Life is nothing if not surprising and interesting. I started in the desert southwest last week for a bit of respite and time with family. Whether or not this is believable, I made the plans before I heard we were to have our first dose of winter here with sleet, a little snow flurry, and some cold and windy weather. Waking up to sunshine and blue sky was not a horrible thing, and as the hummingbird attests in the pic below, God’s beauty exists in every place.
I often head to that part of the world the week after our financial stewardship campaign is over in October. It’s one of those in-between times for a deep breath of life. It’s after the Autumn kick-off for classes and administration and stewardship campaign, and before the intense days leading into Thanksgiving and Advent. That rhythm feeds my soul and re-invigorates my spirit.
This year was a bit different with a short stop on the way home at the end of the week in Asheville, North Carolina. Not exactly right on the way, but Lake Junaluska (sort of the Camp David of Methodism) is in Asheville and the Council of Bishops is meeting there this week. Leading up to that meeting the Central Conference Bishops (Episcopal leaders from outside the United States) were having time together and invited Mainstream UMC to spend some time sharing our perspective and information and building relationship for communication and shared spirit on the way to General Conference in May, 2020. I have been the more silent partner in the Mainstream UMC work for various and sundry reasons, not the least of which, as I like to say, I’m more poet than politician. But somehow this time with some urging from my colleague Mark, I felt a calling to be present and vocal. A major part of that choice has to do with the gender issues that continue in the U.S. and globally, I was the only woman in the room in our meeting. The other part of that choice has to do with a self-understanding as a called and sent preacher and communicator that I take most seriously though not prodigiously.
My reflection on the conversation was that there were moments of stark clarity of the difference in experience and understanding of human sexuality and the length of the journey and the challenges we face in defining inclusion and support for the LGBTQIA+ community. We continue to have similar challenges in the U.S., and yes at Grace UMC as well, but not at the same level of physical threat – there is still some as acknowledged by hate crimes, but not as intense I believe. The hope came not in consensus, but in a majority affirmation that the Central Conference Episcopal leaders share our hope for United Methodists in the United States to vote their own conscious and concerns in terms of human sexuality most specifically related to the LGBTQIA+ community. That is a major statement in direct relation to their desire that we at Mainstream share, for the Global Methodist Church to find a way into a shared future in ministry taking into direct account our differences in context and culture. It seems so reasonable and rational, which the resident cynic in me figures may be a bad sign. To that I say, “out, out darn cynic”. I know Shakespeare was a bit more direct, but I am still a pastor from Kansas.
Bishop Yambasu of Sierra Leone, and the current leader of the Bishops of the Central Conferences, shared conversation with Mark and me at dinner and toward the conclusion used this quote, “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity” (in its origin: “In necessariis unitas, in non-nesessariis (or, dubiis) libertas in utrisque (or, omnibus) caritas.”) While sometimes attributed to Wesley or Augustine, in fact it first appears in Germany A.D. 1627-28 from Rupertus Meldenius and has been quoted in generations since with an understanding over the past 400 years – “Were there no more said of all this subject, but that of Rupertus Meldinius, cited by Conradus Bergius, it might end all schism if well understood and used.” Can we sift to that which is profoundly simple in our faith? “In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity?” I promise human beings will immediately begin wrangling over what it essential – but maybe loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbors as ourselves is an essential on which we can agree? It was what Jesus stated when asked what was most important. If it’s good enough for our Savior, is it not good enough for us?
I did tell Bishop Yambasu that I perhaps would like to be a Pastor in his conference. Bishop Yambasu smiled graciously and said something to the effect that it would not be possible. I get it, but it does not diminish my respect for the journey he has undertaken, the seriousness with which he has received a vision from God to be a leader at this time in the global church, and his willingness to lay aside personal bias to work for a Methodist movement that will continue in global work across boundaries and borders for the sake of God’s embracing grace.
Today I’m guardedly optimistic that while we may not initially vote to remove harmful and hurtful current language in our Book of Discipline in May, we may very well vote for the U.S. church to have the power to vote our own minds and hearts and if that be the case, the majority of our Annual Conferences, including Great Plains, have shown at 70% to 30%, we will remove the language and then have the hard work ahead of inclusion becoming real without harm or prejudice.
I think today my body has settled into the correct time zone, flying from the desert southwest which was two hours earlier than Kansas immediately to the southeast which is an hour ahead of Kansas back into Kansas City and “falling back” an hour put my circadian rhythm off or out or without any for a few days. A friend suggested that fit – in a sense that’s the way this whole chaos in the church has felt at least since 2016 and most clearly since last February.
I told my Aunt and Unc that I’m going to print the pic of the hummingbird and the sky and hang it in my office so that when the snow blows again, I can close my eyes and remember there is warmth and beauty that will come again in due time. To which my Unc responded that hummingbirds and cold noses (which Max and I both had this morning on our walk as the sun rose) are both blessed events for us to enjoy. And so it is and may it be in a minute or maybe two, of grace.