PRESS RELEASE: Responding to Growing, Evolving Reconciling Constituency, RMN Launches New Website, Resources, and Mission Statement
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – November 14, 2022
CONTACT: Ophelia Hu Kinney, Director of Communications TELEPHONE: 773.736.5526 x105 E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
Responding to Growing, Evolving Reconciling Constituency, RMN Launches New Website, Resources, and Mission Statement
Following a historic period of growth post-General Conference, Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) has built an improved website; updated its virtual resources to better serve its global Reconciling community; and updated its governing statements for the organization’s more intersectional approach to justice.
Features of the robust new website, still located at rmnetwork.org, include an interactive map and list of Reconciling Ministries around the world; a vetted resource library aimed at the movement’s most frequently asked questions about LGBTQ+ justice in the Church; a new events calendar that provides dates for important RMN events and more; and a job board to connect Reconciling Ministries with Reconciling United Methodist job seekers.
The renovated website complements updated resources and increased virtual meet-up opportunities for LGBTQ+ people and those who love them. Newly developed resources include brochures for parents of LGBTQ+ children, Toolkits that advise LGBTQ+ young adults and youth ministers, curricula for prospective Reconciling Ministries in partnership with the Lakelands Institute, and more. Alongside these resources, which have been accessed thousands of times by individuals around the connection, RMN has also increased its online presence through regular Virtual Porch offerings, acknowledging the importance of online community that developed because of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the increasingly global nature of RMN’s constituency.
In addition to the new website and work mentioned above, RMN is developing the first-ever Reconciling VBS curriculum with modules for children and adults. Plans are to have it available for use in the summer of 2024.
RMN’s new governing statements are as follows:
Focus: Reconciling Ministries Network celebrates that LGBTQ+ persons are a good expression of God’s diverse creation and exists to advocate for the affirmation of all of God’s children in the Church and the world.
Mission: Reconciling Ministries Network is committed to intersectional justice across and beyond the United Methodist connection, working for the full participation of all LGBTQ+ people throughout the life and leadership of the Church.
Vision: Reconciling Ministries Network envisions a transformed Church that ensures justice, equity, and dignity for all of God’s children in their diverse intersecting identities.
Last week, United Methodists from around the United States gathered for Jurisdictional Conferences: opportunities to elect bishops and pass resolutions to advance the kin-dom of God in the denomination.
Episcopal elections are important for LGBTQ+ justice because our Church’s moral direction is deeply influenced by the values of the elected bishops and because bishops hold immense power to affect the livelihoods of LGBTQ+ clergy and congregations seeking justice and inclusion.
The 2022 Jurisdictional Conferences saw a historic slate of episcopal elections for the Reconciling movement, including the following.
Bishop Cedrick Bridgeforth, serving the Greater Northwest Annual Conference and the UMC’s second out-gay bishop
Bishop Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, serving the Iowa Annual Conference
Bishop Hector Burgos, serving the Upper New York Annual Conference and the first Hispanic/Latino bishop of the Northeast Jurisdiction
Bishop Robin Dease, serving the North Georgia Annual Conference
Bishop Dottie Escobedo-Frank, serving the California-Pacific Annual Conference
Bishop Carlo Rapanut, serving the Desert Southwest Annual Conference, the first Filipino American bishop in the U.S, and the first U.S. bishop ordained in a Central Conference
Bishop Delores “Dee” Williamston, serving the Louisiana Annual Conference and the South Central Jurisdiction’s first Black woman bishop
Bishop David Wilson, serving the Great Plains Annual Conference and the UMC’s first Native American bishop
Other appointments supportive to the Reconciling movement:
Bishop Tom Berlin, serving the Florida Annual Conference
Bishop Laura Merrill, serving Arkansas Annual Conference
Bishop Lanette Plambeck, serving the Dakotas-Minnesota Area
Bishop Dan Schwerin, serving the Northern Illinois Annual Conference
Bishop Connie Shelton, serving the North Carolina Annual Conference
We celebrate these newly elected justice-seeking bishops who represent more of the whole of humanity and whose wisdom is invaluable in the ongoing co-creation of our Church.
