9 to discern further what God is saying in this whole situation. We also discussed possible forums for public conversation. Please continue to pray for us as we discern how to address the issue at hand and the deeper systemic issues that surround it.

    Please trust with us that God’s mercy and grace are sufficient for all of us within LMC in this time of soul searching and discernment. Please pray for an outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit for the healing and transformation we need to most fully enter into God’s missional purposes for these last days.

    Your servants in Christ,

    The LMC Board of Bishops


    Letter from Lancaster Conference Board of Bishops on MennoDiscuss.com

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