Tag Archives: General Conference

Tired, Sad, Still not leaving

Last week, the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church met to rule on the legality or the constitutionality of decisions made in February by the General Conference. I have not posted much about the what happened. Judicial Council has a particular role in the United Methodist Church. Two years ago, I wrote a blog on the ruling the Judicial Council made on the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. It explains the process and my response.  You can read my thoughts here.

Those who know me well, know I was grieved and saddened and angered that in 2019 we still can not move forward on full inclusion. On my church’s website, I posted this video in response. I have no say or vote in the matter, but I felt that the One Church Plan, while not perfect, offered the biggest tent for people who have deep disagreement over the issues of human sexuality to dwell together.

I was wrong. The General Conference voted (by a slim majority) to not only uphold the current stance in the Book of Discipline but to add punitive and mean measures to make sure everyone toed the line. The Judicial Council’s role is to look over the legislation and make a ruling on what is legal and what is not. While this comes from a Progressive point of view, this chart is a good visual for understanding the decisions made.

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I am not particularly surprised by the most recent Judicial Council rulings. Their job is to see how decisions are legal or not legal by the United Methodist Discipline and Constitution. That does not stop me from being sad. I understand that different people can come to our Holy Bible and interpret it in different ways. What I have trouble understanding is the punitive nature of how to punish those who disagree.

The Reverend Doctor Rebekah Miles has reflected on the General Conference actions and the Judicial Council’s response.  I highly respect her thoughts and recommend you read her article in its entirety. She is the Professor of Ethics and Practical Theology at Southern Methodist University, an elder in the United Methodist Church and has attended General Conference many times.

Personally, what stands out for me in Dr. Miles post is this statement:
Only one offense with minimum penalty

Speaking of the many things, including celibacy, that have nothing to do with sex, we can at least take strange comfort in the fact that none of them will trigger mandatory minimum penalties for clergy. We, in the United Methodist Church, have mandated minimum penalties for only one offense: officiating at a same-sex marriage. Your pastor could steal the church’s money, have sex with various and sundry people, or even stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot someone, without triggering a mandatory minimum penalty. But if he agrees to officiate at the wedding of his beloved lesbian daughter, we have made it more difficult for his conference to avoid a clergy trial and have mandated that the conference must suspend him for a year without pay if it is his first offense and take away his ordination credentials if it is his second. 

This is stunning. I can basically do all kinds of immoral and unethical and illegal actions, but the United Methodist Church has no minimum penalties for those actions. Now, at any point in the process, a pastor can lose their credentials, but the only “offense” that has specified punishments and penalties are for officiating at gay weddings (which in the United States is legal in all 50 states.) I can get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce, remarry, get a divorce and remarry again and again and again; no questions asked. I can abuse people, steal money, create a hostile work environment at church, and there is no minimum penalty for these offenses. If you want to know what “chargeable offenses” are in the United Methodist Church you can find that information here.

Perhaps this is an overstatement, but the truth is that the Discipline of the United Methodist Church does not prescribe any particular resolution for these pastoral failings. This is an entirely new path that the United Methodist Church is taking. The definition of what it means to be homosexual has been changed as well as the understanding that if a person is celibate, they can still serve as an elder, a deacon, a bishop, etc. Now, it only takes a declaration of being “gay” to exclude one from ministry.

After thirty five plus years, I might be given some grace if I had decided I didn’t want to fight any more. It might be understood if I decided to give up, to turn away from any organization that would be so closed, so deeply entrenched, so unwilling to continue to delve into scripture and to find the grace and love I see in Jesus.

I am still not leaving. I am probably too stubborn and pig headed to give up. I just can not imagine giving up on the church that I have served and loved for decades. I may have to, but I am not willing to stop working for what is just and right and good yet. I continue to share with the young LBGTQ people that worship at First that hope is still available. That some day, it is possible that they can live fully into who God has created them to be in the life of the church. Someday, when they want to pledge their love and their life to their partner, I will be able to be their pastor.

