Gatherings top the list for 2015; developments may prove significant
By Connie Faber
2015 was the year of gatherings for U.S. Mennonite Brethren. Not only did four of the five USMB district conferences hold conventions, four other news worthy national and international get-togethers took place.
USMB youth rally
Topping the list is Named 2015, the National MB Youth Conference (NYC) held April 9-12 in Denver, Colo. Given that this event is scheduled every four years and USMB teens have one opportunity to participate during their high school years, this was a historic event for the 780 students and sponsors that attended.
Convention organizers had designed the event specifically for Mennonite Brethren youth and hoped that the convention theme of identity rooted in Matt. 16:13-18 would inspire students and adults to find their identity in Christ and more specifically in the Mennonite Brethren story.
Senior adult convention returns
Teens weren’t the only ones that benefitted from a national event planned specifically for them. At the other end of the age spectrum, senior adults were invited to Celebrate 2015, a weekend conference for senior adults hosted for the first time by MB Foundation, the stewardship ministry for U.S. Mennonite Brethren. Read about Celebrate 2015 here.
USMB among hosts for global Anabaptist assembly
As one of four Anabaptist conferences in the United States, USMB was an official host of PA 2015, the 16th Mennonite World Conference (MWC) Assembly held July 21-26 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Complex, Harrisburg, Pa., that drew more than 7,500 attendees from more than 65 countries.
Given that some U.S. Mennonite Brethren are hesitant to embrace this global fellowship, it was not surprising the USMB registrants totaled 70, or 1.8 percent of the 3,931 U.S. registrants. Read our MWC coverage here and here and an editorial suggesting that more of us should have attended this once-every-six-years gathering.
ICOMB meets in Pennsylvania
Since U.S. Anabaptists hosted the MWC Assembly and because many of the 21 Mennonite Brethren national conferences around the world are also part of MWC, the International Community of Mennonite Brethren Annual Summit was held in Pennsylvania the week following the MWC global gathering. Because of the large number of guests, conference representatives sat around the conference table while the guests ringed three sides of the classroom in which the group met on the Messiah College campus in Grantham, Pa. Read about the ICOMB summit here.
Important developments in the life of our national conference are not always given significant space in print or online. Looking back on 2015, there are three stories that didn't get a lot of coverage but may prove to be significant.
“Preferred Future” discussion continues
In the beginning, USMB leaders predicted that the review of U.S. Conference (USMB) structure and ministry begun in July 2014 would take six to 12 months. While progress was made in 2015, we’re still waiting for details about our national conference “Future Story,” as the current status of the review and vision process is called.
While specifics remain confidential, the Leadership Board did take action in October on several matters that Leadership Board chair Steve Schroeder says reflect the new priorities and strategies. Read about the “Future Story” process here and here. Read Schroeder’s October statement here.
More USMB churches planted
USMB church planting efforts began 2015 with an influx of financial support thanks to Mission USA’s Giving Tuesday campaign that raised over $54,700 for church planting. These funds were used by Mission USA, in partnership with district conferences, to plant five churches in 2015: Assembly of Trinity International, Alexandria, Va.; Lighthouse Church, Denver, Colo.; Neighborhood Church, Fresno, Calif.; Pacific Keep Church, Spokane, Wash.; and South Mountain Community Church Lehi Campus, Lehi, Utah. Read about Mission USA church plants here. The year ended on a mixed note with a shortfall in 2015 Giving Tuesday projections and preliminary discussions between the U.S. Conference and C2C, a Canadian Mennonite Brethren-based, interdenominational church planting ministry, about expanding the relationship between C2C and Mission USA. Time will tell what comes out of these discussions.
Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage
While the official response of USMB ministries to the U.S. Supreme Court decision in late June to legalize same-sex marriage supports the historic Judeo-Christian view of marriage and affirms the USMB Confession of Faith, there is a diversity of opinion among U.S. Mennonite Brethren regarding homosexuality.
You can read the letter the Board of Faith and Life sent to the Supreme Court here. Our two USMB colleges, Tabor College in Hillsboro, Kan., and Fresno Pacific University in Fresno, Calif., both cited the USMB Confession of Faith in their request to be exempt from sexual orientation enforcement of Title IX regulations. Their requests were approved in 2015. Read an article from Mennonite World Review on the colleges’ exemptions here.
At the 2014 National Delegate Convention, we affirmed our desire to be known as people that live at peace with those with whom we disagree—including those in our families, congregations and communities. Differences of belief and practice regarding same-sex marriage and homosexuality give us the opportunity to again test our ability to disagree while maintaining our witness as Christ’s disciples. Time will testify to how well we do at this.