At the same time, we acknowledge that progress may feel slow in its attainment and fast in its erosion. Trust is hard to build, especially among those on the margins for whom the Church has not always kept its promises. We lament that the Northeastern Jurisdiction had and lost the opportunity to elect an out gay bishop. [Edit 11/17/22: The New England Annual Conference has since announced that retired bishop Peggy A. Johnson will serve as Interim Bishop.]
Among the legislative victories last week, we especially celebrate that the three resolutions RMN supported passed in all five jurisdictions. Though aspirational, as Jurisdictional Conferences do not write policy for the denomination, the adoption of these resolutions in all five jurisdictions underscores the delegates’ prioritization of integrity, diversity, and inclusion throughout the U.S. The resolutions are:
Leading with Integrity: resolving that Church leaders who intend to disaffiliate from the UMC be asked by the jurisdiction to recuse themselves from leadership positions in the UMC
Support of a U.S. Regional Conference: resolving the support of the expressed intents of the Christmas Covenant and Connectional Table legislation, including the creation of Regional Conferences in Africa, Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.
Queer Delegates’ Call to Center Justice & Empowerment for LGBTQIA+ People in the UMC: resolving that jurisdictions affirm the spirit of the abeyance or moratorium until changes can be made in the Book of Discipline and furthermore champion the full inclusion and participation of LGBTQ+ persons in the Church
In the Southeastern Jurisdiction, the queer delegates’ resolution was dismissed by the presiding bishop who immediately ruled the resolution out of order. In a prophetic effort to be heard while enunciating the pain and exclusion of queer delegates, RMN Organizer Helen Ryde and other queer delegates stood to be recognized, unwilling to back down until the bishop agreed to acknowledge the resolution and allow it to be amended and approved.
In the South Central Jurisdiction, Rev. Stan Copeland asked the jurisdiction to hold accountable those bishops who worked to form the Global Methodist Church while still a part of the UMC; the bishops agreed to gather more information after the conference. Rev. Katie McKay Simpson called the jurisdiction to collective confession and apology for challenging the historic election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, the Church’s first out gay bishop.
In the Western Jurisdiction, delegates passed legislation that creates an LGBTQ+ caucus with a budget and a seat in Western Jurisdiction leadership.
In the North Central Jurisdiction, an unprecedented two-hour plenary session was devoted to understanding the impact of homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism in the UMC.
For the witness of individuals like Helen Ryde, Rev. Katie McKay Simpson, and Rev. Stan Copeland, and to RMN volunteer teams around the country who made collaborative strides for justice: we express our deep thanks. We are also grateful to RMN’s Organizers who have worked tirelessly to advance equity and provide important leadership and courageous witness.
Meanwhile, The Philippines Central Conference (PCC) special session is about to embark upon its own episcopal elections. We will similarly update the Reconciling movement on how the PCC votes with regard to justice and inclusion in the Church, and we hold those delegates and episcopal candidates in prayer for the sake of the Church and the world.
The work of the Reconciling people has no expiration date or endpoint. Our charge is the ongoing work that the Spirit has set out for us for an ever more equitable and representative Church.
The following are reflections from Rev. Kennedy Mwita, pastor of First UMC Moheto; Rev. Benedict Odhiambo, pastor of Christ Chapel Oyani; Helen Ryde, RMN Organizer; Rev. Kimberly Scott, RMN Board Chair; and JJ Warren, Reconciling United Methodist and Executive Director of the Young Prophets Collective.
To hear more about what this historic gathering is stirring in the hearts of those who participated, stay tuned for an upcoming Virtual Porch session in September. More details to come.
We need to deconstruct the patriarchal, dictatorial, merciless God we were taught in order to embrace the God of love, tolerance, and forgiveness. This is the Lord I preach.
Rev. Kennedy Mwita
The church belongs to Christ and not human beings. I have watched children of God being persecuted unjustly, judged wrongly for things beyond human control. This is what motivated me to seek a new way of searching and living my faith in relationship with God.
