Ah, how beautiful the feet of those on the mountain who declare the good news of victory, of peace and liberation. – Isaiah 52:7a
These words rang true on March 21, 2015 when the Pacific Northwest Reconciling Ministries gathered at Bellevue First United Methodist Church for our annual gathering: Biblical Obedience: Learning, Engaging, Taking Action. We gathered to connect with one another, learn together, and reaffirm our intention of creating a church that is inclusive.
This year more than 150 Reconciling United Methodists, representing 37 churches, participated. Those attending ranged in age from 14 to 84. The day was Spirit filled from the very beginning.
Dr. Jennifer Bird, author of Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands (available March 27, 2015) was our opening keynote speaker. Dr. Bird shared with us in her talk, Biblical Marriage: Reading the Bible Wisely in the 21st Century, and addressed the claim that same gender marriage is not biblical. She addressed the many types of marriage that are expressed in the Bible. The biblical knowledge that Dr. Bird shared paved the way for Bishop Melvin Talbert to take the podium next to talk to us about living in Biblical Obedience.
Bishop Talbert, warmly received by many who had served with him when he was Bishop in the Pacific Northwest, brought the challenge of deciding what we were willing to sacrifice to stand for justice. He reminisced about his decision to join SNCC (Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee) at the lunch counter protests in the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. Bishop Talbert spoke poignantly of the realization in those days that he could lose his life, and that he was at peace with that decision.
He reminded that there is a cost associated with standing for justice and that each of us must come to a decision about what we are willing to give.
In the afternoon, participants broke into six different workshops:
Living Your Welcome where the discussion focused on how to create a truly inclusive environment at church. Participants discussed what they did well and where they needed to improve.
Helping Families When Children Come Out presented by a local PFLAG group, gave resources and support to families who are navigating this path.
Queer Issues in the 21st Century looked at the concerns for LGBTQIA beyond marriage. Members of the Pride Foundation of the Northwest board and staff shared their work in areas such as homelessness, healthcare, and education.
Sexuality: What We Don’t Talk About introduced people to the letters beyond L and G. What is asexuality? What does it mean to be genderqueer? Our presenter, a member of the Oasis Youth Center Speakers Bureau led the group through the Genderbread Person activity. Joy came as one participant in this group came out saying, “I get it.”
Another member of the Oasis Youth Center Speakers Bureau led Stepping Up as an Ally. Those in this workshop looked at privilege and how it can help and hinder the work of inclusion. They heard what can be done on a daily basis to be a strong ally. They also worked through the Genderbread activity.
Transgender 101 introduced participants to what concerns trans people have in interacting with churches. They learned that 41% of trans people are successful in suicide attempts, often leading to their death, along with the statistic that the average life expectancy of a trans person is 35 years of age.
How do you end a day like this? With worship.
It was so good to sit together at the end of this and remember from where our strength comes, to remember that we are not alone in this struggle.
I cannot end this without thanking our cousins from the Universalist Unitarian Association who came to be with us, sharing their ministry of witnessing, buffering, and praying. They served as safe space for those attending to share thoughts they might not feel free to share with another United Methodist. These wonderful people came out of a desire to support our work for inclusion in the church. Their very presence brought peace and love as they passed out rainbow heart stickers everyone in attendance was greeted with love and acceptance. The gift of their presence and spirit had a large effect on the day. Thank you is not enough. Those on the planning team are recovering this week, and stories are slowly filtering to us.
Clergy are challenged to look at scripture differently, to preach differently. Lay members are challenged to step forward and take leadership roles in the work of inclusion. We built relationships with local organizations in the LGBTQIA community. United Methodists took steps closer to declaring themselves Reconciling and recommitted to continuing their work for inclusion. Hearts and lives are changed.
The Holy Spirit was among us pouring out the love of God, filling our hearts with passion for justice, and binding up those places that had been weakened or injured during the past 12 months.
And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground. Ephesians 6:13 (The Voice)