They were from Illinois, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, North Carolina, Washington D.C., and Kansas (that was me). We were male and female, youngest in the late 20’s, oldest likely in mid-60’s, and the rest of us in between. We were clergy and laity, a District Superintendent, ordained Elders, Ordained Deacons, and Licensed local Pastors. We serve large churches, small churches, Districts, rural congregations, and an extension appointment in a UM organization beyond the local church. And we likely would never have met one another if we weren’t United Methodist, if we weren’t all somehow interested in the future of the United Methodist Church being welcoming to all kinds of people, and seeking to do our best to think together on what that means in a denomination continuing to disagree with one another over human sexuality and different understandings and interpretations of scripture. What we agreed upon coming in is that we love our United Methodist Church AND, that none of us are in agreement with a Traditional Plan that is punitive and punishing to folks in the LGBTQ community, nor do we come from faith communities who feel comfortable being exclusive even if we are all at different places in our understanding of the complexities.
We spent hours together in compassionate and intense listening to one another’s experiences, to information about where we are and where we may be going, to what the hard parts have been already and to what we foresee hard parts being for God’s people and churches moving forward. Our bottom line in all of our work was that we are going to come out of this with communities of faith somehow linked together who seek to spread the gospel of Jesus that is generous, hospitable, and affirming. Our commitment and re-commitment is to a denominational community that will not compromise our commitment to unlimited invitations to communion tables and potluck tables and Sunday school tables, and ping-pong tables, and Center of Grace free dinner tables, and young adult and middling going out to lunch tables, and tables holding candles and flowers for weddings and tables holding stolls and robes for those to be ordained. And those invitations are offered to all . . . where all means all.
The ONLY question we are truly struggling with that is hard and complex and a place we’ve never quite been before, is how do we move into the future with a branch of the church that does not want to move with us in our welcome. The percentages in the U.S. puts those folk in a minority, globally in a majority so we continue to work with how we can agree to disagree and allow the U.S. church to make contextual decisions based on our majority understandings as folks outside the U.S. get to decide for themselves for their contexts. It all seems simple, but with human beings involved, you flat out know it’s not.
My blog to you this week Grace and friends of Grace is quite simple, and probably as succinct as I’m ever likely to be. We are staying who we are. What that looks like in terms of where we will be connected in a network of churches is still a bit ambiguous – but what is not ambiguous is our open hearts to build relationship across all kinds of differences and boundaries that some would use to separate and polarize – we refuse to do that, and that will not change. AND what I know is we will not be alone. There are folks and churches all over the United States who seek the same way of being in ministry and service to Jesus and all God’s beloved children. Friends, that is great news – it is the promise of Easter – the eternal promise of new life.
Bottom line? My heart is more filled with hope for us than it has been in awhile. To be in a room with folks from anywhere and everywhere who are at different parts of the journey and yet in agreement that loving God and loving our neighbor, ALL our neighbors, as ourselves, is the definition of hope for the church. It will take us awhile to get where we’re going structurally, but I am totally convinced we are on our way and nothing will stop us.
Our task through this process is to show up, be brave, love one another, love those who have not felt loved by the church before, and let’s walk together into the future God is already envisioning and blessing. Finally it’s simply this:
WE. ARE. GRACE.