It is God’s will that we involve each and every person in the life and ministry of the Church. We are all coworkers in the Lord’s vineyard. As coworkers, no worker has more right than another on the Lord’s farm.
After the 2019 special General Conference, I saw how the Church continues to act as a tool of oppression rather than a place of comfort, a safe space, and a shelter. The Church has continuously continued to ignore LGBTQIA+ people, people living with disability, people living with HIV/AIDS, people dealing with ethnic and tribal conflict, gender based violence against women, girls and children, FGM, modern slavery, and more. I realized as a pastor I have a role to play in society and in the life of the Church.
This has motivated me to keep going, knowing that I am doing what Christ expects me to do. I know it has not been easy, especially in my context where we are holding to a kind of “Christianity” reintroduced to Africa by modern missionaries. We need to deconstruct the patriarchal, dictatorial, merciless God we were taught in order to embrace the God of love, tolerance, and forgiveness. This is the Lord I preach: the God who does not discriminate, but who opens his arms wide, saying, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). First United Methodist Church has purposed to respond to this call, and that is what motivates me to continue despite opposition.
My ministry with LGBTQ+ people has helped me to understand and appreciate how God manifests himself to humanity. My ministry has greatly expanded. This is because my mind has opened up and I have moved away from a judgmental ministerial approach. I have learned that God’s grace is sufficient to us all. I have made more friends and prayer partners. We have all been able to be an answer to someone’s prayer.
We as Christ Chapel understand that God’s grace is free for all, and our work is to call on people to be reconciled to the Lord.
Rev. Benedict Odhiambo
Through this movement, I have met good and caring friends who have shown a lot of concern for my ministry. For a number of years, I never had people who gave an ear or a shoulder to lean on as a minister. I would struggle under the weight of the ministry alone. This had a number of negative impacts on my health as well as family and church. But now, I really thank God for the Reconciling Movement.
Secondly, through this movement, three of our youths are in school, having been given scholarships. School fees are a major challenge in our area. I sincerely appreciate it on behalf of the church. Because of these scholarships, seven other youths joined our church. I can therefore state that being a part of this movement has attracted more people to the church.
Being a part of the Reconciling movement has simultaneously made ministry easier and more difficult. I can say that with my fellow UMC ministers, it has not been easy. It’s as if we started a war with them. But within my church, being an LGBTQ+ affirming church has not in any way made my ministry difficult. We as Christ Chapel understand that God’s grace is free for all, and our work is to call on people to be reconciled to the Lord.
Our UMC mission statement talks about the transformation of the world. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more concrete example of that than what I witnessed in Moheto and the surrounding area.
Our Reconciling friends in Kenya are doing extraordinary work in truly challenging circumstances. They are taking bold and courageous stances by affirming LGBTQ+ people, which runs contrary to the prevailing opinions around them. On top of that, the ministry they are doing in their churches is truly transforming the communities they are a part of. Our UMC mission statement talks about the transformation of the world. I’m not sure I’ve seen a more concrete example of that than what I witnessed in Moheto and the surrounding area.
I’ve always understood our Reconciling connection, when it is operating at its best, to be a supportive, wide community, with all of us working in our own contexts towards a common goal. This experience in Kenya has opened up another dynamic to our work together that I hope we can explore and grow into over the next few years. We have to ask ourselves:
Are we our siblings’ keepers?
Is part of our call to consider how to prayerfully and financially support the work of Reconciling Ministries all around the connection?
I know that many in the Reconciling movement have been doing this all along, so this is most certainly not a new idea, but I wonder what it might look like for us as a movement to make this a new priority. I am especially thinking about the work in Kenya and in other Central Conferences, but also parts of the U.S. where the Reconciling presence is smaller.
There are those among us who experience the freedom to live as if our denomination has already become fully affirming, but many more of us do not enjoy that privilege. What can we do to ensure that those who are in more challenging settings have all the resources they need to do effective ministry?
In the spirit of Pentecost, we were speaking in the same language – the language of love for our neighbor – as we celebrated a historic occasion.