I hope and pray that will be true. I know there are discussions on the future of the UMC. I know we may be looking at schism. For the first time in decades, I am believing this may be the way forward. In the meantime, I will continue to work, to pray, to preach, to pastor and do the work of God in downtown Wichita. I will continue to open the doors for all people, no matter their age, their race, their ethnic background, their social economic status, their political leanings, their gender, or their gender identity or their sexual orientation. I am not leaving, I am not going away. I am continuing to believe and base my ministry on love, on inclusion and on justice.

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Year of Gratitude: March

March snuck up on me. In some ways it really did come in like a lion weather wise and through the reaction to the United Methodist Church’s decision around human sexuality. People who are deeply hurt by the decision of the General Conference may find it hard to be grateful in the midst of the grief and sadness and pain. I don’t blame them. I find it difficult to figure out how to be thankful when I am heart broken over my beloved church’s decision.

The challenge in this year of gratitude lies not in the easy weeks, when life is good and everything is going smoothly. The challenge is always to find the grace and gratitude when nothing seems to be doing right and the world seems to be falling apart. In the psalmist words, “How can I sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” How do we keep on singing when hearts are heavy and the road seems impassable?

I believe we do so by giving thanks. Grace abounds and gratitude calls me to a deeper path of faith. I am grateful for the many allies and people that stood up during the process of General Conference offering hope and grace and love. I am grateful for those who found themselves moved to a new understanding of what the church could be and look like. I am grateful for the delegates who gave of their time and energy to represent the church.

So in the midst of that gratitude, I turn to the focus for the month of March.

March 2019

Home: This month is often when people get the urge to “spring clean.” Our homes can be places of refuge and sanctuary. We have other “homes” as well, places where we are our most authentic selves and feel welcomed and appreciated. This month we give thanks for all those places we name as home.

In the Christian tradition Lent has begun. Christians often begin new spiritual disciplines or take on new opportunities to serve. As I am thinking about lent, this week, let’s begin with our church home or our sacred space whether that is with friends at a coffee shop, a home, a building where we volunteer or an actual religious space. Can you write a note to say thank you for that space? Maybe it is to your favorite barista, or a friend, or family member or staff person at your sacred space. Write and let that person know how their life affects you and how their presence in that space makes you feel like you have come home.

Take a little time to center yourself in your sacred space. Breathe and breathe out and connect with God through that space. May the Divine Presence surround you with love, with peace and with grace.

 

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Year of Gratitude

Last week, I didn’t get a prompt posted for our year of gratitude. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful or that I didn’t send a thank you note, I just didn’t get the blog written. Some of that had to do with the life of the global United Methodist Church. While I have tried not to be anxious, I have been.

As I write, General Conference has not yet concluded, but the One Church Plan which I supported and many of my colleagues and friends supported was defeated twice. I am heartbroken. Sunday, I preached a sermon about why I was going to continue to be on the side of love and acceptance of all. You can find both the worship service or the sermon by itself here.

Today I was attending a Sunday School lunch which was called  “picnic.” There was napkin that looked like this:

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Honestly, I have probably felt more like the cat than the girl! And yet being sad and angry and grieving does not mean I am not thankful. Many of my collegagues and friends from the Great Plains Conference have represented the church I love well. In the four short days, these persons have found themselves at the microphone using the legislative process to do what is right and just. The have diligently worked for good for the greatest amount of people. I am grateful for their passion, their faithfulness and willingness to serve in such a difficult time.

I can not say thank you enough to Amy Lippoldt, Adam Hamiliton, Cheryl Jefferson Bell, David Livingston, Mark Holland, Shayla Jordan (one of the youngest elected to the General Conference), Stephanie Ahlschwede among others. I know I missed some, but still I am deeply grateful for their commitment to living out God’s love for all people. I don’t know what the future holds. For so long, 35 plus years as a clergy in the United Methodist Church I have supported and worked for full inclusion of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters and friends. I don’t intend to stop.

I want to tell those who feel most bruised and broken by what is occuring that you are not alone, there are many allies who will continue to work for justice, for love, for grace, for everyone to be part of the community of faith. We do not lose hope, we cling to faith, we remember that nothing, NOT ONE THING can separate us from the love of God in Christ. I am grateful for the reminder of that promise and that somehow, in someway, we will go forward.

