A Message From Pastor Rodney
My head is reeling for several reasons… The one I love the best on this side of heaven is sick. Angela has had the flu and, as hard as I’ve worked to try to be a help to her, we have worked even harder to keep me from catching it! So far we’ve succeeded!
While I was at home late on Tuesday sitting with her and catching up on some “busy work,” I watched and mostly listened to the live streaming of the last half a day of our “Special Called General Conference.” As most know, our General Conference is the body within United Methodism that sets policy and decides the path of ministry and mission for the entire denomination. This particular specially called General Conference was charged with hearing a report from a commission charged with recommending a “way forward” in our conversation regarding full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender, queer and more (LGBTQ+) persons. Specifically, we debated can LGBTQ+ persons be married within the confines of our local churches (a privilege guaranteed by the Supreme Court of the USA), can our clergy persons performs such weddings (the current wording of THE DISCIPLINE forbids it), and can LGBTQ+ persons be ordained as clergy in the United Methodist Church (also forbidden by THE DISCIPLINE).
If you weren’t listening to or watching the conversations on “live streaming” I don’t think you could imagine the level of passion, despair, anger and anguish poured out by those participating. It was reported that delegates from South Carolina on both sides of the issue found themselves grasping for the right words to describe the raw emotions – their own and those of other delegates –when it became clear the church they love is as divided as ever.
Our own bishop, Bishop Jonathan Holston, stated “I know there are people in South Carolina who see the decisions of the General Conference as hurtful and are saddened by the outcome. I know there are some in our annual conference who prayed for this outcome.”
“But whether you are pleased or challenged by the actions of the General Conference, this is not a day to declare winners and losers –this is a time for us to really seek God’s grace together.”
We are reminded that Bishop Holston and his fellow bishops did not have a vote on the matter. That authority rested exclusively with the 864 delegates from around the global United Methodist Church, half lay members and half clergy – including 16 from South Carolina.
The four-day 2019 General Conference closed with sounds of protests in the background after three days of unifying prayer, worship and largely respectful debate over whether the church should change language in its governing document that calls the practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching. “ In the end, delegates approved an amended version of the Traditional Plan, which would add stricter enforcement of prohibitions in the UMC Book of Discipline on same-gender weddings and the ordination of “ self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”
Now, what does that mean ...? Well, to be truthful, we don’t know! The outcome of the Conference is in the hands of our Judicial Council (think, Church Supreme Court) but this much we do know ... I think! The traditional wording in THE DISCIPLINE has been retained and the current changes – if they stand – have to do with literal discipline of those who violate the rules set forth in our policy and details regarding churches and/or individuals who leave the denomination. That’s about as simple as I know how to report. But, I’ve been advised by several trusted friends that I, as the senior pastor of St. John’s church, need to let you know where I stand on this outcome, and where the church stands...The first part is simple…
I believe this week we United Methodists have proven once again that that we just cannot keep up, that just because this new, differently-informed experience is not our experience or doesn’t fit our Scriptural hermeneutic, we are not about to listen! I am extremely frustrated with four decades of churches who declare ‘we just have to get more young people in our church’ then do everything in our power to maintain the status quo! Lord have mercy!
I’m afraid we have sown to the wind and will reap the proverbial whirlwind (Hos. 8:7). And in the process, we have literally wounded so many of our sisters and brothers in and outside the church walls – sisters and brothers for whom Christ died (Romans 14:15), sisters and brothers for whom to say “ I love you” is not enough, sisters and brothers who need to know from experience – not just empty promises, that they matter!
I’m sure that by the time you read this you will have read a hundred other posts that are much more eloquent than I could ever be … But you need to know where I am – your senior pastor. And I speak for myself: not St. John’s Church and certainly not the denomination!
I believe the events of the past months leading up to and including the Special General Conference have been difficult for everyone . Just as Bishop Holston said, there are no winners and losers. We have sought the will of God and there will be some who believe we’ve found it, and others who are convinced we are eternally lost!
But we must continue together ! We must work together to understand one another and hold one another as precious, sacred children of God! We cannot continue to say we love one another and do the kind of harm exhibited lately.
The second part of that question is not so easy for me to answer – because it’s not up to me! I could talk until I’m blue in the face but, unless you get on board, there won’t be any change here at St. John’s church. I believe we must continue to work together to look for ways we can affirm that all people matter, can value one another, include one another, and judge the ways we exclude. But the success or failure of that venture is up to you!
Personally, I am appreciably devoted to the vows I made over 35 years ago – to be loyal to and uphold the order and theology of the United Methodist Church. I am not a revolutionary and I’m not seeking to leave the church I love. I am trying – in my own small, yet unmistakable way, to let my church people, including my LGBTQ+ friends know that ALL people matter , ALL people are welcome to the worship life of St. John’s United Methodist Church; ALL are welcome to the Table of the Lord (It’s God’s Table, not mine … There’s not a person who draws breath who doesn’t need the grace of God found in that blessed sacrament!) and ALL are welcome to the table of work and fellowship, until ALL are fully included in ALL ways.
Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise!