This week marks 20 years since Franconia conference voted to expel Germantown Mennonite Church from its body. Germantown won’t celebrate it, and most won’t mourn it. At this point, twenty years later, it’s just a fact. We were removed from the conference because our baptism and welcome of folk who are queer was just too much for that conference to handle.
I’ve been part of the Germantown congregation since 1996–in fact, I joined the church just a week before Franconia’s decision (I was 23). So, exclusion from the denomination is all I’ve known about church life in my adulthood.
I remember the pain of those early years after being removed. There were a lot of Sundays where sharing time was tearful or angry. Visitors would remark that we seemed to sing hymns in minor keys. But more recently, I notice the creative energy, the freedom, and the joy we have felt being together. We’ve seen the power of the local church community to care for each other, and to support our neighbors. We’ve seen the joy of watching a large group of kids grow from babies to teens, and supported them on their faith journeys. We’ve embodied the Anabaptist vision without a denomination, and developed language to help us understand our theology as outsiders to the denomination, but insiders in many other respects. We’ve welcomed queer folks into our body–and we’re learning to do more than just welcome. We’re celebrating and blessing our queer participants as people created in God’s image.
Maybe you’ll mark the 20 years outside of Franconia conference with grief. Maybe you’ll mark it with joy. I remember it as a time when I saw the church come together in protective, loving, fierce ways. While we felt the death of separation and broken relationships at the time, the death has given way to new life, new energy, and deeper love. That death marked us, and it created fertile soil for all that we are today.
–Pastor Amy Yoder McGloughlin