Years ago, a wonderful song was penned that has been sung for several decades: the story and sharing of that song is one that I pray brings hope and promise to those of us who continue to sing for our lives and the lives of the church together you. You will find that story and song here.

 

 

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Courageous Faith: Deliver us from Evil

Today was a beautiful day filled with sunshine. We are winding down our sermon series on the Lord’s Prayer. Yesterday in St. Louis, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church began a special called session to find a way forward in our denomination. For over 40 years we have wrestled with the issues around human sexuality and at the 2016 Conference, the delegates asked the Council of Bishops to lead us in a way forward.

A commission was created and three plans were offered to the General Conference. Over the next few days a decision will be made. I am praying for grace in the midst of the tension and no matter what the decision, that we as brothers and sisters treat each other tenderly and with compassion. In fact in dealing with the scriptures offered in today’s worship, the author of 1 Peter was pretty clear about how we are treat each other.

It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I support the One Church Plan. In my opinion is offers the biggest tent for the most people to live in the tension of disagreement and also to live together as brothers and sisters. Whatever happens, I will continue to choose love, to choose inclusion over exclusion and continue to be a voice for all people to be loved and welcomed into the body of Christ.

Early this morning as I walked into the sanctuary I was stunned by the window:

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The eastern portion was flooded with light and the rest still shadowed. I had never seen that glass look quite that color, so deep and rich. In my heart I believe that is what the kingdom of God looks like when God’s love and grace floods into our hearts and spirits. One of these days, all of us will be illuminated by the light of Christ and it will literally change the world.

Until then, I am praying for the United Methodist Church, praying for all of us to be delivered from any evil that might try to break us apart. I am praying for God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

You can find the whole of today’s service here. Tomorrow the sermon only will be uploaded as well. #Itstime friends. #Itstime. I am so grateful to be graced to serve.

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Not stopping me!

On my Monday, May 7, the United Methodist Council of Bishops announced the results of the voting on five constitutional amendments that had come out of the 2016 General Conference. The reason it takes so long for these things to be reported is that each annual conference all over the world has to vote in their own annual conference. Those votes are sealed and then go to the Council of Bishops to tally and then report out the results of whether they were passed or not.

This information might not be worthy in many ways of a blog post for any one who is NOT United Methodist, however, the two amendments that were not ratified world wide had to do with gender equality. You can read more about those votes here and here. I am grateful for the many expressions of dismay of how these amendments did not pass from the Council of Bishops and the pastoral letter from the Female Bishops I felt a need to respond myself to this controversy.

Let’s just say I am tired. I am not spending any more energy, time or passion trying to convince anyone that I am equal, called, equipped, graced or able to be a pastor, a preacher, or a minister. I don’t need any constitutional amendments to verify, to acknowledge, or to affirm me as a full and equal human being, beloved of God. I just don’t waste time on any one who would argue biblically that men and women are made in the image of God. (Genesis 1: 26-27)

Having said that, I am not unaware that there are places in this world where women are not considered fully human, where they are second class citizens and not offered equal rights and opportunities. What really stunned me in all of this, are the annual conferences in the United States that did not have the votes to support these amendments.

I have read much of the analysis from both the right and left. Both sides speak of the uncertainty around the words gender and marital status. The uncertainty that gender might not mean male and female and marital status would include gay and lesbians drove many people to vote no. Fear seems to have driven the votes for no. There can be no “loopholes” no “opening” for people who are different or who might look for a place, a community of faith where love and grace abounds for all.

I admit, I may be judgy. I will own it. Like I said earlier, I am tired. I have been a pastor since 1982. Some of my reflections on my journey are included here and here  and a bit of history on the church here. I really try to be graceful and understanding of people who disagree with me theologically and socially. I get that we do not all agree. I just don’t want to fight about it anymore.

