Sometimes it’s amazing how far we’ve come and sometimes it’s no less amazing how far we have yet to go. It didn’t make the national news, at least in the Midwest, and probably didn’t hit the screens of anyone except those of us who are more than a little United Methodist-y, but for those of us who live and love and serve local churches in this denomination of ours, it hit like a bucket of ice water – and not the kind that raises money for a good cause. One development of the United Methodist General Conference in 2016, apart from the controversial issue of human sexuality by which that gathering is now defined, were a couple of important constitutional amendments, which then required votes by every Annual Conference of our denomination, and needed two thirds of the vote to become church law.
And…they didn’t. The results were published this week and they didn’t. My colleague, the Rev. Dr. Sally Haynes who serves First United Methodist in Blue Springs, Missouri puts her thoughts on the result of the vote this way, and I find it to be the most articulate expression of response I’ve heard so I offer it to you.
“In spite of everything, I will continue to baptize girl babies with fierce and persistent hope. The ‘everything’ of which I speak is, of course, this week’s news that one in three United Methodists at Annual Conferences around the world were unable to bring themselves to agree with the statement, ‘men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God,’ and that the church should ‘seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.’ And likewise one in three couldn’t agree with the radical notion that, in addition to our current prohibitions against discrimination based on race, color, national origin and economic condition, we would also not discriminate based on gender, ability, age or marital status. These are church people we are talking about, my church people, and one in three just couldn’t bring themselves to agree with these notions. Therefore these two amendments to the Constitution of the United Methodist Church, my church, failed.”
-Rev. Dr. Sally Haynes, Sr. Pastor 1st UMC Blue Springs Missouri, blogpost 8 May, 2018
What’s the big deal? That’s not who we are at Grace, right? I mean for goodness sake, we have four clergywomen serving, the Senior Pastor being one, and she has been here fifteen looooong (*wink*) years, what more could we ask? These votes don’t represent us. They don’t represent how we are in life. They don’t represent our understanding of the roles of women and men across the board in any vocation, leadership position, education level, or social standing. So we don’t really need to have it written down in a constitution for our freedom to support gender equality and opposition to discrimination within and outside the walls of the church.
But at Grace we’re also not isolationists. I sometimes deep in my heart sorta wish we were. I imagine life would be simpler that way – if we didn’t have to deal with this “connectional” part of our denominational life. It’s been reported that one Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church in the U.S. has clearly said that 90% of their churches would never accept a woman as a pastor in their pulpit. I don’t particularly want to be connected with that knowledge. My life has gone swimmingly well up to this point without really knowing that and mostly believing it’s true only in other denominations that make that clear without embarrassment. But maybe the truth is that I’ve now seen the enemy and they are us. At least, as Sally says, they are one in three of us.
I’ve been the first woman as lead pastor in the last two appointments I’ve served. And they’ve both been perfect. *smile* Okay, maybe not perfect, but as we lived and loved and served and worshipped together, our imperfections became less important than the growth in seeking to live more like Jesus. And I was clear in both places, that until I became a trusted part of the community, I needed to be better than an average male colleague. Some folks in each place named that fact, others probably didn’t even know they believed that, but it was there. For some that fact remains true, for others it does not. Also understand that I started ahead of other women who might have been appointed because I’m anglo, degree’d, and have a bit of a large personality that, at least externally, is not easily intimidated and is most often too stubborn to quit. But please do not doubt for one moment that I carried and still do to some extent, that my failure and/or success as a woman leading a large church affects whether other women will be given the opportunity coming after me – not simply or primarily at Grace, but across the board. Lest we think that is me being overly-dramatic, ONE IN THREE United Methodists across the world could not agree to support the statement that “women and men are of equal value in the eyes of God.” Deep inhale. Deep exhale. Deep sigh.
Our clergywoman Senior Associate stepped into the pulpit last Sunday, Confirmation Sunday, on the shortest notice you could possibly get, and smoothly and giftedly led one of the most important services of the church year… OF COURSE SHE DID. Our clergyman Associate for the New Campus stepped into the pulpit last Sunday at 9:15, the highest attended service each week, on the shortest notice you could possibly get, and smoothly and giftedly led a great sermon and Holy Communion… OF COURSE HE DID. Our other two clergywomen Associates and our male Director of Discipleship kept the liturgy smooth and offered hearts of hospitality and stability signaling the consistency of welcome that we live in Grace… OF COURSE THEY DID. We know and would never expect anything less regardless of gender, but maybe it matters that not everyone has come to that revelation, so maybe those of us who have bear a greater responsibility to continue the work of transformation because we simply aren’t there yet – as a human and global family, we simply aren’t there yet.
I end with another paragraph from Sally’s blog:
“I hold onto a fierce and persistent hope that, if a girl baby that I baptize should choose to go into ministry, the day will come when she might not have to hear the longing spoken aloud for “a male presence in the pulpit.” She might not have to figure out how to discreetly (or blatantly) remove a parishoner’s hands from her breasts or butt. She might not receive death threats because she is female and clergy. No, my hope is that she will be free to live fully into her blessed calling.”
And so may it be, at least someday, so may it ever be.
For more information on the Constitutional Amendment Results as well as the Pastoral Response from our Female Bishops and the Council of Bishops go to: www.umc.org
For Rev. Dr. Sally Haynes’ full blog post In spite of everything, I will continue to baptize girl babies… May 8, 2018 go to: Salienceineachday.blogspot.com