Mennonite Mission Network joins an effort to begin repairing harm done in the name of Christ. This article is adapted with permission from one that was first published in Anabaptist World.
To begin righting centuries of injustice in relationships with the Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island, Mennonite Mission Network is collaborating with Allegheny Mennonite Conference (AMC), Mennonite Church USA and groups focused on repairing centuries of broken promises, land theft and genocide. (Turtle Island is the name many Indigenous peoples in North America use for the continent.)
For nearly two decades, AMC has experienced decline in membership and finances. Finally, its members released the International Guest House (IGH), a hospitality ministry in Washington, D.C., to which Mission Network's SOOP program frequently supplied hosts.
Out of this loss, the guest house sale has created an opportunity to dream new dreams. On March 6, at a virtual gathering, conference delegates affirmed tithing the proceeds toward hospitality and justice ministries, honoring the guest house's legacy.
Purchased in the 1960s for about $50,000, the property sold in 2020 for $1.35 million. The sale was necessary, because the convergence of COVID-19 restrictions and a more stringent application of safety codes posed insurmountable challenges.
Over the years, hospitality and peacemaking dovetailed at the guest house. Fellowship at breakfast and teatime — the signature events of each day — allowed conversation with global visitors, some of whom were avowed enemies but who came to appreciate sharing a table.
After the sale of the guest house, AMC pastors developed a proposal for a $135,000 tithe to address current issues in ways that might shape plans for using the remaining proceeds. The MC USA Justice Fund seemed a logical first choice; because of its denominational reach and its focus on Black, Indigenous and other people-of-color congregations and organizations. Other pieces of the proposal involved immigration, a gift to a First Nations group, dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, and financially assisting Gulf States Mennonite Conference.
By helping Gulf States, AMC follows the example of those who offered aid to AMC in the past. Central District and Indiana-Michigan conferences assisted AMC when it did not have funds to send representatives to MC USA's Constituency Leaders Council and other meetings.
"We realize that our tithe is only a beginning gesture into centuries-long injustices, but we are compelled to open these channels, as we attempt to honor the legacy of IGH," said David Mishler, conference minister. "Taking these initial steps will assist us in our conversations for the use of the remainder of the proceeds. We have opened communication with MC USA, Mennonite Mission Network and people focused on First Nations justice."
Susan Nisly, Mission Network's church relations representative with AMC, said she was excited about the conference's request for help in connecting to San Antonio Mennonite Church, a congregation engaged in ministry with people immigrating into the United States.
"The generosity of AMC is a beautiful thing and will make an impact in many lives," Nisly said.
SOOP sent volunteers to both the guest house and San Antonio Mennonite Church. According to Arloa Bontrager, SOOP director, 265 SOOPers have served at the church in the past two decades and 88 SOOPers served at the guest house from 2005 until its closure.
"The extension of funds from the guest house to the San Antonio congregation was itself an act of hospitality. These funds will extend the work of trauma-healing hospitality to those in vulnerable situations. It was a privilege to be a bridge between these two places of ministry," Bontrager said.
LeAnne Zook, AMC moderator, said that the tithe on the guest house sale recognizes the unjust systems in society.
"With these monies, we, as a conference, acknowledge that our God is a God of justice and is calling us to participate in undoing the structures and policies of inequality that have long been present, too often built by our governments and sanctioned by our churches."
The tithe is disbursed as follows: