Friday, July 1, 2022

People respond to missing pages in On Holy Ground














After posting the story about the missing pages in On Holy Ground, along with the missing pages themselves, a number of people from across Canada and the U.S. left comments on Facebook. Find them below. 

Also, don't forget to buy the book! It's a good way to show your support women in the Mennonite Brethren denomination. If you want, you can copy the missing pages and put them in your copy of the book.

“Thanks for writing this important story. So ironic that without the book thousands will now read the three pages.”

“Ugh.

“I hear your Ugh and add my Aaaaaahhhhh!”

“Me, too. Ugh, ugh, ugh. So glad I left the MB conference many years ago; so sorry so many good women are struggling with this.”

“So a woman’s voice was silenced in a book commissioned to feature women’s voices, and the CCMBC destroyed books in their office. May I suggest that MB leaders learn from a Mennonite Church USA resource: MC USA Women in Leadership introduces dismantlingpatriarchy curriculum.

“I extend my heart to you and to all who continue to suffer Mennonite patriarchy grounded in 17th century values.

“I wish I could be surprised by this. She is not the only voice to be shut down.

“So women can speak as long as they say what someone wants them to say? So often in history women were on the forefront of prophetic word and leadership . . . but sure, lets keep ignoring them and censoring their thoughts. This sucks.

“Shame on the conference.”

“Very sad. Thanks for the story and for the 3 pages.

“The missing pages were a crucial element of contributor Mary Anne Isaak's story.

“How disheartening and disappointing—and maddening! When will the blinders be removed?

“Thanks for writing about this John, and for sharing the missing pages.

“After reading the article, pondering the missing pages, and thinking about the theologies and anxieties that animate a decision like this, my mind goes to Brueggemann's work in The Prophetic Imagination. On the prophetic work of articulating the pathos of God and grief of creation: ‘Both prophets and now Jesus after them bring to expression and embodiment all the hurt, human pain, and grief that the dominant royal culture has tried so hard to suppress, deny, and cover over.’ On the necessity of the royal consciousness to eternalize the current status quo, ‘The great dilemma is that religious functionaries are expected to use . . . ‘forever,’ to attach it to things and make it sound theologically legitimated. But ‘forever’ is always the word of the Pharoah, and as such it is the very word against which Yahweh and Moses did their liberating thing.’ God is on the side of the oppressed. Those who resist are kicking against the goads and thwarting the flourishing of all.

“Isn’t that the great irony. Much of what the evangelical/fundamental community describes as ‘eternal’ is pretty modern—19th and 20th century.

“Deep sigh.

“This is such a terrible episode in the MB conference engagement with women in leadership. I have a desire to purchase a box of the books, attach the censored pages and make a dissenting version available for sale. Specifically at this time in general feminist history, the term ‘righteous indignation’ seems to be descriptive of my mood.

“Thanks for sharing, John. Critical insights from Mary Anne. Such an unfortunately sad choice by the broader church.

“Mary Anne’s gracious and generous spirit is profound.”

“Thank you for sharing your story, Mary Anne. Your vulnerability in sharing your journey (and graciousness here) are inspiring.

“If you’ll print many hundreds of copies of those pages, I’ll personally glue them all back into all of the new published copies that don’t contain them. It will be my pleasure.” 

“Sad, angry and disheartened. “When will they ever learn?"

“I consider myself blessed to attend REC with Mary Anne as our pastor and spiritual leader. Her compassion, intelligence and courage are and will continue to be a inspiration to me. This treatment from MB Church leadership is beyond any reasonable response and borders on discrimination. For the voice of Women leaders to be silenced is just another example of abusive behaviour.

“Wow. Still judgement on rightness and wrongness.”

“Speaks volumes to the whole world about the MB conference, doesn't it!

"I am grateful this is being shared, and will look forward to reading the entire book!”

“Thanks tons for sharing words that need to be spoken. Removing sections regarding crucial issues is not healthy in a church community.

“Destroying books is what fascists do.

“Thank you for sharing this!

