I am an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church; somewhat miracle, that.
My heart got swept into the movement of people who are moved by relationship with the Christ to engage in the world in such a way that healing happens. We touch with justice and compassion out of gratitude for our daily wash in grace; we can’t help it.
We are an international church. We make decisions that affect the life of our movement every four years. At this gathering, persons come from across the world. The numbers of delegates sent to vote on policy matters are determined by the numbers of people who know themselves as United Methodists in that area. United Methodism is strong in numbers in Africa and in the Southern United States. It is not as strong in numbers in areas traditionally less conservative. In the case of Minnesota for the upcoming General Conference, we are able to send only 3 clergy and 3 lay delegates to represent our entire state.
So trying to impact church-wide policy in ways held to be crucial by many is a sometimes long and painful process.
And so it is that while the ELCA, Presbyterian Church USA, Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ movements of Jesus have all voted to enflesh the meaning of baptism by ordaining persons who are heterosexual as well as homosexual and offer services of blessing to couples of the same-sex who desire the elemental good of the celebration of relationship within the bounds of community, the United Methodist Church has not been able to free itself from the bonds of a long-lived denial of baptismal and inclusive grace.
When we are ordained as UM clergy, we agree to uphold the Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Many of us, as we made this vow, knew that the challenge of upholding that discipline would be great, given the jangle of unjust embedded within it.
I certainly knew the challenge of it, even as I took my ordination vow. But I figured I would work with all that I had to pray and listen and lead the church into a more grace- based embrace of all of God’s children. I have organized regional conferences, spoken at the state capitol numerous times, been a contributor to a published teaching piece put out by the Human Rights Campaign, led two congregations through a Reconciling process, and spoken from the pulpit about this issue (some would say incessantly!).
As the years have unfolded, the pain for me has become magnified. Beloveds of their creator have found community in churches I have pastored and while the joining of hearts within longed-for community in Christ has been stunning in its beauty and power, the reality has persisted: we welcome, we delight in the being of all of God’s createds, we proclaim the abundant, amazing and endless grace of God but when it comes to blessing the love work of same gendered couples and the pastoral work of same gender loving clergy, the policy of the UM church maintains that there are limits to grace and clergy are ordained to Word, Sacrament, Order and Policing.
I have had couples come to me. Couples who are in love and in the throes and celebration of mutual unfolding and they are desirous of blessing. For whatever reasons, including taxes and inheritances and other such state-driven impediments, they do not desire legal marriage. But they wonder: might they call together their beloveds and hear spoken over their love a blessing by their pastor?
Desirous as we are for integration of our loves into our spiritual and social lives, of course such blessing is a natural outgrowth of a fulsome life.
And yet, we deny such to persons who live and love and raise children and bless their churches and the world with the living of their discipleship. We deny blessing.
This year at Annual Conference a petition was circulated. The text is below.
We joyfully affirm that we will offer the grace of the Church’s blessing to any prepared couple desiring Christian marriage. We are convinced by the witness of others and are compelled by Spirit and conscience to act. We thank the many United Methodists who have already called for full equality and inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the Church.
We repent that it has taken us so long to act. We realize that our church’s discriminatory policies tarnish the witness of the Church to the world, and we are complicit. We value our covenant relationships and ask everyone to hold the divided community of the United Methodist Church in prayer.
I signed. I signed because in the teachings of Jesus I see the outreaching of grace and life lived in the seeking of justice enfleshed in community. I signed because my words about the expansive grace and welcome of God are clanging gongs if I am not willing to participate in the healing good that is blessing and naming relationships that make for life. I signed because my pastor’s heart can bear no more the double-speak of grace abundant and barricades maintained.
I do not know what this means in the living of my call. It can mean being brought up on charges. It can mean losing my credentials in a movement I have given my spirit to. It can mean being booted out of the open door church.
Prior to putting my name and heart to the petition, I talked with our Staff Parish Relations Committee about my inclination to sign. I didn’t want to sign without the blessing of the church body I am amazed to know myself a part of.
They gave their blessing.
And so, God as my partner, witness and guide; so will I. I’m a minister of the gospel of Jesus the Christ. God has graced me with a hunger for lived wholeness and hope in community sprung from the heart of Jesus.
The time for heart healing, the time for blessing, the time for prayerful dissent is now.