In the fall of 2009, we embarked on a process that led to a congregational vote to become a congregation that welcomes persons into all aspects of congregational life, regardless of sexual orientation. This vote, affirmed by over 80% of members, has led us to where we are today as we seek to discern our relationship with Virginia Mennonite Conference and Mennonite Church USA. Prompted in large part by our congregation’s discernment process, in 2013 the Faith and Life Commission of VMC passed a resolution setting forth a process for dealing with congregations whose pastor officiates a wedding for people of the same sex.
In 2016, CMC called a group of people representing Pastoral team, church council, and other lay members to engage in a process to discern next steps as we seek to live out our faith with integrity. Informed by the experience of Isaac Villegas, pastor at Chapel Hill Mennonite Fellowship, and other congregations who faced criticism, and eventually chose to leave VMC, this process, which included several congregational meetings and many conversations with VMC leadership, led Church Council to form a task force which began its work in October of 2017.
During the past 6+ months we have met with VMC leaders, and people who have long experience with the conference, often working from within the conference to advocate for change. We have also reached out to leaders of Central District Conference, Allegheny MC, and Atlantic Coast Conference to find out what their current practice is when a congregation asks their pastors to offer the sacrament of marriage to a couple of the same sex. .
One other aspect of our work has been to keep tabs on the work of the Polity Task Force, set up by VMC leadership, to make recommendations on how to restructure VMC. The work of this task force ended with their report of Conference Council in December, and to the Delegate Session in February. Out of that work came The Restructure for Mission Committee, a new group tasked with taking the Polity Task Force recommendations and delegate feedback, and implementing new structures to align VMC’s structure with its mission.
We have relearned, if there was ever any doubt, that change most often comes slowly to VMC, if at all. And sometimes we’re only able to see the lasting influence of our hard work making change happen years later. We are also well aware that some of us are tired of waiting, and the task force, which represents very diverse voices within our congregation, clearly heard voices advocating for engaging in a process to move to a new conference, and ones that encouraged patience and dynamic engagement with VMC as they struggle to process potential changes.
Currently, the Restructure for Mission Committee is working on recommendations. They may present some ideas to the delegate session in July, but there won’t likely be anything to vote on until next February, and that timeline may be optimistic. Dominated by OWMs (older white males), there has been a sense among some that asking them to propose real change is unrealistic. One other way to view it is this, if VMC is truly going to change, they are the very people who will have to sell proposed changes to the pastors, congregations, and delegate assembly. Who better than those currently in positions of leadership to advocate for change that has lasting value?
Throughout this process, we have valued the connections that we have with our congregation, VMC, and MCUSA. We welcome you to reach out to myself, Michael Brislen, Del Synder, Anna Bishop, Rick Yoder, Simone Horst or Elena Histand Stuckey if you would like further conversation.