“God's family includes all. How BADLY the church understands this.”

“And they'll know we are Christians by our patriarchy? It doesn't fit well into the rhythm of the song”

“A powerful story that needs to be more broadly shared.

“It's a discouraging turn of events in what is a beautiful, timely, and obviously still painfully relevant work. Who's allowed to speak and about what? Who decides who and what is an MB perspective and who/what is not?”

“I'm hoping readers of this blog post will turn discouragement into action of solidarity by purchasing a copy of the book. It is important reading.

“How brave to try and tell her truth. How afraid they must be to try and destroy it. I’m glad you shared this. The experience of truth telling is a sacred and I appreciate the bravery to share the truth here.

“I am glad this is being shared after reading the article about its removal and wondering why. What a thoughtful journey this describes. As one who has many friends and family of a a variety of persuasions, I wish we could just drop the labels and see each other as Imago Dei.

“So the way to ‘hear’ this important female leader’s perspective is to silence it by censorship?”

“Wow.”

“I have been mulling over what they took out, and I think it is significant that it was not just the LGBTQ references they took out but also Mary Anne talking about her body as a ministering woman. Why can't women talk about our bodies? Did God not create our bodies? I have heard MB male conference leaders talking about their wive's bodies from the conference stage, "my smokin' hot wife.’ Women's bodies can be spoken of, but only if men define the terms apparently.

“I agree. That part struck me as well as the comparison between women having to make ourselves smaller in many ways and LGBTQ inclusion; it is all connected. All patriarchy and misogyny is still alive and well in these (and many other) spaces.
 

“Thank you, Mary Anne, for sharing these ‘missing pages’ with us and for your courage to be faithful to the Spirit's leading as you follow your understanding of Scripture.”

“Thank you! It is good that this is shared.”

“Well said.” 

"Classic evangelical power move: give the illusion of support, only to squash the voice of those you pretend to support. US and CDN Mennonite Brethren leadership fund a book that attempts to give voice to women in the Mennonite Brethren context--a context that has and continues to be quite patriarchal and hostile to women exercising leadership. Progress, right? Until said leaders discover after the book has been published, that one of the contributors to the volume drew a parallel between patriarchal suppression of women and denominational suppression of LGBTQ+ people in Mennonite Brethren congregations. The result? The funders mandated that 270/300 copies of the initial print run were required to be destroyed. (30/300 were already distributed and escaped denominational control.)"

"MBism is, to me, yet another lifeless, joyless 'ism' that I don't need. The freedom from chains of fear and conformity let so much more air and light in. Ahh . . . refreshing!"


Thursday, June 30, 2022

Read the missing pages from new book On Holy Ground: Stories By and About Women in Ministry in the Mennonite Brethren Church

 















The goal of the new book On Holy Ground: Stories By And About Women in Ministry in the Mennonite Brethren Church, is to validate and promote the voices of Mennonite Brethren women in ministry. 

As I wrote in an article published in Anabaptist World, the book was commissioned in 2020 by the Mennonite Brethren Historical Commission, a ministry of the U.S. and Canadian Mennonite Brethren conferences. 

It contains the personal stories of 15 women who served as pastors and leaders in American and Canadian Mennonite Brethren churches. 

Through the stories, the women share about the challenges and joys of ministry along with the struggle to have their gifts and voices recognized and affirmed by the denomination. 

In mid-March, the Commission was informed by the Executive Boards of the U.S. and Canadian Mennonite Brethren conferences that three pages in a story by Mary Anne Isaak, pastor of the River East Church in Winnipeg, could not be published. 

The reason given was because Isaak raised the question about whether the silencing and marginalization of women’s voices by the denomination for generations might be similar to what is happening today to members of the LGBTQ+ community. That was deemed unacceptable. 

The denomination ordered the Commission not to distribute the book. But about 30 copies from the 300-copy print run had already been sent out. 

The original copies were destroyed and the book was republished without those missing pages. I was able to get copies of those pages from the original print run. Find them below, printed with permission.

