From the floor of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference on Saturday, June 2nd, 2018, Chelsea Spyres shared the following during a moment of personal privilege.
My name is Chelsea Spyres, I am a member of Newark UMC, and an active member of the laity. For the last two years I have been working and serving at a church in the Baltimore Washington Conference, and this past year I began seminary at Wesley Theological. At St. Matthew’s where I serve they call me pastor, which made me really uncomfortable at first because I am not yet licensed or ordained. But in the last year I have begun to accept this title because I am one of their pastors, I am their pastor in who I am, and in the work God has brought me to.
For many years I have met with the Wilmington District Committee on Ministry and this year I have been preparing for Licensing as a Local Pastor. My name was going to be before you for me to become a Licensed Local Pastor this year, on loan to Baltimore Washington Conference, affirming my title as pastor and giving me the ability to preside over the sacraments. It is a step I was prepared to take until God spoke earlier this week in a way that I can no longer ignore. This was not what I planned for this Annual Conference and I recognize that even speaking before you today I recognize I stand with great privilege. Friends I stand before you today after asking the Bishop to remove my name from the list of appointments. I stand before you not speaking on anyone else’s behalf with anyone else’s voice but my own.
I stand before you saying that many in our church are wrestling with this question of when to pursue clergy status when our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters* do not have this privilege. Many have chosen not to go further in the candidacy process but today I only can speak for myself. Not for other allies and most definitely not for LGBTQ collogues but for me. I have discerned that I cannot take clergy vows into a denomination that says my friends who are LGBTQ+ are incompatible with Christian teaching. I cannot take clergy vows as so many of my friends are told no or not yet in the ordination process solely because of their sexual orientation or they go through the process in secret of who God has created them to be in relationship with. These friends and collogues are gifted and called by God into ordained ministry and yet are discriminated against as we hold up this one piece of our Book of Discipline over others.
Thursday morning, I wept through opening worship and could no longer ignore God’s voice on my heart. I wept as the words inclusivity and diversity were used five different times in our Communion Liturgy. We say it in our liturgy but when it comes to living out that liturgy we fall short.
I pray daily for the United Methodist Church and I believe and have hope that God is doing and will continue to do beautiful things in and through us as a denomination. I believe in the surprising work of God in our midst. And I believe that we are called to stay around the table together, repenting for where we have failed to be an obedient church. Repenting for times when we have failed welcome and celebrating the diversity of God’s creation. Today I mourn and lament but I can no longer stand silent. Today I choose to stand with people who are told there is no place for them at our table. Until my friends and collogues who are LGBTQ+ have a space to be in relationship and openly seek licensing, commissioning and ordination in the United Methodist Church I will wait to take clergy vows. I will wait and I will listen, I will offer my gifts as laity and use my voice and vote to make room for other voices, voices that we as the Church have silenced for too long. I will wait and I will work until all really means all.
Thank you Bishop Johnson and Annual Conference.
Note from the writer: In the third paragraph I used the language “LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters,” what I should have said was “siblings.” It was a section that was added just before the moment of privilege and is exclusive. I repent and ask forgiveness that even in moments of inclusivity and justice-seeking we as allies have a long way to go.