Great Lakes East and West District of LMC

By Jim Sutton

In the spring of 2016, pastors from at least a dozen congregations who left  Mennonite Church USA began meeting and praying together. They were all without a denominational home and had no desire to function as “independent congregations.”

Service at Michigan Avenue Mennonite Church, MI

Several options were available and were being explored. In response to invitations, Keith Weaver and Dale Stoltzfus visited several congregations, invited a few joint meetings to share the vision of LMC, and fielded a host of questions. By summer, Aurora MC, Martins Creek MC, First Mennonite Church, Berne, In., Moorhead MC, and Beaverdam MC voted to seek membership in LMC. They became organizing members of a new Eastern Ohio District of LMC. In the fall of 2016, I was asked and eventually agreed to serve as Bishop of this new district. We began meeting monthly as a Pastors’ Fellowship in early 2017.

Camp hot dog roast at Alden Mennonite Church, NY.

By the end of 2018, there were nine congregations in the new Eastern Ohio District and three of those were in Indiana. Because of the geographical challenges involved, the group decided thatbeginning in January 2019, I would meet with Ohio and Indiana congregations separately in alternating months.

Baptism at Arthur Mennonite Church, IL.

However, by June of 2019, the district had grown to 14 congregations. These congregations were scattered over six states with seven of these congregations west of the Ohio-Indiana state line and seven east of that line. Since I could not envision providing Bishop oversight to such a district by myself, the decision was made to create two separate districts and seek two bishops, one for a Great Lakes East district and one for a Great Lakes West district. Currently, Bishop Discernment groups are actively seeking new bishop oversight for each district.

Worship Service at First Mennonite of Middlebury, IN.

Along with the growth in terms of member congregations, we have grown relationally as a team of church leaders. Pastors now know each other better and relationships are stronger. For the first 18 months, the prior Eastern Ohio district benefited from meeting monthly for lunch, fellowship, and prayer. After I began meeting separately with Indiana and Ohio area pastors, the work of team building continued in both groups. Because of issues related to COVID-19, both districts meet virtually about every two weeks. Subsequently, both districts have drawn much closer together as each worked on closing/reopening issues in their unique, local situations.  Another encouraging note in this period is that in both districts, better-resourced congregations have shared generously with congregations that were more adversely affected by the pandemic.

Women Sunday School Class at Aurora Mennonite Church, OH

What may be a somewhat unique situation, both Great Lakes East and Great Lakes West districts have a few congregations that hold dual membership in Evana and in LMC. Also, both districts work together with Evana congregations in sponsoring the Peace Church, a new Anabaptist church plant in Cincinnati, Ohio led by Chet and Holly Eshelman. We value and are enriched by this partnership with these dear brothers and sisters.

Children’s Sunday School at North Lima Mennonite Church, OH

One of the challenges we have faced since our inception is the issue of geographical distance between congregations and its effect on building a sense of community and shared mission among district congregations and with other LMC districts. As God continues to add to LMC, we know that we are not the only district to grapple with this challenge. Virtual communication options such as ZOOM have become an important and essential part of district communication and relationship building.

Duffle bag project at First Mennonite of Berne, IN.

So, in just under three years, the Eastern Ohio District has morphed into Great Lakes East and Great Lakes West districts with 14 congregational mission centers scattered over six states all endeavoring to glorify God through the expanding of His Kingdom….”to God be the glory, great things He has done.”

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