To set the stage for the missing pages, Mary Anne first talks about her time at River East, sharing a story about her height and high heel shoes. This section is in the published book.

"River East Church is also where I came to understand part of the dynamic between pastoral voice and body size, or at least how it affects me. I am tall for a female, basically six feet. In Fresno, height was an issue shared by the pastoral team, as Bill had about another eight inches on me. We responded by raising the pulpit six inches to a comfortable height for the pastors and attaching a step on hinges. Shorter people simply swiveled that step into position when they came to the pulpit. In that context of taller-than-normal pastors, I didn’t pay much attention to comments about my height. 

"A couple of years into pastoral ministry at REC, it was compassionately brought to my attention that my height was, perhaps, intimidating to some. What if I didn’t wear heels anymore, out of consideration? 

"I never spent money on heels; nevertheless, I owned a closet full of pumps given to me by the widower of a woman at whose funeral I officiated. The widower explained that for weeks, facing her impending death, he and his wife had carefully examined the feet of women in the worship service, concluding that my long narrow arched foot was a match for hers. Several weeks after the funeral, he invited me over for a sacred act of shared grief. As I tried on pair after pair of her prized collection, he told me their stories. When I wore those inherited shoes, they carried me firmly in the footsteps of feisty Elda Plank. 

"The proper response to others’ discomfort was to put those shoes into hibernation. A pastor’s size should not be a barrier to ministry, should it? In some ways, closeting those shoes was inconsequential; it didn’t really change my life. And yet, it kept niggling at me, niggling enough to debrief it, a year later, with the church’s new moderator for staff relations. Trudy Schroeder, executive director of Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, responded with insight from her role as a leader on the secular stage. She narrated for me how, at a workshop for female CEOs, the speaker asked how many had been told in some way that they were too large—too large a voice, too large a body, too large a personality. Every woman in the room raised her hand. Every single one! Was it perhaps my subconscious participation in patriarchy and not prudence that informed my decision to abstain from wearing heels? When are efforts to make men feel comfortable in my presence a healthy pastoral impulse, and when are they acquiescing to an unhealthy message that a woman should not take up more space than a man? I’ve found a new freedom to take my high-heels out of the closet."

The missing section begins below.

+++++++++ 

In the North American society, gay, transgender, and queer folks are also finding a new freedom to come out of the closet. The church, as we take the deep questions of a culture to the Scriptures, is also wrestling with conventional answers of the past. 

In my two-and-a-half decades of pastoral vocation, I have pastored three congregations. Each of the three faced decisions regarding homosexuality and church membership. Just as my response to women in church leadership evolved from a received tradition to my own understanding rooted in research, experience, and community discernment, so too my response to the LGBTQ+ community is developing. 

My time at Peace Mennonite Church was shaped by the year-long Franconia Conference process to discern a response to the Germantown Mennonite Church, which accepted a married gay couple into membership. Vermont is a “peace and justice” state. Everyone in our tiny congregation was intuitively in support of Germantown, everyone except me. However, since my position as pastor was temporary and connected to the timelines of Jon’s education at McGill, I understood my role was to lead congregational conversation and to abstain from voting. The vote at Peace Mennonite was, therefore, unanimous and I submitted our yes, to keep Germantown within the Franconia fold. 

Peace Mennonite represented the minority voice. Lament marked the tone of worship at the annual convention where Franconia formally removed Germantown from fellowship. Huge burnt logs resting on gunny sacks ran the length of the communion table—sackcloth and ashes before us, a choir keening with quiet hymns of protest circling the exit behind us. 

By the time I began pastoring at College Community Church Mennonite Brethren, I had heard repeatedly that female church leadership was the beginning of the slippery slope to accepting gays in church. My resolve to demonstrate that women can be fine and faithful MB pastors eventually took on a secondary resolve, to resist the downward slide into secularism that I represented for some. So, ironically, my traditional position against gay marriage shored up my non-traditional position on inclusion of women in leadership. 

