At the 2023 Annual Conference Assembly (ACA), a resolution for Ohio Conference to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA and become temporarily independent did not receive enough votes from delegates to be adopted. The Ohio Conference Leadership Team proposed the resolution to delegates on March 4 at ACA after several sessions of group spiritual discernment.
Eighty-one delegates (54.7 %) voted to affirm the resolution, while 67 delegates (45.3 %) voted against the resolution, and three delegates abstained from voting. Because the resolution did not receive affirmation from at least two thirds of the delegates, it was not adopted. (The Leadership Team had announced prior to voting that at least two thirds of delegates would need to affirm the resolution for it to be adopted.)
Path to the resolution
At the 2022 ACA held at Zion Mennonite Church in Archbold, delegates approved a new mission statement for the Conference. At that time the delegates also gave feedback to the Leadership Team about a plan to conduct a three-part review process, focusing on the Conference’s constitution, structure and affiliation with Mennonite Church USA. The review of denominational affiliation was prompted by a resolution passed at the 2017 ACA which stated that a change in the membership guidelines of Mennonite Church USA (MC USA) would trigger a review of Ohio Conference’s affiliation with MC USA.
At the 2022 ACA, delegates expressed affirmation for the Leadership Team’s plan to hire a consultant to help with the review process. The Leadership Team subsequently hired Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi of Design Group International for a two-year period to help guide the review process.
During the past year, the review process has involved numerous meetings with pastors, Leadership Team, Ministry Development Team, staff and delegates. Many options for denominational affiliation were suggested, and a Strategic Planning Team explored these options before making recommendations to the Leadership Team.
Prior to ACA, the Leadership Team proposed two scenarios for denominational affiliation. Scenario 1 proposed that Ohio Conference would remain a part of MC USA, and Scenario 2 proposed that Ohio Conference would withdraw from MC USA and become temporarily independent while seeking new partners for affiliation, networking and/or collaboration.
During ACA, delegates spent several sessions in group spiritual discernment led by Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi, looking at both of these scenarios. Delegates spent time discussing the scenarios with partners and their table groups. They named their hopes and fears concerning each scenario, and each table group compiled responses. These responses were then posted on a prayer wall. All delegates were invited to read the variety of responses from across all table groups.
Traffic light surveys
At three separate times during the discernment process, delegates were asked to participate in a “traffic light survey” regarding the two scenarios. The possible responses were as follows:
Green = I fully support this option.
Yellow = This is not the option I would choose, but I would stay with Ohio Conference if this option were chosen.
Red = I cannot accept this option.
Based on delegate responses (see the graphic below), the Leadership Team determined that a resolution to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA had a better chance of receiving the affirmation of two thirds of the delegates. Subsequently, the Leadership Team proposed the resolution to withdraw from Mennonite Church USA, but the resolution was not adopted because it did not receive affirmation from at least two thirds of the delegates.
Akron Swahili congregation joins Conference
In other business, delegates voted to accept a new congregation into membership in the Ohio Conference. The Akron Swahili Mennonite Church is the newest congregation to join the Conference. The congregation’s pastors, Benaya Mlondani Wahina and Malanga Lusaende, had been licensed for ministry by the Ohio Conference during a World Communion Sunday worship service at Central Christian School in October 2022. Jacob Dodson, pastor of Wooster Mennonite Church, and Thomas Dunn, co-pastor of Crown Hill Mennonite Church in Rittman, have been serving as mentors to these two pastors.
When the congregation was accepted as a new member of the Ohio Conference, Pastor Benaya Mlondani Wahina shared some words of appreciation with the delegates, with translation provided by Jacqueline Nashon of Tanzania. She is currently serving in Wayne County through Mennonite Central Committee’s International Volunteer Exchange Program (IVEP). Thanks were also given to Rollin Mukanza of the International Institute of Akron, recognizing his help in connecting the Akron group with the Ohio Conference.
In other business, the delegates:
- Worshipped together Friday evening and Saturday morning with worship services focusing on the theme “Rooted and Grounded in Love,” based on Ephesians 3:16-21;
- Approved the proposed 2023-24 spending plan for Ohio Conference;
- Affirmed the personnel slate presented by the Gifts Discernment Ministry (see pages 8-10 for information about these individuals);
- Welcomed pastors new to the Ohio Conference;
- Heard reports from Rachel Ringenberg Miller of Mennonite Church USA and Eric Frey Martin of Mennonite Mission Network;
- Heard from Bill and Carole Schumacher of Sharon Mennonite Church about the Arsenic Mitigation Project, which focuses on removing arsenic from the water supply in Bangladesh;
- Heard about Grace & Groundings, the Ohio Conference racial reconciliation resource team, from Greg Battle, a member of the resource team;
- Heard about the upcoming missional workshop from Alex Dye, a member of the Missional Resource Team;
- Heard about the Pastor-Spouse Retreat, planned for Nov. 10-12, from Doug King of Tedrow Mennonite Church and Valerie Jones of South Union Mennonite;
- Observed communion.
ACA delegates adopt resolutions of thanks
Delegates at Annual Conference Assembly adopted two resolutions of thanks during Saturday’s last business session. The resolutions are below:
- We thank Ohio Conference Staff, leadership, and Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi for their work and support of Ohio Conference churches and pastors this past year. We appreciate their energy, clarity, and determination to help us live into our new Conference vision and mission statement.
- We would like to acknowledge and express our immense gratitude for Sherah-Leigh Gerber’s faithful service as Regional Pastor within Ohio Conference. Her leadership, wisdom, and support were invaluable to our conference, our congregations, and our pastors. We are better because of her service.
ACA by the numbers
- 190 participants
- 153 delegates
- 35 congregations represented
- 1 new congregation welcomed into membership (Akron Swahili Mennonite Church)
- 9 spiritual practices for delegates to choose from
- 18 displays from local ministries and church-wide agencies
- 3 worship services, including closing time of communion
- $2,317 — Offering given by delegates during the Friday evening worship service. The money given will be shared between two projects: assisting in the purchase of Bible curriculum for Central Christian School students and the Bangladesh Arsenic Mitigation Project.