Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ohio Conference held its 2021 Annual Conference Assembly (ACA) virtually rather than in person. On March 6 delegates from all around the Conference met on Zoom for business sessions and worship.
One hundred thirty-three people registered for ACA, including 122 delegates from 32 congregations.
Day includes worship
In addition to business sessions, the online annual meeting included a time of worship, focusing on the theme “Come and See: The Mission of the Church in God’s Country,” based on John 1:35-51 and I Peter 3:15-16a. The featured speaker was Brad Roth, pastor and author of God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church. Brad Roth also was the speaker for the 2021 missional conference which was held during the evenings of March 4 and 5.
During in-person annual meetings, delegates are seated in table groups so that they can discuss topics raised during presentations. For this assembly, delegates also had several times for small group discussion using Zoom’s breakout room feature.
MC USA membership guidelines
During the business sessions, Conference Minister Dick Barrett reported to delegates about the Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) membership guidelines. He noted that MC USA membership guidelines deal with membership of a conference in MC USA, and they do not relate to a congregation’s membership in MC USA.
In January the Executive Board of MC USA made the recommendation to retire the MC USA membership guidelines. However, because the denominational delegate assembly planned for this summer will be held virtually, there will be no action on the recommendation about the membership guidelines this summer.
Reviewing some history, Dick Barrett noted that in 2016, Ohio Conference delegates passed a resolution stating that a congregation does not have to be a member of Mennonite Church USA to be a member of the Ohio Conference. In 2017 Ohio Conference delegates voted to continue affiliation with MC USA with several possible triggers for review of this decision. One of those triggers for review was a substantive change to the denominational membership guidelines.
He said the Leadership Team of Ohio Conference believes that the actual retirement of the membership guidelines would be a substantive change that would trigger a review of Ohio Conference’s affiliation with MC USA. “As the Leadership Team of Ohio Conference, we see our affiliation with MC USA as more than one issue,” he said.
In anticipation of MC USA’s Membership Guidelines being retired sometime in 2022, and in keeping with the resolution passed by the Conference’s delegate body in 2017, the Ohio Conference Leadership Team is suggesting a two-step path to begin discerning what future affiliation with a denomination might look like:
- In the upcoming months Ohio Conference Leadership Team, with input from our pastors and delegates, will continue to clarify our own identity, purpose, mission and God’s vision for us in the future.
- We will discern together what it means for Ohio Conference to affiliate with a denomination today and what we want that relationship to look like in the future.
“We want to make clear that these action steps are in no way indicative of what we might decide as a Conference regarding future affiliation with MC USA if a resolution to retire its membership guidelines were to pass in 2022,” he said. (A copy of Dick Barrett’s statement about the membership guidelines and a timeline of events related to the membership guidelines are online at http://bit.ly/ACADocuments.)
Delegates approved a spending plan for the 2021-22 fiscal year. The plan calls for spending totaling $383,500, an increase of $2,300 from the current fiscal year. A copy of the 2020-21 spending plan is posted on the “Assembly Documents” page of the Ohio Conference website: http://bit.ly/ACADocuments.
At ACA Ohio Conference formally recognized the departure of a congregation, LifeBridge Community Church in Dover, from the Conference. Dick Barrett read a letter from the LifeBridge leadership team acknowledging the leadership of interim pastor Dan Hooley during the congregation’s transition time after the departure of LifeBridge’s founding pastor. LifeBridge had previously been affiliated both with Ohio Conference and Evana, but has chosen to affiliate only with Evana. Dick Barrett led in a prayer of blessing for LifeBridge.
In other business, the delegates:
- Approved the minutes of the 2020 ACA;
- Were introduced to pastors with new assignments in the Ohio Conference;
- Affirmed the personnel slate presented by the Gifts Discernment Ministry (see pages 7-10 for information about these individuals);
- Heard a report about the Conference visioning process from Conference Minister Dick Barrett;
- Heard from Dick Barrett that the Conference staff, Leadership Team and Ministry Development Team are participating in anti-racism training through Widerstand Consulting;
- Recognized the achievement of Jeremy Clevenger of Wooster Mennonite Church, one of five graduates of the Journey leadership development program at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary this year;
- Heard a report from Alex Dye of the Missional Planning Team, about the Missional Discipleship Initiative and the Missional Festival scheduled for June 2022 at at Bluffton University;
- Heard from David Elkins, a member of the pastoral team at Central Mennonite, who reflected on what the congregation has learned from the process of doing church services online during the pandemic;
- Heard from a group of pastors from Wayne County about a video series that they have developed, Series on Solidarity, which deals with racial reconciliation;
- Learned about the upcoming pastor-spouse retreat from Coordinator of Volunteers Alysa Short;
- Heard reports from Glen Guyton, executive director of Mennonite Church USA and Karla Minter of Mennonite Mission Network;
- Celebrated communion.
Recordings of Annual Conference Assembly business sessions and the worship service are on the Conference website: https://bit.ly/AboutACA.