A Short and Incomplete History of Inclusive Mennonite Pastors (IMP)
The IMP leadership team has taken various forms in the past ten years. The following people have served on this leadership team:
- Weldon Nisly – Pacific Northwest
- Sheri Hostetler – Pacific Southwest
- Cindy Lapp – Allegheny Conference
- Karl Shelly – Central District
- Su Flickinger – from Hyattsville Mennonite Church
- Megan Ramer – Central District, Pacific Northwest
- Chad Martin – Atlantic Coast
- Theda Good – Mountain States
- Joanna Harader – Western District
- Mark Rupp – Central District
The IMP leadership team has spearheaded proactive calls to the church as well as organizing responses to MC USA statements and actions. In ten years we went from clergy and lay members being fearful of publicly stating their support for inclusion to six openly LGBTQ+ people in credentialed ministry and an out-LGBTQ+ person on an MC USA Board.
Here is a brief time line of some of the work done through the leadership team and by inclusive pastors:
Summer 2007 – Brethren Mennonite Council for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Interests (BMC) has a pre-convention event with First Mennonite Church of San Francisco. Later in San Jose some pastors and interested folks gather to talk about how we might move MC USA forward toward inclusion.
November 2007 – Sheri Hostetler, (FMCSF) Weldon Nisly, (Seattle Mennonite) Mark Schlotterbeck (Germantown Mennonite) and Cynthia Lapp (Hyattsville Mennonite) meet at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville, MN for prayer, contemplation and strategizing a way forward. Carol Wise, executive director of BMC, joins them for part of the retreat.
Following the Retreat – Sheri, Weldon, and Cindy work together on an open letter to MC USA. They consult with other pastors across the church as well as Carol Wise and LGBTQ+ folks. They work at soliciting signatures from other pastors and credentialed people.
Lent 2009 – An Open Letter to MC USA is released with 87 signatures of pastors and other credentialed people. A website is created where anyone can sign and by Easter over 800 people have signed the letter calling for a more inclusive church.
MC USA Executive Board requests conversations with the inclusive pastors and plans are made for a “hospitality room” at the convention. (Su Flickinger and Karl Shelly join leadership team)
Columbus 2009 – at the MC USA convention Pink Menno joins with the pastors, BMC, and Menno Neighbors. BMC calls a press conference and the call for inclusion in the Mennonite Church makes it into the mainstream press. It is a volatile atmosphere as people who do not wear pink feel threatened. Posters are torn off walls, arguments break out, people in pink feel bullied. Youth leaders fear their youth are being “recruited.” Pink Menno becomes the “fall guy” for anger and blame.
The next four conventions in Pittsburgh (2011) Phoenix (2013) Kansas City (2015) and Orlando (2017) there is a strong presence and cooperation of IMPs, Pink Menno, and BMC.
May 2010 – Chicago Leadership Summit – with representatives from BMC, Pink Menno, Menno Neighbors, IMPs, and other invited guests.
Nov 2010 – An “epistle” sent to signers of the Open Letter with a list of resources to keep moving the church forward.
Pittsburgh 2011 – a late night meeting is held with MC USA Executive staff, IMPs, and leaders from across the church who are angry about the presence of Pink Menno. It is a “secret” meeting. (Megan Ramer joins leadership team; Weldon and Su leave.)
October 2011 – Supportive Community Network pastors (part of BMC) from MC USA and Church of the Brethren meet at Camp Friedenswald to strategize and support each other.
July 2013 – At the MC USA Convention in Phoenix, Pink Menno disrupts a delegate session as they process into the meeting with tape on their mouths and holding signs and pictures of LGBTQ+ people. Richard Thomas, the moderator, gives Katie Hostetler 5 minutes to speak. (Theda Good and Joanna Harader join leadership team, Sheri leaves.)
Aug 2012 – First Mennonite Denver hires Theda Good and requests that she be licensed toward ordination.
Sept 2013 – Hyattsville Mennonite hires Michelle Burkholder; licensing is not requested.
Jan 2014 – IMP sends the Rule of Love letter that invites the Mennonite church to “to make space for congregations and pastors who welcome and bless LGBTQ+ Jesus-followers;” 167 pastors sign the letter. signatories.
IMP creates a web site to publicize the letter and provide other resources for inclusive pastors.
Feb 2014 – Theda Good is licensed toward ordination for ministry at First Mennonite Church in Denver.
Sept 2014 – Mark Rupp is installed as pastor at Columbus Mennonite Church.
Fall 2014 – Fabulous Fierce and Sacred conference in Chicago with queer people in empowering and empowered leadership and planning.
Spring 2015: Reconciling Minister Project began (link to BMC RM page); Lloyd Miller is Reconciling Minister; team members are Sarah Klaassen, Joel Miller, Joanna Harader, and Megan Ramer.
Spring 2015 – Forbearance Resolution and Just Church Resolution submitted to resolutions committee for consideration at Kansas City Convention. Just Church Resolution sponsored by seven congregations and is supported by 241 individual signers. Just Church Resolution is not brought to the delegate assembly. MC USA Executive Board brings an additional resolution that recommends all current denominational statements stay the same.
Kansas City 2015 – Forbearance resolution passed by 73% and EB resolution passes by 58%. Pink Menno disrupts delegate session with satirical theater piece. It is widely misunderstood and maligned. Pink Menno and supporters put tape on their mouths and stand stationary in the hallway as delegates leave. More people join in, many weeping aloud.
July 2015 – Mark Rupp is licensed toward ordination for ministry at Columbus Mennonite Church.
2016 – Isaac Villegas asked to resign from the Executive Board after sharing his intention to officiate a wedding for two women.
Summer 2016 – After the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, IMPs write a letter to Executive Director of MC USA with concrete suggestions for how to make the denomination more welcoming.
Fall 2016 – BMC celebrates 40 years of work in the Mennonite Church and Church of the Brethren.
Dec 2016 – Theda Good is ordained.
March 2017 – Michelle Burkholder is licensed toward ordination for her ministry Hyattsville Mennonite Church.
June 2017 – Doug Basinger voted onto the Leadership Discernment Committee of MC USA. Appointment immediately suspended. After further discussion and a lot of letter writing he is reappointed at the Executive Board meeting in September 2017.
In recent months, several LGBTQ+ pastors have been called to pastoral positions within MC USA.
While progress has been made towards inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the church over the years, the IMP leadership team acknowledges that white people have largely dominated the movement. The next steps need to be intersectional and will take renewed imagination and leadership.