Delegates to a Pacific District Conference special convention held March 24 voted to amend the district’s bylaws to provide for a member church to separate from the district.
The special convention was held at Hope Kingsburg, Kingsburg, California, in a hybrid format, with more than 130 people attending, including 30 who attended via Zoom. More than once, moderator Dennis Fast expressed his appreciation for the number of delegates who attended the special convention.
Other than a devotional given by Tim Geddert, U.S. Board of Faith and Life member, the 90-minute session dealt with a single agenda item: amending Article IV. Section 3.D.1 Dismissal from Membership.
The proposed amendment, brought by the PDC Executive Board, was itself amended twice during discussion. The PDC Board of Faith and Life brought the first proposed change to the amendment, a modification which the Executive Board was aware of prior to the special convention, Fast told the delegates.
The proposed bylaw change that the churches had received four weeks prior to the special convention stated: “If and when a member church departs form the Scriptural fundamentals of the faith, is undergoing crisis or conflict, declines to accept and to carry out the resolutions of the Conference, or cannot agree in doctrinal matters with the decisions of the Conference or with the Confession of Faith, the Conference shall have the right to take disciplinary action including probation, suspension, or expulsion. The Conference shall formulate policies and procedures for the imposition of such disciplinary action.”
The BFL amendment added the phrase “after first seeking to reconcile” following the words “Confession of Faith” and replaced “expulsion” with “termination of membership.” The amendment was approved.
Delegates discussed the phrase “undergoing crisis or conflict” and approved an amendment to instead use language from the original bylaw.
The original wording of Article IV. Section 3.D.1 said: “If and when a church departs from the Scriptural fundamentals of the faith, or if a church declines to accept and to carry out the resolutions of the Conference, or if a church causes an ill report on accounts of its actions or its conduct, the Conference may suspend the membership of such a church.”
The approved amendment to the proposed amendment replaced “undergoing crisis or conflict” with “causes an ill report on account of its actions or its conduct.”
In addition to discussing proposed amendments to the amendment, delegates asked if the amended bylaw achieved the goal of allowing a church to withdraw from the district conference and what PDC bylaws say about church assets when a church separates from the district.
PDC minister Jordan Ringhofer said that because PDC bylaws cannot contradict bylaws of the U.S. Conference of MB Churches, “withdrawal language should not be used.” Ringhofer and Fast said that the proposed language, along with policies that will be written, do allow for a church to withdraw.
Fast reported that the U.S. Conference has given the PDC the freedom to address property issues as it sees fit with the churches who separate from the district under certain circumstances.
There was also a question about how the PDC Executive Board functions as the “conference in interim” between biennial conventions. This is one of aspect of the current bylaws that will be clarified in future changes to the bylaws, Ringhofer said.
Earlier in the evening, in his review of reasons for the need to make bylaw changes, Ringhofer acknowledged that PDC bylaws need additional updates and changes, and that he anticipates more changes will be brought to the 2023 PDC convention. However, the Executive Board did not want to wait make changes to Article IV because there are currently three PDC churches that for various reasons would like to withdraw from the district conference. Under the current bylaws, the only way a church can separate from the district is by closing.
Ringhofer said three years ago the Executive Committee first became aware of the need to make a way for churches to separate from the district and so initiated the process of reviewing current bylaws. The process of researching possible solutions included talking with the Southern District Conference, International Community of Mennonite Brethren, Mennonite World Conference and the Canadian Conference of MB Churches.
The approved amendment to Article IV, Section 3.D.1 states: “If and when a member church departs from the Scriptural fundamentals of the faith, causes an ill report on account of its actions or its conduct, declines to accept and to carry out the resolutions of the Conference or cannot agree in doctrinal matters with the decisions of the Conference or with the Confession of Faith, after first seeking to reconcile, the Conference shall have the right to take disciplinary action including probation, suspension or termination of membership. The Conference shall formulate policies and procedures for the imposition of such disciplinary action.”
The amendment as amended passed by a show of hands with one dissenting vote. PDC churches have until May 8, 45 days from the special convention, to respond.
Connie Faber joined the magazine staff in 1994 and assumed the duties of editor in 2004. She has won awards from the Evangelical Press Association for her writing and editing. Faber is the co-author of Family Matters: Discovering the Mennonite Brethren. She and her husband, David, have two daughters, one son, one daughter-in-law, one son-in-law and one grandson. They are members of Ebenfeld MB Church in Hillsboro, Kansas.