Lynne Welton, a college student who had recently become a Christian and was leaning into active church participation came to me with a request. Her parents’ marriage had had its ups and downs over the years. Now, on a milestone anniversary, they wanted to renew their vows to each other. Her parents believed the church hated them, and she wanted to demonstrate the church’s loving character. Even though they weren’t churchgoers, would they be able to use the church for their covenant renewal? The moderator and I looked at the request from a variety of angles and, in the end, I told the college student that no, it would not be appropriate for her mothers to renew their vows in our sanctuary. 

I count at least three consequences of that decision. First, although not an immediate and direct consequence of that decision, the college student and her husband eventually left the church and then the Christian faith. The love we preached wasn’t something they could access for their particular family systems. Second, when the church moderator’s son came out of the closet as gay, I wasn’t in a place to be trusted with that information for years. Third, I began to question my own understanding of God who preferred divorce for a gay couple rather than celebration of decades of hard-won growth in loving relationship. 

On another occasion, visiting with a couple from our congregation, I shared my discouragement over the congregational discernment concerning a member who had quietly married someone of the same gender. Not long after that, the child of that visiting couple also came out of the closet. Again I realized I was helping to create a church environment that did not feel safe for families among us. 

College Community Church took two years to discern what it might look like to authentically follow Jesus in the context of a gay couple among us and in the context of our conservative MB Pacific District Conference. During that process, Michelle Ferguson began church membership classes. She quietly told me her story of coming to understand herself as gay, realizing that celibacy was her life option and looking to the church as a community of connection, accountability, and intimacy to replace what a marriage could offer. She asked me whether CCCMB could be that kind of a church for her. My answer consistently was that God is present; trust the process. My respect for Michelle grew as I witnessed her wrestle to live out her faith in so many ways. 

The years ticked on; we moved to Canada. Michelle continued her investigation of the Scriptures. Among other books, she read Bible, Gender, Sexuality: Reframing the Church’s Debate on Same-Sex Relationships by an ordained minister in the Reformed Church, Dr. James Brownson. When she married another woman, I was genuinely joyful that she found the community of deep connection, accountability, and intimacy that she had been diligently seeking for so long. Although it was a much slower shift than for my understanding of women in leadership, I found my perspective on gay marriage beginning to turn. 

In a lunch conversation at the 2017 national convention of Canadian MBs, a sincere young man asked me what it felt like to be rebuked by the conference. Studying church leadership in a school directed by an MB Church in British Columbia, he was learning when and how to rebuke heresy. He wanted to understand the experience from the perspective of a recipient. 

He was referring to the 2015 MB study conference on human sexuality where I was asked to respond to Bruxy Cavey’s presentation. In the last minutes of my response, I used 1 Samuel 8 and following to show how Scripture holds space open to validate two opposing visions of God’s dream for the world. When the people ask Samuel to anoint a king, his response makes it clear that a king is not part of God’s original plan for them. In fact, Samuel equates choosing a king with rejecting God as their king. Samuel warns the people of the consequences; they persist and God listens to the people saying, “For I have seen the suffering of my people because their outcry has come to me” (1 Samuel 9:15-16). Then, God goes a step further and actually leads Samuel to the person they shall crown king. Is it possible the church’s response to homosexuality can be compared to Israel’s adoption of monarchy? 

The next day, I was called to the convention floor to respond to questions. No, I wasn’t trying to change the confession of faith. I was trying to open space for authentic conversation among people who hold Jesus at the center of life and faith and yet differ in their understandings of the Bible. 

Six years after that study conference, River East Church, led by moderator Reyn Redekopp, has adopted a statement of inclusivity. 

River East Church is a Jesus community for the world. We invite everyone to live out this mission as followers of Jesus in the Anabaptist/Mennonite tradition. 

This invitation is extended to all persons, whatever their ability, age, ethnicity, family status, gender identity, income level, race, sexual orientation, or other identity distinctives. All are welcome to full participation in the journey of discipleship. 

We strive to live as a community of love, even as we acknowledge our different understandings of Scripture. In our diversity, we gather around the Lord’s Table to celebrate our unity in Christ. 

