I didn’t go to Portland. Having gone for twenty years, I sat this General Conference out. I discovered that it is difficult to listen and watch from afar. The energy that is community wasn’t here to counter the despair of the reports of continuing hate and exclusion. 

In retirement I am currently serving as an interim at one of Chicago’s early Reconciling Congregations. Folks there were neither heartened nor hopeful regarding the establishment of another commission and the deferral of any official change. Grief is palpable.

As an “oldtimer” I dare to make the following suggestions I call an “Aftermath Care Plan” in hopes of equipping clergy and congregations, and reminding myself, to minister with genuine care and compassion to their LGBTQ members, constituents and their families and friends as The UMC General Conference 2016 continued their discriminatory policies and practices – that is continued their spiritual violence perpetrated for over 40 years on God’s LGBTQ children, our family and friends in Christ Jesus. These suggestions, by their nature are both inadequate and incomplete. What we know however, is our response must be careful, that is full of care since, if we are not thoughtful, we can, without intent, compound the pain individuals are feeling. Caring for them must be our priority.

  • Join in lamentation. Express your own dismay, discouragement, and offense. If your perspective is hopeful work to express its basis.
  • When LGBTQ persons tell you they need to leave the denomination – which may include leaving your congregation – be careful to express both your understanding (their action) and your regret (the denomination’s inaction/action ) without burdening LGBTQ folks with ANY sense of guilt for “leaving the fight.” Making victims responsible for their injury is abusive.
  • Do not beg people to stay in a toxin institution. Rather:

1. Explore what leaving the denomination feels and looks like.

2. Create ways folks can cancel their UMC membership while staying connected to your local congregation/community.

3. Lift an option for folks to take a sabbatical. That is, time away from your faith community renewal and refreshment.

If this does not meet the LGBTQ person’s spiritual need, be prepared to refer them to other area LGBTQ affirming Christian congregations. Have this referral list ready NOW. Discuss these potential referrals with your ecumenical partners.

If the party/parties are amenable, consider ritualizing these departures. This is consistent with The UMC Book of Worship “Farewell to Members” when members are relocating. Such a ritual:

1. Affirms their time and commitment while they were among you

2. Blesses them as they locate a place to live out their discipleship.

3. Allows your congregation to recommit to the work of ending discrimination and spiritual violence perpetrated by denominational policies and affirm their intent to be neither defined nor confined by unjust rules.

Whatever you do, do not just let people disappear. If people are not interested in a ritualized farewell (it may add to some people’s pain), acknowledge their leaving in the bulletin and/or newsletter. LGBTQ persons have been invisible, unnamed and unclaimed for too long. Such a note may say something like:

It is with deep regret we share, as a result of recent actions/inactions/decisions made at the UMC General Conference, Geri Lewis and Gail Murphy have begun a search for another faith community and removed their names from our membership roll. May they know God’s unconditional love and may we always welcome them joyfully whenever we are privileged to be in one another’s midst.

This last statement is meant to alert our congregations that members who have left and return for baptisms, concerts, or a special service, have reported encountering comments such as “what are you doing here?” which only multiplies their pain. Remember, they have not “betrayed” you, rather the denomination has excluded them.

Likewise, report these resignations in your Charge Conference report! Mark them “withdrawn in response to denomination’s continuing discrimination.” Your Reconciling Congregation is NOT responsible for these losses, the denomination is.

Recently some Reconciling Congregations have or are exploring federating with a LGBTQ affirming denomination, allowing congregants’ membership to be reported on the LGBTQ affirming denomination’s roll rather than The UMC’s. Others are uniting with a LGBTQ affirming denomination where the full membership is reported to both denominations, but people may self identify as either UMC, a member of the other denomination, or just as a member of the local congregation. Contact Sid Hall at Trinity Church of Austin for more details at sid@tumc.org.

  • Each pastor will undoubtedly be asked “why do you stay?” Prepare your own testimony which answers the question. It will help both you and your congregation if you’ve thought this through.
  • DO NOT imply however, as I have seen several people do, that those who continue in the battle are more “faithful” than those who are done. Their faith is not at question.

Still in the struggle……………..for now.

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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