As a young clergywoman I spent so much time trying to prove myself. I wanted people to know I could do the work, I was qualified, I was trained, and I could do anything as good any of the guys. I worked harder, longer hours to show the “church” at large and the congregations I served they would not be disappointed that a “woman” had been appointed. I am absolutely certain my relationships suffered and my children did not have as much of me as that might have. I wasn’t a failure as a mother, I served smaller churches which allowed me to be far more flexible than a larger church might have been. Still, there were nights and events and time that I was called away in order to prove myself.

I am not willing to do that any more. I am more affected emotionally by this vote than I thought I would be. I didn’t write earlier because there was ministry to be done: a funeral, sermons to write, worship to plan, meetings to ponder and consider what it means to be the church in this time and place. I can not believe that in 2018 equality for women is even a question, let alone would we debate whether or not a person could be a member of the United Methodist Church based on their marital status or their ability or disability.

Here is what I know is true. I will not allow the failure of these constitutional amendments to define me, as a pastor, as a women, as beloved daughter of God. I am who I am, deeply called to proclaim the love and grace of God for all people, in all places. I will not be silenced or patronized nor will I pretend to be less than I am. My friend Brian Sutton created this lovely graphic

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And I will.

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Transitions, Part 2

On July 1, in my annual conference of the United Methodist Church, new appointments begin. I began ministry June 1, 1982 when appointments began June 1. Today, I officially begin my new appointment as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas. I posted about this surprise move in an earlier blog, Transitions . I say “official” because I have spent this last week moving my office and preparing for Sunday morning.

I am aware that no transition is easy or clean. First Downtown is the church I grew up and so there is a familiarity to the building and the space. There are people from what I jokingly call “my former life” and others are new to me and I to them. So I am going home in some ways and in other ways this is all brand new.

In the midst of joy, excitement and a little fear in this new beginning, there is also a sense of awe, humbleness and gratitude. The pulpit ministry of First goes beyond the walls of the physical space through live television and online streaming. Ministers that have gone before me are some of the “best” preachers in the United Methodist Church. As a historic downtown “tall steeple” church, the expectations are real. In its 146 year history, I will be the first woman senior pastor. Other women broke the barrier as associates as far back as the 1970’s, but I am aware of how honored I am to be appointed to this church that has such  an important place in my heart and in the hearts of others.

I am grateful, because I am not here because of who I am, but because of the hard work of many other women before me. This year at General Conference they celebrated the 60th anniversary of women’s ordination.

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Now first of all, I need to note that this is INCORRECT!!!! This is the 60th anniversary of women in “full membership.” One might think that the question that those in process gets asked the most (what’s the difference between ordination and membership) might not be misrepresented at the top level of the church. Sigh. In my blog from a couple of years ago, I mentioned one of those wonderful foremothers who broke the ground for me and so many others Rev. Portteus Latimer. Portteus or “Preach” as she was known was ordained BEFORE she was a full member.

What that meant was that she had to “find” her own appointment and if a man was found to fill the pulpit she had to leave. What that meant was that when she attended annual conference with her lay member (who happened to be a woman) her lay member was allowed full voice and voting right and Preach was not. She was ordained, but NOT a member. Those membership rights 60 years ago MEANT that in theory at least, women could vote, could be elected to attend General and Jurisdictional Conference as clergy delegates and could even become a bishop! She shared about being a pastor without being recognized as fully equal. Without her mentoring me and caring for me in those first five years of ministry, I am sure I would not be the pastor I am today. I am so grateful for all those women who went before me that paved the way for me to serve God in so many ways.

On May 31, 1988 I was ordained an elder in the United Methodist Church. Preach laid hands on me in the moment that was so blessed. On that day I received two gifts, one a red stole placed around my neck after I was ordained and a small gold dove, engraved with my ordination date by my family.

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Each year at Annual Conference I wear the dove and if I participate in the ordination service I wear this stole. It is part and parcel of the history of those who went before me and I pray for the ministry in which I am now engaged.

So the new adventure begins. Downtown Wichita is part of who I am, from when I was a child, to the choice I made ten years ago to move back to the heart of Wichita, where I grew up and where I attended school and where I thrive. To be part of Life.Downtown. was a surprise blessing. I look forward to coming full circle and being in ministry at First.

I am graced to serve.

 

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