In the year-long process, I, along with my pastoral colleagues and the congregation have read articles and books, discussed videos, participated in deep dives into Scripture, listened and listened some more to stories of families impacted by LGBTQ+ dynamics. 

Across Canada, throughout the globe, our Mennonite Brethren family of faith is wrestling with the deep questions of the culture by taking them to the Scriptures. We are coming to different understandings. Can that be okay? What if a queer person who follows Jesus is the new Esau begging for a blessing from God and the family? 

(End of missing portion from Mary Anne’s reflection. The lines below are in the adjusted book.) 

+++++++++++

"After 25 years, I look back and recognize that I, a female pastor, have received a blessing from God and from my Mennonite Brethren family of faith. Yes, it is a costly blessing, but I’m not so sure it is more costly than a man’s. Every single pastor faces risks and costs. And yes, at some points my MB pastoral journey is not-so-sweet-a-deal as the journey of a male MB pastor. But again, the challenges and blessings for every pastor are unique, and at some point in the road, every single pastor faces a tumultuous upheaval of one kind or another.

"And even as I look forward to more years of ministry, I recognize that the future is unknown. This I do know, that I am deeply privileged to have been shaped by theMennonite Brethren denomination and to have a voice within this family of faith.

"As Emerson Cardosa, president of the Mennonite Brethren Conference of Brazil said in his plenary address at the 2018 Canadian Conference, Jesus is the center of our faith. Community is the center of our life. Reconciliation is the center of our work. May it be so,"

Mary Anne Isaak


Monday, June 6, 2022

Mennonite Church USA repeals guidelines against churches performing same-sex marriages, apologizes for LGBTQ+ exclusion



 





(Not Mennonite Brethren, but it's helpful to know what's happening in other Mennonite groups on this topic.)

Delegates to a special Mennonite Church USA assembly in late May voted to make their denomination more affirming and welcoming for LGBTQ+ people.

Meeting in Kansas City May 27-30, delegates repealed MC USA’s Membership Guidelines—a 20-year-old document that prohibits pastors from officiating same-sex marriages—and narrowly approved a wide-ranging statement affirming LGBTQ inclusion and confessing that exclusion has caused harm.

The vote to repeal the Guidelines was 404-84, or 82.8% in favor. The vote to repent of the harm caused by the denomination to LGBTQ+ people was 267-212, or 57.7%.

Delegates represented 43% of MC USA congregations.

According to a report in Anabaptist World, the repeal actually aligns policy and practice since the majority of MC USA’s area conferences do not enforce the ban on pastors officiating same-sex marriages.

The call to Repentance and Transformation” resolution, which was written by the Inclusive Mennonite Pastors group, calls on the denomination to repent for excluding LGBTQ+ people from fully sanctioned participation in the denomination and causing “great harm” to them and their families; for failing to “offer the Good News of God’s ‘grace, joy and peace’ to LGBTQ+ Mennonites and their families; and for the loss of those who left the denomination because of “exclusionary practices and policies.” 

The resolution also calls on MC USA to provide “support and resources for LGBTQ+ leaders” and “embody a theology that honors LGBTQ+ people and relationships with all future MC USA theological statements” such as revisions of the Confession of Faith.

Read the full story in Anabaptist World.

In Canada, Mennonite Church Canada concluded nine years of study before voting in 2016 to let individual congregations decide for themselves if they wanted to be welcoming and inclusive of LGBTQ+ people.

In 2107, leaders in that denomination apologized to LGBTQ+ members for the decades of exclusion and for how some were not permitted or asked to discontinue being in positions of leadership.

It also apologized for how they were not fully invited to participate in discussions leading to a more open policy towards welcome and inclusion by congregations.

Despite best intentions, “LGBTQ+ individuals bear testimony to being ignored, verbally abused, and silenced at times during the process,” the denomination stated. “We sincerely regret and apologize for the actions and decisions within our Body that caused such testimony to emerge. We confess that at times the Body of Christ did not act like his Body.”

Thursday, June 2, 2022

Parents to share about joy of having LGBTQ+ children at June 8 A Time to Listen

 











For Dora Dueck, being the parent of an LGBTQ+ child is an opportunity to gain many gifts.

“All children are a gift,” said Dueck, formerly an editor at the Mennonite Brethren Herald. But being the parent of an LGBTQ+ child means there are “many other additional gifts she has given me.” 

Among the gifts she and her late husband, Helmut, received after their daughter came out in 2009 were becoming part of a new community of LGBTQ+ people and their parents and siblings; of learning new things and growing in their faith; and of growing closer to God. 

“The church environment can sometimes be very dark for LGBTQ+ people and their families,”  said Dueck, an author who lives in B.C. 

“There can be so much fear and anxiety and marginalization. But the great thing about becoming part of a marginalized group is discovering Jesus is there.” 

Dueck, who formerly attended Cedar Park Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Ladner, B.C., will share her story of receiving gifts from her gay daughter on June 8 at the next A Time to Listen. 

Click here to get the link to the Zoom presentation, which will feature other parents with LGBTQ+ children who will also share about the joy their children bring to their lives. 

“It can be good for other parents of LGBTQ+ children to hear from someone who is further along,” she said. “It’s a good news story.” 

For her and her husband, their daughter’s coming out was not a crisis of faith, but it was a “crisis of church.” 

The church environment can “sometimes be very dark,” she said. But outside of that environment is “wonderful community of gay people and their allies.” 

Another gift, she said, was that of watching her daughter flourish with their acceptance. 

“We accepted her immediately after she told us,” Dueck said. “It’s been a gift to watching her thrive as they be who they truly are.” 

Telling stories like that is one of the important goals of A Time to Listen said organizer Aimee Reimer, who is part of Lendrum Mennonite Church, a Mennonite Brethren congregation in Edmonton. 

“It’s important to tell the stories of family members, too,” she said. “Many have also experienced pain of a different kind, but also joy, too.” 

Since starting a year ago, about 1,600 people have tuned into the four A Time to Listen episodes—either live or listening to the recordings afterwards. 

The goal, said Reimer, is to “create space to have conversation, where people could listen and broaden their horizons about this topic.” 

Along with creating that space, A Time To Listen also wants to help create community for LGBTQ+ people and their allies in the Mennonite Brethren denomination, said organizer Isaiah Ritzmann of Waterloo, Ont. 

Many people in Mennonite Brethren congregations who are interested in this topic, or who want to learn more, “have no place to connect, no supportive community,” said Ritzmann, who formerly was a member of a Mennonite Brethren congregation. 

Through A Time to Listen, Mennonite Brethren from across Canada can “build community and do things together,” he said, adding that it can create another form of community “when the church is not what it needs to be.” 

The two acknowledge A Time to Listen also wants to influence Mennonite Brethren conference leaders by inviting them to hear the stories. But, so far, very few have attended. 

“We hear they are listening to recordings afterwards,” said Reimer, suggesting it might be too dangerous for them to be seen at the live events. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

B.C. MB Conference responds to petition from Cedar Park Church members to drop charge of false teaching against former pastor Lee Kosa

 

Organizers of a petition signed by 189 former and current members of Cedar Park Church are feeling underwhelmed by the BCMB response to their request the Conference drop the charge of being a “false teacher” against their former pastor, Lee Kosa. 

Calling it both a “very serious charge that has implications for Lee’s well-being and future” and “not true,” the petition calls for it to be retracted. 

“He is not, nor has he been, a false teacher, nor did he promote false teaching,” the petition states, adding “we attest that we have never heard him preach against” the Confession of Faith. 

“A serious charge like this must present evidence and must call witnesses if it is to stand,” it added. 

In response, Simpson indicated there was a miscommunication around the false teacher accusation, which was made by Conference Minister Rob Thiessen and then repeated by Pastoral Ministries Committee member Eldon Fehr at an emotional April 3 CPC congregational meeting with BCMB leadership. 

