It is February 27. I am writing this the day after the historic Special Called Session of the General Conference. My mind is struggling to focus on what needs to be accomplished today because I am focused on what the last four days have been. For those who are unaware of what I am referring to, I invite you to reach out to me for there is not enough space in this newsletter to explain. In short, the UMC delegates gathered from around the world to vote on a way to move forward as a unified body while still affirming the Holy Word.
Some of you may have read news articles about the conference. Please know that there are lots of truths as well as untruths that are being circulated. So what is true? The Traditional Plan was voted for by the delegates. The One Church Plan, Connectional Plan, Modified Traditional Plan, and Simple Plan were not approved. A disaffiliation petition passed as did a proposal related to pensions.
What does this mean and how are we affected? Today, February 27, we opened our doors as we always do. Tonight, our youth will meet at their regular time. The sanctuary will be open for our monthly prayer service. This Sunday, we will gather together for Sunday School, worship, and fellowship. The choir will sing. Scripture will be read. And the Word of God will be proclaimed through the sermon. Finally, we will gather around the Lord’s Table as one body. So, basically, friends, nothing has changed for us. We were called to serve God together before the conference and we are still called to serve the same God together after the conference.
But I would be amiss to pretend that many of us are not feeling lots of emotions right now. The headlines want you to think that we have banned LGBT+ people from our churches. That is NOT TRUE. I am saddened to read these comments from both friends and colleagues. No one has been banned from the United Methodist Church. The same rules that applied when each one of us joined this church still apply. The exact same rules. Rules that you said yes to. And that I said yes to. In the UMC, LGBT+ people are not allowed to be ordained clergy nor may they be married by the UMC.
For the past 10 years I have been walking through the ordination process. I have been examined for 10 years by people, many I did not know, who determined if I am worthy of ordination. I had to offer myself to this examination fully and without walls. There were things I desperately wanted to keep private but when you offer yourself up for ordination, you lose your right to privacy in many ways. I had to share very intimate details. I had to allow access to all of my financial history. I had to give information regarding my husband’s history, regardless of how intimate it was. This is the process. These are the rules. Being ordained is very difficult and humbling. I have watched as people, both heterosexual and homosexual, have been turned down for various reasons. I’ve watched their hearts break because they are trying to follow their calling but being told “no”. And then God does what God does. He makes a new thing. He takes these people who have been told “no” and given them eyes to see where he really wants them to minister. And a new thing grows from what was ashes.
I have cried a lot the past four days over the hateful words from all sides of the conference. What I saw was not a witness for Jesus Christ. What I saw from all sides was hate-filled and volatile. And I pray for it to stop. Because there is a world out there full of needs and hurts and fears who need us to stop fighting and start being the disciples we claim to be. Our personal convictions may differ but they should not define us. This church recognizes everyone’s self-worth, gifts, and beauty as children of God. Love does not mean we must always agree. Somehow that has come to be the meaning for our world today and it is wrong. We can love recklessly while disagreeing. Jesus did it all the time and showed us the beauty in it.
I don’t think it’s any coincidence that this has come at the beginning of Lent, for we are definitely in the wilderness as people called Methodist. As we engage on this journey through the Lenten wilderness, we must make a careful examination of ourselves. Are we making kings of our ideologies, obstructions out of our theologies, and temples out of our screwed-up notions of who’s in and who’s out? Are we in the way or are we making room for The Way? Perhaps we’re afraid that if we get out of the way, the God might just show up and prove us all wrong? That happened once – over 2000 years ago on a cross on Golgotha.
Friends, I don’t know what is next for the United Methodist Church. I do know what is next for Arcadia UMC. We are going to continue to be disciples of Jesus Christ. We are going to love with accountability, serve with compassion, be merciful without enabling, and point to Jesus at all costs.
“This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates of hell and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.” — Rachel Held Evans Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Serving Him Together, Pastor Janean