I have so much gratitude for Guidance.
On Sunday morning I chose to attend worship at a Reconciling Congregation. It was far from the first time of doing that—I’ve worshiped in many across the nation in the last thirty years. However, it was the first time I’ve attended a Reconciling Congregation within an hour of me that I had not directly helped to create. A pre-assembled RC; what a concept! They voted to become “reconciling” on May 1st, just before General Conference.
On Sunday morning I chose to be in worship in a United Methodist Church, after the events of the previous Sunday in Orlando. Because that is where my head and heart are and will always be even though the United Methodist Church officially doesn’t want people like me. I just wanted to go home for an hour. Just one more time. I’ll confess to missing the hymns in the new hymnal and The Faith We Sing. I miss singing. That’s all I’ll admit. I had heard the pastor speak at our Pride People of Blessing interfaith service. I knew it would be OK, even if I only slipped in and out (except, honestly, you can’t slip in and out on crutches). I’ve been in Sunday morning Methodist worship locally only once in over three and a half years.
I experienced God, I was surrounded by Divine Love and Light. It was all that I had asked for. All that I had hoped for, just now, in the moment.
It was not until today that I realized I had experienced the fruition of the seeds I had planted with others many years ago. It was just over 30 years ago that I heard of Reconciling Congregations. 1986. I was attending a week-long workshop called “Sexuality, Spirituality, and the Justice Church.” I met a United Methodist from Wheadon UMC outside Chicago. I was amazed at the things she spoke of as if it were the most natural thing in the world: they had taken up their pews and rearranged them in a circle for worship, they were regularly using inclusive language and correcting abusive language, they held covenant services in their church, and they were sponsoring openly gay candidates for ordained ministry. It seemed it must be a fantasy. I didn’t know it was a network of congregations that had just started two years before.
There was no internet in those days, and I later found out that the United Methodist Reporter had refused to print any information about Affirmation, the organization that gave birth to the Reconciling Congregation movement. When I returned home, I immediately scheduled an appointment with my pastor. My partner and I had come out to him (and his wife) only a short time before—we were the first gay-identified people that they knowingly knew. No one else in the church knew or assumed. I told him that the workshop was a catalyst for my feeling called to do more in this arena of injustices related to sexuality—and I had a minor in human sexuality. So we started to strategize together.
Apart from those plans, I began crashing meetings of the Wyoming Conference Church & Society, Family Life Council, and the AIDS Task Force, among others. I started “coming out” to carefully selected people. One was a conference staff person who had recently been at seminary. She had had a lot of other seminarians come out to her while in school. Nine months into my search, she was the one that had access to the information about “Open Hands,” the journal of the Reconciling Congregation Program. I immediately subscribed to it and ordered back issues. Even before I received those, I received an invitation to attend the first Reconciling Convocation in 1987. I don’t think we knew it would be the first of many. Still unemployed after receiving my Master’s degree the year before, I signed up anyway—and had a job offer while I was in Chicago, so started working the day after I returned. It seemed to me that I was supposed to have gone, and I would be taken care of. Thus began my journey with reconciling ministries.
Also in 1987, the AIDS Task Force presented a resolution to annual conference which included several points, one being the directive to our four District Superintendents to target one church in each of their districts that would be willing to study and ultimately become a Reconciling Congregation. We passed it, not that anyone ever acted on it, but we did legislate it. The following year several conferences had become Reconciling, including Troy. We stole most of their wording, and I presented it on the floor of conference, sharing some background and stories, including one of a lesbian candidate for ministry taking her own life within two weeks following the negative voting at General Conference (where I had served as a marshal), because she was refused her orders; and in her hopelessness, she lost sight of the pioneer that she was in this movement and other women’s services in the Chicago area. I received thunderous applause and hands reaching out to me as I walked down the aisle when I left the stage. The resolution passed overwhelmingly.
I became more involved with Affirmation, two years later was elected to the National Council and also elected to the newly formed separate Reconciling Congregation Program Advisory Board as an Affirmation representative. I served five years on the RCP Board. As I traveled to these council and board meetings, we always worshiped in a Reconciling Congregation. In those days, there was nothing like the feel of a Reconciling Congregation; others really couldn’t understand it until they experienced it themselves. Maybe it’s still that way. I was part of the process of three local UMC churches and one Unitarian Universalist Congregation to become welcoming. Because of various regional and national volunteer responsibilities, I resourced many others over the years.
On Monday night, I chose to return to the church’s book study group. As I was driving home, I remembered that I was the one who brought the concept of “Reconciling Congregations” to the Wyoming Conference. That’s not to say that someone else wouldn’t have if I hadn’t. It’s just laying claim to what I know and a few others knew, mostly ones who are no longer with us. I didn’t have a great need for acknowledgment, and it was easier to work behind the scenes—I cared most that it got done regardless of who might have gotten the credit. However, I was honored by MFSA with a Peace With Justice Award sometime in the 90’s—which I really appreciated my justice-seeking effort to be named aloud for the evening, surrounded by friends attending Annual Conference.
I am so grateful that I could experience a little of what has blossomed from my and others’ planting of seeds, envisioning how the church should be church so many years ago.
My pastor who helped me strategize in some really unique ways also repeatedly taught us that when you’re involved in social justice work, you have to be in it for the long-term haul.
I am so grateful for Central UMC in Endicott, NY being there when I needed them. I am so grateful for Affirmation: United Methodists for LGBTQIAP Concerns. I am so grateful for The Reconciling Ministries Network. I am so grateful for Methodist Federation for Social Action. I am so grateful for all our other partners in the coalition. I am so grateful for all the people throughout the denomination with whom I’ve shared and we’ve shared each others’ lives. I am so grateful for the clergy who took that great risk to come out, so grateful for the others supporting them, so grateful for the Boards of Ordained Ministry that have taken inclusive stances, and now this new movement of non-conforming conferences. I sat in front of live-stream for many, many hours of General Conference and didn’t guess that this might happen. I remember when I thought I might not live to see same-sex marriage. I remember how I grew up believing the Berlin Wall would never come down. As a friend of mine half my age always says about amazing outcomes, who knew?
I guess I’m in this at least a little longer. It’s just getting exciting, isn’t it?