by Sue Ann Rybak

Delegates with the Eastern District Conference of Mennonite Church USA decided to sever its “liaison relationship” with the Germantown Mennonite Church (GMC), 21 West Washington Lane, last month.

GMC is the oldest Mennonite church in North America.

The decision was reached at the Eastern District Conference Assembly on Nov. 10 at the Penn View Christian School in Harleysville, Pa.

GMC Pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin said she was “shocked and upset” by the decision. McGloughlin said while “there was no official reason given” for the decision, she believes it is the church”s acceptance of same-sex relationships.

According to the Mennonite Church USA’s website, it is an “Anabaptist Christian denomination with more than 109,000 members in 44 states.

The Eastern Conference is one of 21 area conferences in Mennonite Church USA.

A total of 21 area conferences serve as regional offices or districts for our 939 congregations. Together all parts of Mennonite Church USA strive to bring Christ’s healing and hope to others by identifying and joining God’s work in the world.

Until 1997, GMC was part of two different Mennonite conferences: The Franconia Conference and the Eastern District Conference. McGloughlin said in 1997, The Franconia Conference severed ties with them because they were welcoming gay and lesbian people into membership and baptism. In 2001, the Eastern District voted to remove GMC after they ordained a gay man.

“When the Eastern District voted to remove us in 2001, they asked us if we’d consider a liaison relationship to keep the lines of dialogue open,” McGloughlin said, “EDC and GMC agreed to reexamine that relationship every five years and vote on whether to continue that relationship. The vote on Nov. 10 was pro forma – neither the congregation or the conference leadership thought there would be problems passing this again. Who would possibly argue with an open dialogue?”

“I am deeply disappointed,” said Warren L. Tyson, ACC/EDC executive conference minister, when asked about the decision.

Tyson added that he believes in the future several delegates may ask the EDC to “revisit the vote and consider ways to develop more formal ties again with the Germantown Mennonite Church.”

McGloughlin said the conference’s decision to sever its liaison relationship with GMC has no impact on the congregation.

“The liaison relationship was largely symbolic,” she said.

McGloughlin said GMC believes its duty as Christians is to love God and love others – regardless of their sexual orientation. She added that about 15 percent of GMC congregation is openly gay or lesbian.

“It’s the wider Mennonite denomination that suffers when they remove congregations from their fellowship, and close lines of dialogue,” McGloughlin said.

Tyson said the Mennonite’s current belief is that “marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman for life.” However, he said the church encourages congregations to maintain an open dialogue with one another when differences arise in the official doctrine occur. Tyson said the issue of same sex relationships will not go away. He added that he believed some delegates may have voted in favor of continuing the liaison relationship had members of the GMC been present in the meeting when the vote took place.

Under the liaison arrangement, GMC was welcome to have members present in the meeting but as non-voting participants.

“I believe EDC’s vote to drop the liaison relationship with GMC creates more of an urgency for Mennonite Church USA, and many of its 21 area conferences of which Eastern District Conference is a member, to further study and develop a pastoral response toward persons among us who are same-sex attracted and enter same-sex covenant relationships,” Tyson said.

When asked about the idea of God’s unconditional love and the belief that we are all God’s children Tyson stated:

“God’s love most certainly is unconditional. As I have learned to know a number of persons and members in our church who are same-sex attracted, I have come to a personal decision that I will never again question another person’s faith in God if we together possess a common faith and allegiance to Jesus Christ. They are also my brother and sister in Christ through the common faith we share.”