Pastors orientation, board meetings scheduled for March

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Proposal for USMB future on agenda for two of four meetings

By Connie Faber

USMB pastors and leaders are gathering next week, March 9-15, in San Diego, Calif., for a series of meetings. The week begins with National Pastors Orientation followed by a meeting of the Board of Faith and Life. The week concludes with two meetings that will focus on the future of the U.S. Mennonite Brethren ministries.

National Pastors Orientation

The seven-day marathon begins with National Pastors Orientation (NPO), held Monday through Wednesday noon. NPO is intended for pastoral staff members who are new to ministry or new to the U.S. Conference. Twenty-four pastors have registered for the orientation sponsored by the Board of Faith and Life (BFL). Total attendance, including spouses, presenters and staff, will be about 60, says Donna Sullivan, the USMB event coordinator.

The purpose of the biennial orientation is to give new pastors the opportunity to learn about the Mennonite Brethren Church, to become familiar with the resources available to USMB pastors and churches, to meet USMB leaders and other pastors and to be renewed and refreshed.  

“My preferred outcome would be if people left San Diego saying, ‘I’m really glad I’m part of this Mennonite Brethren family,’” says Larry Nikkel, BFL chair.

Learning about the MB family begins with three Monday sessions moderated by Nikkel and Steve Schroeder, USMB Leadership Board chair. The sessions will introduce attendees to U.S. Mennonite Brethren ministries and agencies as well as inter-Mennonite agencies. Tim Geddert, BFL member and professor of New Testament at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary (FPBS), will teach the fourth session on “The Church in God’s Mission.”

Valerie Rempel, FPBS associate dean, associate professor and J.B. Toews Chair of History and Theology, will cover the history of the Mennonite Brethren Church in a Tuesday morning presentation. Wednesday morning Geddert will speak on “How we read the Bible.”

Attendees will also hear from Don Morris, USMB interim executive director and director of Mission USA; Jon Wiebe, president and CEO of MB Foundation; and district ministers Rick Eshbaugh, Central District; Terry Hunt, North Carolina District; Tim Sullivan, Southern District; and Gary Wall, Pacific District.

In addition to providing information about USMB organization, history and theology as well as practical financial matters related to pastoral ministry, the orientation is also intended to connect people personally with one another, says Nikkel. Eating meals together at the hotel and off-site as well as long breaks and free time Tuesday afternoon are intended to foster interaction.  

The NPO as well as the meetings that follow will take place at the Best Western Island Palms Hotel and Marina located on San Diego’s Shelter Island.

Board of Faith and Life

The nine-member Board of Faith and Life (BFL) will meet Wednesday noon through Thursday noon. This will be the second time BFL has met since delegates to the 2014 USMB National Convention approved a new version of Article 13: Love, Peacemaking and Reconciliation and the board’s primary agenda will be “fleshing out how we can assist congregations in understanding and living out Article 13,” says Nikkel.

In addition to Nikkel and Geddert and the four district ministers, BFL members are Jana Hildebrandt, Southern District Conference; Michael Petts, Central District Conference; and Morris, USMB interim executive director.

Unveiling summary of vision, strategy scenario

The principal agenda for the Leadership Summit and Leadership Board meetings that fall at the end of the week will be a proposal for a “new direction for the denomination,” says Leadership Board Chair Schroeder.  

A writing team working on behalf of the 40 individuals that attended two fall 2014 working retreats led by consultant George Bullard prepared the proposal. This week, Bullard, president of The Columbia Partnership, will review the proposal with members of a task force created by the Leadership Board last year to lead a structural and vision review of the national conference. The task force hired Bullard, who will continue to work with the Leadership Board as USMB takes the next steps in a process that Bullard has used to guide other denominations toward health and vitality.

Members of the task force—Schroeder, BFL chair Nikkel, Marv Schellenberg, Leadership Board vice chair, and Jon Wiebe of MB Foundation—will share the proposal with the Leadership Summit.

Leadership Summit participants include the Leadership Board executive committee, the lead staff members and board chairs of MB Foundation, MB Mission, Tabor College and Fresno Pacific University and Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. District ministers and the chairs/moderators of each district are also invited. Many of these leaders were involved in the retreats led by Bullard, says Schroeder, so the proposal won’t come to them as a total surprise.

No decisions or changes will be made, says Schroeder. “We will simply have a conversation and discuss if we agree with the direction of the proposal.”

Assuming the Leadership Summit is in agreement with the proposed direction, the task force will bring the proposal to the Leadership Board as a recommendation. The Leadership Board will not be receiving reports from USMB staff members during the board meeting so that the majority of the board’s time can be spent discussing the recommended direction. USMB staff will be included in some of those discussions.  

If the Leadership Board agrees that the proposal is a “good path for the next 10 years,” the board will appoint a new group of individuals to work with Bullard to outline organizational details, including the role of the next USMB executive director. The vision and structural review was prompted by the retirement in August 2014 of Ed Boschman, USMB executive director. The Leadership Board appointed Don Morris, director of Mission USA, as the interim executive director during the duration of the review process.   

The discussions next week are the “next step in the process to discerning what God has for us as a family of churches,” says Schroeder. He anticipates that if the Leadership Board endorses the proposal, it will likely take several more months by a team that has yet to be appointed to flesh out this new direction and that Bullard will continue to advise the Leadership Board on how best to implement changes and how to involve the broader constituency in the process.

Photo: Participants at the 2013 National Pastors Orientation prayed for one another at the close of the three-day orientation. The 2015 National Pastors Orientation is the first gathering in a week of USMB meetings to be held in San Diego, Calif. Photo by CL.

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