The intent, she said, was to investigate Kosa’s “alignment with the MB Confession of Faith and not to label [him] as a false teacher. Conference Minister Rob Thiessen, apologizes for this miscommunication.” 

She did not, however, retract the accusation, going on to say “BCMB’s concerns have always been specific to Lee Kosa’s theological convictions as they relate to alignment with the MB Confession of Faith, in particular Articles 10 and 11.” (About sexuality and marriage.) 

As for Fehr’s pronouncement at the April 3 meeting, where he affirmed the charge of false teaching, that exchange “was unfortunate,” Simpson said, “and the view expressed was not intended as a declaration or assessment of Kosa’s years of teaching ministry at Cedar Park Church.” 

She went on to say Fehr’s remark was attributable to the meeting being “a highly emotional space” and to Kosa’s “continual and sustained pressure” on Fehr for a response. 

“Under that significant pressure,” Fehr gave an answer “related solely to Lee’s expression of his convictions with respect to human sexuality.” 

An offer to talk to Kosa about that exchange has so far not been accepted by Kosa, she said. 

The petition also asked BCMB to give Kosa the opportunity to surrender his credentials, not just have them taken by the Conference. 

Simpson responded by saying they were taken because “it was made clear by Lee that his convictions with respect to human sexuality no longer align with the MB Confession of Faith,” a process which was confidential but “fair and clearly outlined.” 

Organizers of the petition also took issue with how the letter from Simpson characterized the church as “being emotionally charged and deeply divided.” 

While it certainly is divided now, with the majority of members no longer associating with Cedar Park, for over 40 years the church faced many issues but “always found a way to navigate through these difficult discussions and have come out stronger at the end of the day,” they said—something it could have done again if left alone by BCMB “to figure this out among ourselves.” 

It was conference intervention that “drove a wedge in too deep for us to overcome,” they said, while acknowledging the issue would have been hard for some members. 

“But the majority would have come together. Today that is not possible,” they said. 

The organizers noted the petition was signed by those who stayed at the church and those who did not, adding “This was an action of unity. We felt that the Conference should have understood that and acknowledged it.” 

They acknowledged the response from Conference Moderator Sharon Simpson offered a conciliatory tone to the signers, and was better than some previous communications in the past. 

But their assessment is while the tone of the response is better than some previous communications from BCMB, “it just didn't go far enough.” 

Below find the petition to the Conference, and the response from BCMB. 

                                              *           *          *

April 14, 2022 

Dear BC MB Conference leaders,  

We, the undersigned of Cedar Park Church, come to you with two urgent requests. 

The first, and most important, request is that the accusation about Lee Kosa, our pastor of 9 years, being a false teacher, spoken at the congregational/conference meeting April 3, be retracted. Please do so in writing to Lee and to Cedar Park Church congregants. 

The second is that you withdraw the revocation of Lee Kosa’s credentials so he can surrender them as requested. 

The second is an obvious Christian courtesy that should be extended to his request. 

The first is a VERY serious charge that has implications for Lee’s well-being and future. The reason it is so serious, however, is that it is not true. He is not, nor has he been, a false teacher, nor did he promote false teaching. By biblical measure, his faith (see I John 4:1-3), the fruits of his ministry, and his character testify otherwise. Further, we offer our witness to this. (If the Confession of Faith is the measure, we attest that we have never heard him preach against it.) 

A serious charge like this must present evidence and must call witnesses if it is to stand. We ask you to resolve these two matters before the BC AGM at the end of the month. 

If you require further conversation or a meeting, please let us know asap. However, we are convinced this can be done quickly and without a great deal of back-and-forth, because it is the right and just and true thing to do.

                                               *            *            *

 April 26, 2022 

To the 189 Cedar Park Church congregants who signed the letter to BCMB dated April 18, 2022, Thank you for reaching out to myself and the British Columbia Mennonite Brethren Executive Board (BCMB EB) with concerns that you share with respect to your two requests. 

