While I was serving as chair of the Board of Reconciling Ministries Network, we undertook the important task of strategic planning that would shape our work and witness for this quadrennium. Included among the six directives which were adopted was the commitment to:

Increase the quantity, capacity, and vitality of Reconciling Communities (RCs), Reconciling United Methodists (RUMs), and regional action teams to faithfully act as the center of a renewed and revitalized United Methodist Church.

This has always been where my own heart lies; gathering and renewing life-enhancing, LGBTQIA affirming communities of faith which practice radical hospitality and do world transforming mission. It is why,  on my annual conference Reconciling team, I work with the resourcing and renewing group. We encourage local congregations in the Reconciling process, join with others for panel discussions, and sometimes preach or lead book or film discussions.

We are celebrating steady Reconciling growth in Northern Illinois Conference.

At the same time, congregations and their members are aging. For the past few years I have found myself engaged in conversations and confronted by inquiries regarding senior housing and health care in our conference.

“Do our agencies welcome gay and lesbian residents?” I have been asked.

LGBTQIA Boomers like myself are now retiring. Some of us have lived out and proud in post Stonewall America for decades. Others of us have looked to retirement as the end of the workplace discrimination that kept many closeted. Both have been among our active Reconcilers for nearly thirty years.

Having known or feared the realities of rejection and ostracization, none want to face the possibility of discrimination as they explore housing options for our later years.

We want our relationships, indeed now in some cases marriages, to be respected and valued. Many among us are financially strained because for so much of their working lives they were not protected by non-discrimination laws. Affordability is a parallel concern to genuine acceptance. So, recently I took the question directly to two historic United Methodist retirement communities in our conference: Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, founded in 1898 and headed by President and CEO, Bill Lowe and Bethany Methodist Communities, founded in 1889 and headed by President and CEO Steve Dahl. Chicagoland Methodist Senior Services, located on Chicago’s northside, provides a wide range of services, including subsidized housing, supportive living, assisted living, rehabilitation services, dementia care, home care and wellness support. Bethany Methodist Communities are located in the Andersonville neighborhood and northwest suburban Glenview. They serve folks in both independent living and assisted living facilities and include the medical care of Methodist Hospital of Chicago. BMC has hosted and housed the Andersonville gathering of Urban Village Church, a new church multi-site community which has been reconciling since its inception.

Delighted to be challenged, both shared quickly their institution’s work on diversity and inclusion and training on LGBTQ and other cultural competencies. Discussions ensued and both Boards voted this spring to join the Reconciling Ministries Network, publicly declaring their welcome of all regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and to their commitment in the work of removing the current discriminatory policies and practices of The United Methodist Church that engendered the questions I brought them.

These are the first retirement communities to join RMN and as such they have enlarged RMN’s capacity to serve all God’s people. Let us rejoice and welcome them to RMN!

What agencies are in your conferences you might challenge?

Rev. Dr. Bonnie Beckonchrist

Bonnie Beckonchrist received her M.Div. from Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary 1982, and her D.Min, from Wesley Theological Seminary in 2010. Bonnie retired in 2013, having most recently served as lead pastor of First UMC Arlington Heights of the Northern Illinois Conference. Bonnie was actively involved in RMN witness, planning and execution, 1996, 2004, 2008; has assisted in planning and implementation of several convocations, and served in several ways with leading General Conference witness. Bonnie led two congregations, one small urban parish and one large suburban church, to become Reconciling. She has enjoyed resourcing other congregations, in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference and others, in the Reconciling process, through clergy mentoring, task force planning and preaching. She is also the former RMN Board President.

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