Growing the Kin-dom at Glendale

In 2017, Glendale UMC nearly closed its doors. A far cry from its former glory in the 1950s-1960’s, the congregation had dwindled to 25 worshipers on an average Sunday. Its leadership decided that, in order to survive, the church would need a transformation.

So, Glendale decided to break the rules about change in church. They melted down the idols of “how we’ve always done things” and “who we have always been” in exchange for a more authentic representation of God’s love to the community around them.

The people of Glendale made rapid logistical and programming adjustments. But most importantly, the community created a new welcome message of intentional inclusivity.

Like many other churches who’ve experienced new life, Glendale found that not everyone was willing to stay for the journey. Over the next 6 months, nearly a third of the church’s membership left, citing that Glendale had gotten “too political.” However, that loss broke the remaining chains restraining this community. 

Life After the Vote

Traditionalists commonly say that inclusive and affirming churches are dying. That we’re not growing. That we’re not doing anything to ‘build the Kingdom.’ But they’re wrong. Also, we don’t use the word ‘kingdom’ at Glendale. We use the word kin-dom, and we are building the kin-dom of God that includes all people seeking to find a connection and a spiritual home. Despite what they say, we are growing in number and more importantly, in our reach to provide safe space for people to explore and deepen their faith in God in community.

– Steven Kyle Adair

In 2019, Glendale voted unanimously to become a Reconciling Ministry. “We had already become affirming,” said Glendale member Steven Kyle Adair. “But that was our official commitment to the community: to speak out, to act, to put our faith and mission into action.”

2019 Reconciling Decision Day, Glendale UMC

Today, Glendale’s community includes almost 200 active individuals, with 150 new members joining since the 2017 relaunch. People of all gender identities and sexual orientations are attracted to Glendale’s explicit inclusion and its dedication to creating an authentic safe environment for all. 

“We’re mostly made up of people who have been hurt or excluded by the Church, typically in more conservative denominations” Steven states. “A lot of people were out of the Church for years before they stepped back in. They’ve found Glendale to be that safe space to start growing in their faith and to find community again.”

The Greater Tennessee Climate

While the community at Glendale UMC has flourished since 2017, the same cannot be said for LGBTQ+ inclusion in the larger community. As Steven puts it, “ In Tennessee. It’s a struggle here politically and even culturally outside of the Metro Nashville area.”  The community at Glendale continues to support and stand with its LGBTQ+ members, even as the state turns against them. “Our members meet with legislators and testify in committee meetings against harmful legislation. We march on the state Capitol. We get our hands dirty to make change in our community.” 

Last summer, an anti-LGBTQ+ evangelical YouTube personality attended a Glendale worship service under false pretenses and posted his experience online. Shortly after the video went viral, the church was vandalized and a cinder block was thrown through a sanctuary window. 

Glendale responded by reclaiming the cinder block as a symbol of transformation and radical love for all members of the community. 

Rev. Steph Dodge and Steven Adair

In addition to LGBTQ+ justice, Glendale works to support climate justice, gun reform, racial justice, and other justice-oriented causes. “We’re trying to figure out how to be the body of Christ,” says Steven. “As new people find Glendale, we continue to add opportunities to put our faith into action and respond to our call to transform the world around us.”

Broken windows at Glendale UMC
Sophie Dukes, Glendale UMC

As we head into General Conference, may we be reminded that God may call us to step out into the unknown. May a spirit of transformation send us as witnesses to our communities so that we may grow the kin-dom of God. 

We at Glendale United Methodist Church want you to know that no matter: where you’ve come from or where you are going; what you believe or what you may doubt; what you are feeling or just not feeling; what you have or don’t have; and no matter the color of your skin, who you love or how you identify – all of who you is welcomed into this community of faith by a God who loves you and knows you by name.

– Glendale UMC’s Welcome Message inspired by the Welcome Statement used at Capitol Hill UMC, Washington D.C.
2023 congregational photo with Glendale’s new Pride Doors

I didn’t plan on attending the 2019 RMN Convocation. I felt lonely and isolated following the 2019 General Conference. As a queer Methodist in the Midwest, I was acutely aware of the tension and pain of our denominational shift. I went into General Conference with a hopeful heart and a belief that the church that raised me would claim me as their own and finally encourage my call to ministry. As our global denomination returned home following the vote, I was left feeling empty, devastated, and alone.

I didn’t really want anything to do with the larger Methodist Connection—my affirming home church was enough for me, thank you very much. But then, God stepped in. Shortly before Convo I was asked to provide supervision and activities to the children who were in attendance. I showed up on the first day with a backpack full of supplies and a chip on my shoulder. I was determined to help but to protect my heart and keep my distance.

While I expected to remain in a place of hurt and anger, my experience at Convocation melted my hardened heart and reminded me that I am not in this alone. I was thrust into the arms of a community that was in the struggle with me. There was solidarity in my pain, but also a shared passion, joy, and commitment to just and inclusion that reminded me that I belonged. My heart was warmed by the fire of chosen family and the companionship of people of faith who are fierce advocates for justice. The love in the room broke me open and allowed my healing to begin.

They asked for us to do better. And, church, I believe we can.

There was something special about gathering in the same space. The joy of getting to see someone’s posture and gestures. To feel the energy and emotions of another person in our bodies the way we only can when we are together. To really make a new friend, not just enjoy greeting one another through the chat box.

At Convocation, I saw in the faces and words of the children the future of my Church. I experienced their hope and trust. I witnessed firsthand the kind of hospitality that can lead us forward. And, my friends, it gives me hope. The children ended their Convocation experience by writing letters of affirmation to bishops across the connection. They asked for love and acceptance. They asked for us to do better. And, church, I believe we can.

We are in the struggle, but there is hope. We need fire for the fight and strength for the journey. It is vital for us to connect, to lean on one another, and to celebrate God’s beloved creatures together. We must stand for and with one another, welcoming the spirit of transformation to move amongst us and refill us for the continuing journey.

Join us at Convocation. There are virtual options, but there is something divine and magical that happens when we are in the room together. Convocation is much more than just the sessions you can follow along with from home. It’s also the space and breath between. It’s those hallway conversations and spontaneous moments of connection. It’s the chance to come together. To find comradery, to demonstrate solidarity; to strategize, to learn, to celebrate, and to heal.

So, come find joy. Find love. Find community. Find an example of a church that loves you and will stand up for you and your community. Find relief from the seemingly unrelenting pace of change and struggle in our world. Exchange it for a chance to experience a peace that passes understanding, and a fire fueled by our collective love. Trust me, you want to be in the room where it happens.

I hope to see you in Charlotte.