It is clear to all the members of the BCMB EB and the Pastoral Ministries Committee (PMC) that Lee Kosa is a dearly loved and cherished pastor who has shepherded and taught your congregation for 9 years. There is no dispute that he has greatly impacted lives through his ministry within your community of believers. Many members of the CPC congregation have shown us that they care deeply for Lee. Your love and concern for him in the writing of this signed letter is further evidence of this. 

BCMB’s concerns have always been specific to Lee Kosa’s theological convictions as they relate to alignment with the MB Confession of Faith, in particular Articles 10 and 11. The PMC expressed its concerns to Lee in a letter that was signed by all PMC members and all BCMB EB members, dated February 5, 2022. That letter outlined the unified thoughts of all members of these two groups. 

They have not used the label “false teacher” to express their concerns. 1 Timothy 5 and 6 were referenced in a communication with Lee to describe the process that BCMB was following – an accusation against an elder in contrast to the personal conflict process described in Matthew 18. 

The intended focus of that communication was to explain the process BCMB used to investigate Lee’s alignment with the MB Confession of Faith and not to label Lee as a false teacher. Conference Minister, Rob Thiessen, apologizes for this miscommunication. 

The phrase “false teacher” was used by Lee at the Special Congregational Meeting. As you know, that meeting was a highly emotional space. During the meeting, Lee put continual and sustained pressure on one PMC member, demanding a “yes or no” answer to the question of whether he is considered a “false teacher”. 

Under that significant pressure, the PMC member gave his response – a response related solely to Lee’s expression of his convictions with respect to human sexuality. This was immediately followed by his offer to sit down with Lee to talk about what he meant by this answer, which Lee has not accepted. 

This exchange was unfortunate, and the view expressed was not intended as a declaration or assessment of Lee Kosa’s years of teaching ministry at Cedar Park Church. 

As you may recall, Lee was asked during the meeting whether he would permit full disclosure of the dialogue and interactions between him and BCMB EB or PMC. Lee did not wish to do so, as is his right. 

As such, I will not reveal everything that was discussed during such exchanges and meetings. However, I can say with confidence that it was made clear by Lee that his convictions with respect to human sexuality no longer align with the MB Confession of Faith. This was the basis upon which Lee’s credentials were revoked. 

Our credentialed pastors need to align with the shared convictions of the Canadian Mennonite Brethren denomination as expressed in the MB Confession of Faith. While I am constrained as to how much information I can disclose without Lee’s consent, the process was fair and clearly outlined. 

BCMB did not make an announcement nor publicize the revoking of Lee’s credentials. He chose to make that public himself. There is also a concern about the timing of the release of the summary statement of a listening meeting that was held between Lee, Rob Thiessen (BCMB Conference Minister), and facilitated by Ken Esau (PMC Member). 

This was brought forward at the Special Congregational Meeting as a significant distress to Lee and failure on the part of BCMB. In examining the email thread, we can see how Lee was waiting on Rob Thiessen to release the summary while Rob Thiessen was assuming that Ken Esau's confirmation email sent on May 31, 2021 was the official go-ahead for Lee to share this summary with CPC. 

When the misunderstanding came to light and that Lee was waiting for another official email, apologies were offered by Rob to Lee via email on July 24, 2021. This was an unfortunate miscommunication that has been described as a critical turning point for Lee and one which BCMB is very sorry took place. 

The significant theological disagreement, along with beliefs and values that are now expressed among the members of the Cedar Park Church congregation have brought about what we witnessed as an emotionally charged and divided meeting. This division has caused much strife and grief. There are significant differences and both sides are proclaiming the love and grace of Jesus Christ. 

Our hope for the future of the Cedar Park Church congregants is that there will be a determination to move forward in a way that is gracious toward each other, with the understanding that some may choose to part ways with Cedar Park Church and the BCMB denomination of which it is a part. BCMB will continue to support those at Cedar Park Church who wish to remain aligned to our MB Confession of Faith and the Mennonite Brethren convictions of biblical marriage and sexuality. 

Respectfully on behalf of BCMB EB and PMC, Sharon Simpson, BCMB Moderator