DETAILED PROCESS OUTLINE

A longer and more detailed outline of Frazer’s congregational discernment process, 2009-2011.

We share our Frazer story here in detail for the benefit of other congregations who may decide to engage in a discernment process. It is our prayer that you will glean ideas and practices from our experience that you can appropriately adapt to your own unique congregation context. We sought out ideas and counsel from other congregations and found the information we received to be invaluable for designing our process. Frazer would like to publicly acknowledge these congregations for sharing helpful information about their congregational discernment processes with us: First Mennonite Church of Champaign-Urbana in Urbana, Illinois and Columbus Mennonite Church in Columbus, Ohio. We received significant insight and direction from the presentation of “Agreeing and Disagreeing in Love: A Congregational Case Study in Spiritual Discernment” as an “alternate session” at the MC USA Convention 2009 in Columbus, Ohio, by Marlene Steiner Suter, Congregational Chair, and Steve Goering, Pastor.

1) In Fall of 2007, the congregation identified the following priority as one of eight priorities:
Engage in an educational process to understand and to discuss homosexuality, in order to discern our response to gay/lesbian attendees who desire membership.” Pastor Brenda envisioned that addressing this priority could be expanded to first discuss a wider range of issues related to church membership or to discuss homosexuality within a broader study of human sexuality.

2) January-February 2009    Five-Sunday Worship/Sunday School Series on Human Sexuality.         

3) March 22, 2009 - The Ministry Team presented a proposal to the congregation for a discernment process to be completed by October 2010 with taking action on a membership statement.  The proposal was approved by the congregational on April 5, 2009.

4) Summer 2009 Sunday School class offering taught by Pastor Brenda.  Focus:  “Walking Together Toward Sexual Wholeness?”  Resource used:  Fall 2008 Vision journal focused on Sexuality.

5) October 2009 – 4-Sunday Worship series on Church Membership.

6)  January 3, 2010 – First Circle Gathering in Fellowship Hall.  “To listen to God and to one another as we begin to share what we bring to this congregational discernment process.” 

7) January 10 – March 7, 2010 –Brown-bag lunch series (5 Sundays):  “Toward a Better Understanding of Homosexuality.”  We intentionally invited guests who took positions across the theological spectrum. 

8) March-May, 2010 Sunday School class: “Examining all things in the light of Scripture”
Foundational assumptions for this class came from Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective:
“We seek to understand and interpret Scripture in harmony with Jesus Christ, as we are led by the Holy Spirit in the church” (p 21).

“We participate in the church’s task of interpreting the Bible and of discerning what God is saying in our time by examining all things in the light of Scripture. Insights and understandings which we bring to the interpretation of Scripture are to be tested in the faith community” (p 22).

9) March 14, 2010  - Second Circle Gathering, “To listen to God and to one another regarding what we have gained so far and what needs our focused attention in the next months as we continue our discernment process.”

10)  May 23, 2010 – Third Circle Gathering, “To prayerfully listen to God and to one another as we openly and honestly share what we believe individually about homosexuality and to reflect back what we hear as we listen deeply and respectfully to one another.” 

11) June 12, 2010 – Special Congregational Conversation (S.S. hour).  Focus:   Frazer’s affiliation with Lancaster Conference and Mennonite Church USA (reviewed current official statements about homosexuality)
Discussion questions:

  1. How important is conference and denominational affiliation to us?
  2. How important is it for Frazer to belong to LMC in particular?
  3. What counsel do you have for the Ministry Team as we communicate with Lancaster Mennonite Conference leaders?

12)  July 29, 2010 – Ministry Team shared a draft “Toward an Understanding of Our Unity in Jesus Christ in the Midst of our Diversity” statement with the congregation for further discussion and discernment.  Feedback from each person sought to get a clear picture where the congregation was at (using this feedback form).  Asked for their level of agreement with this unity statement, what needs more clarity and asked them to give their position on how best to love gays/lesbian using a scale of 5 positions:
  • call for repentance and change;
  • love the sinner/hate the sin;
  • uncertain;
  • accepting;
  • affirming and blessing.

13) Sept. 12, 2010 – Fourth Circle Gathering, “To seek Jesus’ light in and around this Frazer circle to show us the way ahead, by seeing Frazer’s diversity and unity, hearing LMC leaders’ voices and sharing our sense of the Spirit’s leading with one another.”   We shared the data from the congregational feedback and what Ministry Team heard from LMC leaders. 

14)  September 26 and 28, 2010 - Ministry Team hosted two separate listening times with the folks on each end of the “conservative-liberal” spectrum who may have felt in a minority or not heard.
Questions asked: 

  • What do you see as a workable way forward together?
  • What compromise are you willing to live with?
  • Can you envision practicing unity in diversity?
  • Concretely, how will you practice this with Frazer folks on the other end of the spectrum?

15)  October 3, 2010 – Fifth Circle Gathering, “To clearly lay out where this process has brought us.  To invite the congregation to speak to what the Spirit of God is calling us to now.  To test the Ministry Team’s sense of what we ought to do now.”  (Informative handout shared)  The Ministry Team sensed that this intense process needed some closure as originally planned for by October 2010.    Key question for congregation:  What is the Spirit of God calling us to now when there appears not to be a way to both welcome gays and lesbians into membership here at Frazer and remain in fellowship with Lancaster Mennonite Conference? 
Ministry Team recognized the congregation was very tired from this intense process and called for a 6-month rest time of practicing Ps. 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.”    Ministry Team committed itself to listen, wait, and have no intense conversations with Lancaster Mennonite Conference during this period.

16) December 1, 2010 – Began Advent with a service of simply sitting and listening and being still.

17)   March 23, 2011 – The Ministry Team sent another significant letter to the congregation, inviting them to a March 27 Circle Gathering for sharing our recommendation to the congregation.  Attached recommendation:  1) a belief statement:  “The Spirit of God is calling FMC to embody and give witness to practicing our unity in Jesus Christ in the midst of our diversity within the congregation, in our conference/denominational relationships and in the world.”; 2)  a draft membership statement; 3) two options regarding our conference affiliation (A – remain in LMC and following their membership expectations; B – choose to affiliate with another conference that is seeking to practice unity in diversity.

18)  March 27, 2011 – Sixth Circle Gathering “To hear the congregation’s response to the calling statement of Ministry Team, To receive an initial congregational response to the broad membership statement offered as a recommendation; To begin to weigh together Options A and B regarding conference affiliation, and listen for the Spirit’s leading in this important decision.”

19)  April 10, 2011 – Frazer Mennonite Church took formal action to pursue affiliation with another MC USA conference.

20)  June 9, 2013 – Frazer Mennonite Church took formal action to accept associate membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference of Mennonite Church USA.

21)  October 20, 2013 – Frazer Mennonite Church adopted a new membership statement:

Membership Statement of Frazer Mennonite Church
Frazer Mennonite Church welcomes into membership all persons who profess faith in Jesus Christ.  We welcome all who desire to walk with Christ in order to grow in trusting God, in following the light of Scripture and in living Jesus’s way.  Considering this common commitment to Jesus Christ to be essential, Frazer members seek to practice “in essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, and in all things love.” We trust the Spirit’s transforming presence, in each of our lives and in our life together, to be reconciling us all to God and to one another through Jesus Christ.

 

 

Submitted by Brenda Martin Hurst, July 10, 2014

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