Rev. Kimberly Scott
This trip brought me considerable insight and inspiration. As RMN prepares to move forward with a rapidly changing denomination I was given a glimpse of the coming of a new Pentecost: a new era and reviving of a Church that has lost its way due to a lack of focus on what Jesus proclaimed was most important: loving God and your neighbors as self.
As I looked around the sanctuary of First Moheto on July 31st, I saw the most beautiful sight: a diverse gathering of United Methodists of all ages, many hues, many languages, many tribes, different nations, socio-economic statuses, gender identities, and sexualities. I was inspired by the movement of Holy Spirit as we worshiped.
What mattered was that we were joined in that sanctuary as children of God belonging to the same body. And in the spirit of Pentecost, we were speaking in the same language – the language of love for our neighbor – as we celebrated a historic occasion.
As we traveled the Kenyan countryside, I finally began to understand the spirit behind John Wesley’s statement: “The world is my parish.” Wesley proclaimed that as good news to the people called Methodist, knowing that our call to transform the world was a call meant to set our sights beyond traditional borders and territories.
Indeed, I was blessed by the visionary efforts of Rev. Kennedy and the support of his bishop, who continues to encourage him.
I envision an RMN future where our intersectional justice work goes beyond human sexuality and gender identity advocacy and where we advocate for what our Reconciling family needs to build and sustain their communities.
Affirming LGBTQIA+ people of faith isn’t a luxury for wealthy progressives in the U.S. — no, it’s essential to our very claim to be the Church, the people of God, wherever we are.
Since my speech at General Conference 2019, I’ve been given a metaphorical (and literal) microphone, and I take seriously the responsibility of using this microphone to amplify the voices of United Methodists around the Connection who have been marginalized and misrepresented. I’ve also been clear (sometimes to my detriment) throughout the ordination process that I feel called to be a pastor to the Church (the denomination) and not necessarily to a local church because I yearn to help the Church be the Church—to reclaim our Wesleyan tradition of grace, justice, and deep spirituality. I truly believe that the well of our tradition still contains life-giving waters—and Moheto First UMC in Kenya testifies to this.
So, as part of my ever-unfolding calling, I went to Kenya to listen, celebrate, and amplify the work that pastors Kennedy, Benedict, Elnora and others have been doing as faithful United Methodists. But as we rode down the long dirt road toward FUMC Moheto, a collection of mud houses with aluminum roofs were the only buildings to dot the fields (except for one large home surrounded by high walls), and I found myself wondering, “Why would someone care about understanding sexuality and affirming LGBTQIA+ people when there are so many other pressing needs—electricity, clean water, food and shelter (though many of these things are now being provided by FUMC Moheto)?”
What I quickly realized was that my question was flawed. FUMC Moheto embodies the truth that what it means to be the Church and preach the Gospel is to be a people who, like Jesus said, “are known by their love for one another.” Affirming LGBTQIA+ people of faith isn’t a luxury for wealthy progressives in the U.S. — no, it’s essential to our very claim to be the Church, the people of God, wherever we are.
Many United Methodists have, after learning about FUMC Moheto’s bold witness, begun relationships with Rev. Kennedy and FUMC Moheto, and these partnerships have not only provided scholarships, a health clinic, and electricity, but now also sanctuary so that everyone will have a welcoming spiritual home, including LGBTQIA+ Kenyans.
I believe this sanctuary represents a new era in United Methodism – one in which the colonial myth (peddled by the WCA and GMC) that “All Africans are anti-LGBTQ and are of one mind” is finally disproven and condemned; an era in which congregations in countries that have benefited from extracting resources from the continent of Africa commit to repent of our harm and work toward reconciliation by more equitably redistributing resources to United Methodists across the connection in support of profound ministry that is already happening. The Holy Spirit is stirring. New things are being born from old ones.
For United Methodist News Service coverage of this historic gathering by Kenya-Ethiopia Annual Conference Communicator Gad Maiga, click here.
RMN extends deep gratitude to the generous Reconciling donors who made this gathering possible.
To read the following report by Dr. Nancy Malcom and Dr. A.J. Ramirez as text-only, click on this link.