Delegates with the Eastern District Conference of the Mennonite Church decided to end the group’s “liaison relationship” with the Germantown Mennonite Church (GMC).
GMC Pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin said “there was no official reason given” for the decision, which was reached two weeks ago.
However, she told NewsWorks on Monday that she suspected that GMC’s acceptance of LGBT members played a role.
She deemed the news “shocking [and] painful.” It appears that discussions geared toward bridging a gap with which the faith has grappled for years were unsuccessful.
“It was especially difficult to sing songs of unity and the love of God, knowing that unity and love did not prevail in the day’s decisions,” said McGloughlin of a GMC that labels itself “inclusive of the diversity of age, education, ethnicity, gender, economic or social class, race, sexual orientation, physical or mental condition, or residence.”
News comes as a surprise
McGlouglin attended the Nov. 10 regional conference in Perkasie, Pa., which brought together representatives from Mennonite congregations from across Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, but not the meeting where the vote took place.
According to its website, Mennonite Church USA is an “Anabaptist Christian denomination with more than 109,000 members in 44 states.”
One of 21 area conferences in Mennonite Church USA, representing 939 congregations, the EDC helms meetings, workshops, fundraisers and worship services.
It also provides “fellowship for pastors and congregants from church-to-church as well as connection with the national church body,” said Warren Tyson, conference minister for the EDC.
GMC was a non-voting member of the EDC but was “invited to be present” and “provide counsel.” Of voting delegates, a majority opposed continuing that relationship.
“The relationship is largely symbolic, and one that represents hope that dialogue can continue, despite our differences,” said McGloughlin, who noted she did not anticipate the delegates’ decision.
Same-sex relationship opposition
According to Tyson, faith statements of Mennonite Church USA still officially oppose same-sex relationships.
“The denomination, at this point, still has a position of not endorsing same-sex relationships,” said Tyson.
McGloughlin offered insight into the church’s schism on the LGBT issue.
“I see this as an issue of biblical interpretation,” she said. “If you read the scriptures in a particular way, it seems very straightforward. But, to read the gospel more expansively, and to hear the stories of queer people of faith, it changes how we see the gospel. It changes how we understand who God is and what our faith is all about.”
However, “conference leaders recommended to conference delegates to continue some type of relationship with Germantown. We were working towards that,” Tyson told NewsWorks on Monday.
Not a permanent edict
Tyson recalled a lunch meeting with GMC members at a restaurant in Northwest Philadelphia earlier this year. He said the recommendation was made to continue the relationship, adding that he believes the vote could be reconsidered.
“The one thing that stands out to me since the new vote was taken is that a number of delegates who most likely would have favored that the relationship be continued simply were not present to vote during the delegate session,” said Tyson.
Acceptance will remain intact
While McGloughlin said she is hopeful to rekindle the liaison relationship, she thought some GMC members may be hesitant to rejoin. Of the estimated 100-person attendance at Sunday services, she estimated 15 percent are also in the LGBT community. She said she had not heard of this happening to any other congregations.
“We need to be sure that a conference understands that we will baptize and welcome into membership anyone that wishes it, regardless of their sexual orientation,” said McGloughlin. “If our position means that we are not part of the conference and, as a result, the Mennonite denomination, then so be it. We are called to welcome all people, and we will continue to do that.”