Delegates approve revision of Article 13, honor retiring executive director
By Connie Faber
About 200 Mennonite Brethren from all five USMB districts gathered July 24-26 in Santa Clara, Calif., for Conection 2014, the biennial USMB gathering that includes the National Pastors Conference and National Convention. This year’s event was notable, according to some, because it marked the first time U.S. Mennonite Brethren voted on a change to the denomination’s Confession of Faith and because the USMB executive director retired.
While a full report of both the National Pastors Conference and National Convention will be published in the Sept/Oct issue of Christian Leader, this article offers four observations on the National Convention.
Article 13 revision approved: The decision regarding Article 13, Love, Peacemaking and Reconciliation, of the Confession of Faith was viewed by many delegates as the reason to attend this year’s convention. This would be the first time since the Confession of Faith became a national statement—rather than a binational confession of both the U.S. Conference and Canadian Conference of MB Churches–that a revision was being considered. As delegates arrived and mingled in the hallways Friday afternoon, the proposed revision was one of the things they talked about. So the announcement at the opening business session that amendments to the proposed revision could not be made from the floor was a concern for some.
The Board of Faith and Life (BFL) report Saturday morning focused on the proposed revision and consisted of a review by BFL chair Larry Nikkel of the process that BFL followed over the past four years as it initiated and developed the recommended revision. Nikkel’s summary was followed by a floor discussion.
“My worry about all of this is that many of you have not been a part of this process,” said Nikkel in his opening comments. “What that means is that what has been thoroughly processed in many ways will feel very abrupt.”
That acknowledgement and Nikkel’s review of the 20-step process appeared to alter the tone of the discussion that followed. Delegates with a variety of viewpoints spoke courteously during the morning floor discussion as well as the afternoon workshop hosted by BFL. Prior to the vote that was taken during the final business session Saturday afternoon, delegates were again given the opportunity to speak to the issue.
And in the end, with a vote of 103 to 10, delegates to the 30th National Convention approved a revision to Article 13 of the Confession of Faith. The delegates also unanimously passed a motion from the floor that mandates the Board of Faith and Life to “foster communication within our congregations to encourage the study of, commitment to and growth in biblical love, peacemaking and reconciliation, guided by the Mennonite Brethren Confession of Faith Article 13 and to report the response to this initiative at the 2016 convention.”
Following the vote, there was a sense of relief that the recommendation was approved in spite of the fact that we U.S. Mennonite Brethren still do not agree on “what Bible means when the Bible says what the Bible says,” to use Nikkel’s words, with regard to living out our call to be peacemakers, particularly when it comes to military service. The vote conveyed respect and appreciation for the time and energy that BFL had invested in the process and a recognition that the revision had been crafted carefully with thought given to each word and phrase.
Ed Boschman recognized for ministry: In an emotionally-charged celebration, Ed Boschman, USMB executive director since the fall of 2007, was honored for his 40 years of service as a pastor and conference leader. Four individuals—Steve Schroeder, USMB Leadership Board chair; Gary Wall, Pacific District Conference (PDC) minister; Larry Nikkel, USMB Board of Faith and Life chair; and Terry Hunt, North Carolina District minister, pastor and former Leadership Board member—reflected on Boschman’s ministry.
At the close of his comments, Hunt invited Boschman to the stage, saying, “I want you to know how much we appreciate you.” The Grand Ballroom was silent as Hunt washed Boschman’s feet. The crowd expressed their appreciation to Boschman, who was visibly moved, with a standing ovation.
Wall of the PDC described Boschman as USMB’s “evangelistic conscience,” and that passion for people was evident in Boschman’s keynote address Saturday morning. “We are on mission,” said Boschman, preaching from the Gospel of John. “We have the right message for this time. We’re Bible-believers. We’re Jesus-centered. We’re Spirit-led. We call people to repentance. We are agents of reconciliation and peace. We are a covenant community. We are what our neighbors need.”
Going into the divots: Thanks to Ed Stetzer, the Conection 2014 speaker, U.S. Mennonite Brethren have a new phrase to describe church planting: “Going into the divots of the waffle.”
The world is not a flat pancake, said Stetzer in his Friday evening keynote address, holding his e-tablet horizontally, but is more like a waffle with divots, he said, turning his e-tablet to a vertical position. “There are people living in the divots on the waffle. We need to plant churches in the divots of the waffle where (church planters) have not yet gone.”
Stetzer told two stories to illustrate how diverse these “divots” can be. One story concerned a church plant in the “arts and croissant” district of Louisville, Ky. After visiting the fledgling congregation, Stetzer concluded: “These people wouldn’t go to my church and I wouldn’t go to this church. But thank God he sent someone into that divot of the waffle.”
The second story was about a “cowboy” church in Oklahoma City that Stetzer described as “so out of my culture zone.”
Concluding this portion of his address, Stetzer said, “Anabaptists have something that people are open to. But the question is, will you go into the divots? Will you send some of your best and brightest to reach professionals or down-and outers or cowboys?”
Thinking of church planting in terms of waffle divots resonated with the crowd. It became part of the hallway and mealtime discussions, and several people used the phrase during their reports.
Church plant reports a highlight: Stories from USMB church planters are frequently the highlight of a USMB National Convention and the Santa Clara convention was no different. Mission USA is the USMB church planting and church-resourcing ministry directed by Don Morris.
Mission USA is two years into a 10-year effort to plant six churches annually. “It takes all of us to do this,” said Morris. “One-third of our churches are financially supporting the U.S. Conference. I don’t understand this." Morris said the two-thirds that are not supporting "are missing out on what we are doing together to plant churches and reach people.”
Noting that the Mission USA report would highlight “some of the divots” in which churches have recently been planted, Morris invited seven church planters or church plant couples to share stories of transformation. An eighth church planter reported via video.
The reports reflected the diverse environments in which USMB church plants are ministering: among Filipinos in Las Vegas, Nev., and Russian and African immigrants in Spokane, Wash.; among Mormons in Utah and in rapidly growing areas in South Texas. Mission USA church planters are ministering to the “unlikelies,” addicts, atheists and people influenced by spiritism.
The Aug/Sept issue of Christian Leader will include a full report of Conection 2014 with longer reports posted online.
Photos by Steve Wiest