By Emily Ralph, firstname.lastname@example.org
Harleysville, PA – Franconia Mennonite Conference released Steel City Mennonite Church to transfer its membership to Conservative Mennonite Conference. The request for transfer came after a significant period of discussions related to theology, vision, mission perspectives and scriptural understanding, according to Franconia Conference Executive Minister and Steel City’s former Conference Minister, Ertell Whigham.
Some of the questions leading to this decision revolved around differing interpretations of Biblical perspectives specifically related to issues of women in leadership. “It was with a heaviness of heart that I shared with the elders in September 2009 that a time was coming soon when I couldn’t in good conscience have my ministerial credentials held by the Mennonite Church USA and Franconia Mennonite Conference,” said Steel City’s pastor, David Kochsmeier.
Soon after, Steel City’s leadership began to look into other options for affiliation. They discovered agreement with the positions of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, a denomination founded in 1910 which has been based at Rosedale, Ohio, since the 1960s. On May 2, 2010, the congregation voted to leave Franconia Conference and Mennonite Church USA and join the Conservative Mennonite Conference, a transfer that was completed in February of 2011.
Noah Kolb, Franconia Conference’s Pastor of Ministerial Leadership, walked with Steel City through the release process. “I feel a sense of loss and grief over losing the Steel City congregation, which I think has been a creative, missional congregation over the last few decades,” he said, reflecting on the experience.
Part of the blessing was a service of transfer which was held on March 6, 2011. Members of both Franconia and Conservative Mennonite conferences were present for a symbolic releasing of the congregation. As he shared his heart with members of Steel City, Kolb held a candle representing the congregation. “Your light has burned brightly since your beginning,” he said. “I believe God has been glorified through you and your witness and service. . . I hold this candle with thoughts and longing filled with much joy and hope for you.”
Turning to Steve Swartz, Executive Secretary of the Conservative Mennonite Conference, Kolb offered him the candle. “Steve, in the name of Christ and for his glory, I release Steel City from the care of Franconia Conference into your care and oversight. May God be glorified in this new relationship. May the presence of the Kingdom grow ever stronger in this community.”
“We hope Steel City will continue to find direction for what God is calling them to be and do in ministry,” said Whigham. “We will find ways to continue to be in relationship with them. Even now, we’re working together to find ways to connect and collaborate.”