By Marathana Prothro, MC USA
At its April 16 to 18 meeting in Rochester, N.Y., the Mennonite Church USA Executive Board approved a staff recommendation that, in the event a new executive director has not been named, current associate executive Ron Byler will serve as acting executive director for the denomination beginning Aug. 1. At the same time, current executive director Jim Schrag plans to compile a history of the transformation of Mennonite Church USA until he retires in November.
Last fall, Schrag announced his plans for retirement in November, and Byler also made more widely known his plans for a transition away from Mennonite Church USA Executive Leadership following the Mennonite Church USA Convention, June 30 to July 5, in Columbus, Ohio. Byler will carry out the executive director functions until a new executive director is in place, unless the Executive Board’s Executive Director Search Committee names Schrag’s replacement by Convention 2009.
In January the Executive Board appointed a search committee to find and name the next executive director, and this group recently completed work on a job description and now is in the process of seeking candidates. According to search committee chair, Ed Diller, the committee meets every other week by phone and continues to seek prayer from across the church as they continue their work.
Schrag says this arrangement gives him an opportunity to complete a project that is close to his heart. Trained as a historian and social scientist in his undergraduate work at Bethel College in North Newton, Kan., Schrag has continued to be fascinated by history and the perspectives it provides contemporary leaders. Schrag continued this kind of research while studying at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Ind.
“I’ve been encouraged by historians like Robert Kreider to compile a history of Mennonite Church USA’s transformation,” Schrag said April 22. “It’s not going to be a memoir; rather I’m going to write more of a primer on the whole scope of the events that happened prior to Nashville 2001 and those that have happened since.”
The project, written from his vantage point of transformation director and executive director, won’t aim to be an all-encompassing account of area conferences and churchwide agencies’ transformation stories, Schrag said. Rather he’s going to rely on having others tell their stories so the historical record is inclusive, giving leads that encourage future historians.
Schrag’s goal is to complete the project in his last four months with Mennonite Church USA and that it will help give insight to future leaders who may experience the regular “stops and starts” that seem to correspond with the church’s progress.
“Someone else can decide if they want to publish the piece,” Schrag said. “I’m just interested in writing it so that the history will be there when people want to look back and see what led up to the merger and transformation that created Mennonite Church USA as well as get a glimpse of what our first several years were like as a denomination.”