Lancaster Conference Debates MC USA Membership

The largest group of Mennonite congregations in the country may be breaking ties with the Mennonite Church and EMU’s listening process is one of the causes.

The Lancaster Conference bishops have called for a reevaluation of their relationship with Mennonite Church USA in the wake of several events that have called into question MC USA’s long held stance against homosexuality. According to Keith Weaver, chair of the board of bishops, the events that triggered the reevaluation range from the ordination of an openly lesbian pastor in Denver to the listening process at EMU.

Including over 14,000 members, 170 congregations, and Lancaster Mennonite High School, Lancaster Conference is the largest and most powerful of the 21 Mennonite Conferences that make up MC USA, the governing body of the American Mennonite Church and a key source of fundraising and recruitment for EMU.

However, despite the negative effects that the decision could have on EMU, leaders on campus remain positive about the future of the college.

Luke Hartman, EMU’s Vice President of Enrollment, acknowledged that the decision by the Lancaster bishops, “demonstrates the fragility of Mennonite Church USA as it is now structured,” but said that he did not antici- pate their decision leading to long-term consequences for the University.

Said Hartman, “I do not anticipate a huge shift in numbers one way or another.

“Those who take the time to understand EMU as a Christian University, recognize that there is no way to define such a great educational enterprise by any one singular topic.”

Ted Grimsrud, EMU Bible and Religion Professor agreed with Hartman’s assessment of the current fragility of the Mennonite Church and added that it is important to remember that a single vote does not define a community.

Said Grimsrud, “I think it is unfortunate that the Lancaster Conference bishops (though they certainly were not unanimous, which is important to remember) would have entered the current highly anxious conversation in MC USA with their warnings about possible major defections from the denomination.

“Those warnings do not seem to further possible healing processes that the denomination so badly needs.”

Grimsrud went on to emphasize that it is rare for all the churches in a conference to act in unison. “It is difficult to imagine the entire conference simply splitting from the Mennonite Church. There is a lot of diversity within LMC. It seems more likely that that conference would splinter than that the whole would withdraw from the denomination.”

Finally, both Grimsrud and Hartman say that no matter what LMC decides, the long-term impact on EMU would most likely be limited.

Grimsrud commented, “Lancaster Conference itself does not play a direct role in EMU life; it is individual congregations, donors, alumni, and student (and potential student) families that are more directly involved with EMU.

“Those contacts would most likely continue regardless of what happens with LMC.”

-David Yoder, Co-Editor In Chief


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