By Dick Barrett
Conference Minister

I find myself writing this just a few days after our 2023 Annual Conference Assembly where the theme was “Rooted and Grounded in Love,” based on Ephesians 3:16-21. The Assembly was a time of good fellowship, worship and learning about different spiritual practices. It was also a time of hard work, as the delegates continued to discern God’s will for Ohio Conference regarding future denominational affiliation.

While there is no clear direction at this time, the Holy Spirit’s presence was felt in many ways. The Holy Spirit was present in how the delegates interacted with one another, showing love in the midst of differences, listening well and speaking with respect. The Holy Spirit was present in what appeared to be a desire of many to maintain “Holy Indifference” to anything and everything but the will of God in the discernment. The Holy Spirit was present as delegates discussed in table groups and then shared with all through writing on large sheets of paper and posting suggestions for moving forward together.

Leading up to the Assembly, the Leadership Team came to the conclusion that a decision or vote regarding affiliation (to remain with Mennonite Church USA or to withdraw, become temporarily independent, and seek a new affiliation) of less than 2/3 majority affirmation would be an indication that we have not yet clearly discerned God’s will for us as a conference regarding future affiliation.

We live in a country which prides itself on the democratic process, and as Anabaptists and Mennonites the process of communal decision making is very important, but church is not a democracy. Church is a theocracy with the triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as the head. Voting can be a tool that helps us discern God’s will and to make decisions together, but in making large and important decisions that affect the future of the church, God’s will should be clearer than just a majority. And as much as many among us would like to be done with the question of affiliation and be moving on, we need to remember that we live in God’s timing which is often different than our own.

How might God be speaking to us in this time we are in? Is there a better way, or as Anabaptists and Mennonites like to say, “Is there a third way?” Is God calling us to something different that we have not yet fully explored?

These are questions that we are going to need to try to answer as we continue to discern together in the second year of our review process facilitated by our consultant, Jeanne Zimmerly Jantzi. I am confident that if we remain faithful to the process, and we continue to love one another in the same way we have throughout this first year, God will reveal his will for us as a conference for the years ahead. “Because of our partnership in the gospel he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion.”

With the Love of Christ,