Yesterday, the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board named Ervin R. Stutzman the next executive director of Mennonite Church USA. Given that we’ve had three posts (by ST, by me and by Steve K) and 15 comments here on YAR about the search process for this position, I thought it would be worth talking about whether or not this appointment meets your expectations and hopes.
But the first step is finding out more about Ervin. I, for one, have never heard of him before. Do any of you know much about him? The highlights from his official bio in the Mennonite article include:
- He wrote Emma: a Widow Among the Amish (3.5 stars on Amazon) and Tobias of the Amish (4.5 stars on Amazon) along with 8 other church related books. Anyone read any of these?
- He was a bishop in Lancaster Mennonite Conference starting in 1984 and become the moderator of the Lancaster Conference from 1991 to 2000.
- He and his wife served with Rosedale Mennonite Missions for five years. This is the mission wing of the Conservative Mennonite Conference
- Strong involvement in the Mennonite Church USA bureaucracy from 1999 onwards, serving on the Executive Board for Mennonite Church USA from then till 2005 and serving as the denominational moderator from 2001 to 2003.
- He was born in Iowa, raise in Kansas, pastored in Ohio, was bishop and moderator in Lancaster, PA and dean of Eastern Mennonite Seminary in Harrisonburg, VA. The only major missing Mennonite stronghold in his resume is Goshen/Elkhart, IN.
What can you add?
Update: There was actually a fourth post about the MCUSA executive director search process that I missed in my run down: A Platform for MCUSA by SteveK.
From what I know of him he will do a great job.
As far as my expectations, we will have to see what he actually does.
My hope is that he steers MCUSA away from the false paradigm of American politics and back towards Jesus.
I know Ervin well personally, and hold respect for him. He interacts well with a variety of people, from what I can tell. I do not know him as a leader (I have never been directly under his leadership), but living in the area where he has been based for the past several years as Eastern Mennonite Seminary dean, I have never heard any ill of him as a leader. I have heard that he was instrumental in his previous denominational roles in working towards better decision-making processes, including having delegates meet around tables during assemblies.
These are general impressions and things I have heard. I think he will bring the skills that the position needs in terms of oversight, direction, administration, and keeping people on board. I can’t say for sure, but he will probably not be moving to make any radical shifts, but will keep the church moving in a positive direction. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if he is eager and willing to hear young adults’ views and engage us in decision making in whatever ways possible.
I don’t know if I can say personally what I feel the church needs right now, but I think the church always needs engaged and energetic participants, so I encourage us all to approach the new leadership in the same way I hope we approached previous leadership – active in conversations, advocating for appropriate and needed change, and in prayerful humility working towards wholeness in the world with Jesus as our inspiration.
I was a student at EMS from 2005-8. I had a class with Ervin and interacted often with him in a dean-student relationship. He relates well with people of all ages, is a visionary, is working hard at becoming fluent in Spanish, rides his bike to work, and is working on a book about nationalism within the church. Ervin is well equipped for the job and has a certain goofy nature that makes him come off as truly genuine.
Growing up, Ervin was the “bishop” of my church district. Then he became moderator of Lancaster Mennonite Conference. I seem to remember that he served the denomination as moderator at one point as well (I don’t have time to read the official bio at the moment.)
I’ve had respect for Ervin based on his preaching and interest in scholarship and careful thinking. The latter two were in somewhat short supply in the Lancaster Conference, which still tends to view “higher education” with a wary eye. (!)
I also noted in reading my pastor’s recent dissertation on the history of women struggling to have their leadership gifts recognized in Lancaster Conf (http://ecsmc.org/Files/A%20History%20of%20the%20Conversation%20on%20the%20Ordination%20of%20Women%20in%20the%20Lancaster%20Mennonite%20Conference.pdf), that when Ervin led the bishop board, he took significant steps to put it on the track towards more professional decision-making and thus greater accountability. Seems in one of the comments above this same gift was highlighted.
So, while having another white male at the helm of the church doesn’t immediately make me smile. Having Ervin there seems like it’s probably a good thing.
I’m hopeful, given all these relatively positive statements about Ervin. (Of course, it’s easier to be positive about someone publicly than negative about him or her.) At the same time, from other sources I’ve heard mostly negative or cautious responses to his appointment. I want to report the hesitations I’ve heard so that we have some balance here, but I want to be clear that I don’t know Ervin at all, and these aren’t really my words.
Basically, it seems that he’s more interested in maintaining the status quo (and making concessions in order to appease Lancaster Conference, the 300-pound gorilla in the denomination) than doing any serious visioning or creatively leading the denomination into a more hopeful future. I was told (by someone over 40) that “this appointment symbolically trades away a new generation of young people who could get excited about the church, in order to assure Lancaster Conference and the more conservative wing of the denomination.”
Here’s hoping these statements are proven wrong.
I have to go with Jonny on this one.
First, though, I agree that Ervin is personally a very nice guy. And it is also true that he supported the move toward ordination of women in Lancaster Conference. I would add, also, that even though Lancaster Conference was threatening not to join MC-USA in the late 90’s, Ervin himself cast his lot with the newly integrated denomination by taking the position as the second (I think) MC-USA moderator.
That said, Ervin has a long and straightforward record of favoring exclusion of LGBT people, as well as their advocates and congregations that accept them.
During integration, he was the spokesperson for Lancaster Conference’s insistence that MC-USA be explicit in moving in a conservative direction regarding sexual orientation.
In 1999, he wrote an article for The Mennonite in which he presented the apostle Paul as explicitly favoring exclusion of all LGBT people from Christian churches.
His time as dean of EMS also corresponds with EMU’s firing of LGBT employees and silencing of outspokenly supportive faculty members.
I have since heard from another pastor who’s spoken with him that Ervin continues to express the view that the price of “unity” in MC-USA may be that LGBT members and their outspoken advocates leave the denomination.
Therefore, I am extremely disappointed that — after some delegate movement toward a more “neutral” denominational position on sexual orientation at the Columbus Assembly — the executive board would hire as the new executive director an advocate of exclusion of LGBT Christians from our churches and denomination.
He may be a friendly person, but he’s a friendly opponent of inclusion of LGBT people.