Due to COVID-19, the Southern District Conference (SDC) held a two-hour virtual business session July 31 in lieu of its biennial convention.
The session, attended by about 50 individuals, was moderated by SDC chair Brad Burkholder and broadcast from Ridgepoint Church in Wichita, Kan. Participants could interact with Burkholder and the other presenters who were together at Ridgepoint. The district used the MeetingPulse platform to facilitate a webinar-style event that allowed delegates to vote, download shared documents and ask questions via chat. Nathan Engelman, SDC secretary, provided technical assistance.
Delegates took action on three recommendations and heard oral reports from the district’s four commissions and the Executive Council.
Delegates affirmed the slate of nominees for district leadership positions, voted to change the official name of the district in legal documents from “The Southern District Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America” to “The Southern District Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches” and approved a budget of $377,000 for 2022 and $414,900 for 2023.
In addition to reviewing the budget requests, Bob Ratzlaff, Stewardship Commission chair, reported that the commission used some of the district’s excess funds, managed by MB Foundation, to fund several projects over the past biennium. The SDC gave $10,000 to MB Foundation’s COVID-19 Church Relief Fund, provided funding for SDC pastors to attend Exponential Conference and provided a temporary guaranty of a loan to Lighthouse Church in Denver, Colo., to purchase a larger meeting facility.
Discussion following Ratzlaff’s report included clarification on the pastor’s life insurance and the annual review of the district’s financial records. A question about the length of time between district-wide pastors’ gatherings due to COVID-19 prompted Dave Froese, Faith and Life Commission chair, to report that there may be a district pastors’ gathering yet in 2021 as well as in 2023. There will be a national USMB pastors’ gathering in the summer of 2022.
Froese’s report as Faith and Life chair was the most creative of the morning. Froese appeared toting golf clubs and wearing a traditional style golf hat with a towel over his shoulder. After briefly reviewing the history of golf caddies, Froese said the ministry of the Faith and Life Commission is to serve as a good caddy for the district minister and local congregations. He talked about understanding the responsibilities of pastoral staff members, resolving conflict and providing needed information.
SDC youth minister Russ Claassen and Kyle Goings, Youth Commission chair, reviewed the five events the Youth Commission plans annually: senior high youth conference (SDYC), junior high youth conference (JHYC) and three summer camps (Kids Camp, Junior High Camp and Ascent for senior high students). Goings reported that the 2022 and 2023 budgets include funding for a part-time administrative assistant to help with summer camp administrative duties.
The report from the Church Extension and Evangelism Commission (CEEC), represented by Brian Harris, included video reports from Lighthouse Church, Denver, Colo., that recently added a second campus, and City Church, Pueblo, Colo., that is involved in a restart. Harris encouraged pastors to take advantage of Thrive, a new program provided by MB Foundation that supports church health.
Burkholder, in his report as the SDC chair, highlighted the reception of Agape Evangelical Church, Aurora, Colo., as a new SDC congregation. A video from a trip Burkholder and others in the district made to Aurora to welcome the congregation was shown.
Burkholder also introduced the slate of nominees to fill district commission vacancies and the recommendation to change the name of the district. In response to a question asked about the procedure of affirming the whole slate of nominees instead of voting individually for nominees, delegates were given the option of voting individually.
Discussion about the name change included a suggestion that an additional change to consider in the future is to use something other than “Southern” to identify the district. During the discussion, it was noted that the dissolution of the binational General Conference prompted the change.
The recommendations as well as written commission reports were distributed via email prior to the convention. The report e-packet also included reports from eight ministries: USMB, Christian Leader, MB Foundation, Tabor College, Fresno Pacific University, Multiply, Center for MB Studies and Mennonite Disaster Service.
District minister Tim Sullivan was scheduled to give a devotional and to open the business session in prayer. Sullivan was diagnosed with COVID-19 prior to the convention and so was unable be at Ridgepoint Church. He participated via chat but did not speak.
Brenda Hamm, SDC executive committee member-at-large, gave the closing prayer.