Statement on Inter-Mennonite Cooperation in North America (General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church, 1983)

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Statement on Inter-Mennonite Cooperation in North America (General Conference Mennonite Church, Mennonite Church, 1983)

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Statement on Inter-Mennonite Cooperation in North America

Mennonites have lived in North America for 300 years. They came to the New World at different times and for varied reasons. Many had known persecution for their faith and were seeking a land where they could live as followers of Christ according to their conscience. They came from many places and spoke diverse languages and dialects.

We Mennonites have been a divided people. In our separate groupings we have too often viewed one another with apprehension and even suspicion. We have not always remembered the prayer of our Lord as recorded in John 17:20-23 (New International Version): "that all of them may be one ... so that the world may believe ... that they may be one as we are one .... May they be brought to complete unity."

In later times separated Mennonites have discovered each other, most frequently in crisis and war. We have found among ourselves a long-neglected kinship. Tentatively and cautiously we have begun to work and fellowship together in common experiences and tasks. Among us has grown an awareness that our heritage is woven of common strands. Among us we hear the voice to "make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace" (Ephesians 4:3, NIV).

In these days we pause to recognize and give thanks for the ways in which God's Spirit is bringing Mennonites together. We experience this in inter-Mennonite organizations such as the Mennonite World Conference, the Mennonite Central Committee, Mennonite Disaster Service, Mennonite Mental Health Services, the Council of Moderators and Secretaries and more.

We experience this in inter-Mennonite programs such as Mennonite Mutual Aid, publishing The Foundation Series and the Mennonite Experience in America, leadership training at the Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries, missions (Council of International Ministries and the Council of Home Ministries), Inter-Mennonite Conference in Ontario, inter-Mennonites strictures in urban areas (Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia), and more.

We experience this in 46 congregations holding dual-conference memberships, in linking of families through marriage, in the sharing across conference lines of pastoral leadership and more.

We experience this in meetings where Mennonites come together such as the joint sessions of the Illinois Conference and Central District Conference, the South Central Conference and the Western District Conference, the Pacific Coast Conference and the Pacific District Conference, the Southwest Conference and the Pacific District Conference, the Mennonite Conference of Ontario and Quebec, Western Ontario Conference and the United Mennonite Churches of Ontario and more. Here at Bethlehem we have experienced kinship of spirit.

At this joint meeting of the General Assembly of the Mennonite Church and the 43rd Triennial Sessions of the General Conference Mennonite Church,

We acknowledge:

1. That we have a common faith in the one true God, Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord, and the Holy Spirit.

2. That we are part of one spiritual ancestry, many of whose forebears came to this continent in search of freedom and worship and with the desire to live a life of peace in obedience to Jesus Christ.

3. That we have been separated by our cultural backgrounds and have gone our own ways and have allowed commitments to our respective structures to keep us apart from one another.

4. That in recent years the spirit of God has been bringing us together in fellowship and common tasks, in many ways and places, with some problems but many joys. Particularly have we experienced this as the church has reached out in ministries of mission and compassion.

We commit ourselves:

1. To be open to the leading of the Spirit in unfolding ways of loving one another, receiving from one another, supporting one another in a united witness so that we can better testify to other Christians and to the world that we are together disciples of Jesus.

2. To support congregations which have affiliated with more than one denomination in order to manifest the unity they have experienced in the wider Mennonite Church through Christ.

3. To encourage area conferences to seek additional ways of working together cooperatively, seeking wholeness in ministry, including the ministries of evangelism, service, peace, justice, nurture, and to affirm exploration of forming area inter-Mennonite conferences.

4. To work intentionally and sensitively in programs and on issues of common concern to the conferences.

5. To relate to each other in ways which will strengthen fellowship and participation among all Mennonite groups.

6. To form an inter-Mennonite committee representing Mennonite and Brethren in Christ denominations to explore steps of cooperation at the binational level.

7. To support similar types of Mennonite meetings as has occurred here at Bethlehem 83.

We move forward with gratitude for the unity in the Spirit we have experienced and in expectation of an unfolding of God's leading as we seek to walk together in his ways.

Approved by the General Conference Mennonite Church General Board in March 1983 and the Mennonite Church General Board in April 1983.

Approved in August 1983 by the Mennonite Church General Assembly and the General Conference Mennonite Church Triennial Sessions with the understanding that some further revision will be made to incorporate suggestions by the delegates.

Context of the Statement

The General Conference Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Church held joint delegate sessions for the first time in 1983 at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. The location was chosen because of its proximity to Germantown, Pennsylvania, the first permanent Mennonite settlement in North America. 1983 was the tricentennial of this settlement, providing a congenial historical context for the joint meetings.

During the 1983 meeting delegate decisions were made or ratified in the separate delegate bodies, but some issues were discussed in joint session and worship services were held jointly. This statement on on Inter-Mennonite cooperation, and well as the initial draft of the document on Human Sexuality in the Christian Life were the major items discussed in joint session.

The 1983 sessions were significant as the first step toward denominational integration (merger) between the General Conference Mennonite Church and Mennonite Church, finally approved in 1995 in Wichita, Kansas and implemented between 1999 and 2001.

Statements by the Mennonite Church General Assembly state the understanding of the Mennonite Church at the time of the action. Statements have informal authority and influence in the denomination; they have formal authority as confirmed or endorsed by Mennonite Church area conferences and/or congregations.

Context written in January 2000 by Sam Steiner

[edit] Bibliography

Proceedings: seventh Mennonite Church General Assembly, August 1-7, 1983, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, Pa. Lombard, Ill. : Mennonite Church General Assembly, 1983: 22-23.

[edit] Additional Information

Human sexuality in the Christian life (General Conference Mennonite Church/Mennonite Church, 1985)

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