I have been blessed and honored to be the Executive Director at RMN for a full year. The experience of working with our community has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have had. Working for justice in the church has been a passion since my first semester at Wesley Seminary when I met gifted young LGBTQ candidates who weren’t sure how to follow their calling in a church that questioned their being.
As Reconciling people of The United Methodist Church, we strive to be the church the world needs, that God needs, that we need. There is no better example of what it means to be Christian than seeing the ministries that LGBTQ people in the UMC are engaged in across our connection. Our ministries faithfully engage the church and the world as we respond to needs on the world-wide stage, making disciples for the transformation of the world. At the same time, we are working to build a church that welcomes, values, celebrates, and includes LGBTQ people.
LGBTQ people and allies model the church every day as they walk through harm done by the church and meet people where they are, offering prayer, service, communion, and fellowship. These ministries invite others into conversation and hold our differences in respect. LGBTQ people are at the center of church – no picture is accurate that excludes us. We will always be at the center of the church as we follow God’s call. We bless the church with our graces and gifts. We are not going anywhere! Examples are: Alex da Silva Souto’s work with education programs (scholarships, English School, training center), humanitarian programs (support of orphanages and health clinics), and strengthening the denominational structure in Mozambique (formal partnership with missionary and building an Episcopal Center). Mark Miller’s music that brings blessings into our hearts. Terri Stewart’s leadership of queer and incarcerated youth offering them hope. David Weekley’s leadership offering transformation to his church community and guidance on how to engage the spirit of the transgender community. There are many more examples of how LGBTQ leaders engage the world as United Methodists, transforming lives and sharing the love Christ taught us to share. Watch for their stories on the RMN blog.
I hope that we can all pause as we move towards the called General Conference (GC) in 2019. Anxiety is high and the more time that passes without seeing the report from the commission and the legislation that will be presented to the General Conference, the more anxiety grows. Some have characterized this particular GC as the “last hope or best hope” for LGBTQ inclusion in The UMC. It is time to change that narrative! Jesus Christ is the author of hope and as long as we are faithful witnesses to the power of Christ in our lives, there will never be a “last best hope.” For in Christ, we can do anything.
This moment in the life of the church does provide a unique opportunity. It is a called GC and the agenda and goals are different. I hope that we can see the General Conference and respond to it as the opportunity it is. Allow yourself to think about a Book of Discipline (BoD) that doesn’t label anyone as incompatible with Christian teaching. Let’s model our vision of the church at the General Conference in 2019 with a ministry and witness that includes hospitality and love, extending to all the grace the church has not extended to us. The UMC will be on the world’s stage. Consider how powerful a picture would be that shows a sea of people sitting in the observation area of the conference wearing rainbow stoles as a ministry of presence and our continued faithful service to the Gospel. We can break the stereotype that our siblings from the Wesleyan Covenant Association, Good News, Confessing Movement, and Institute for Religion and Democracy label us with by showing love to all.
From a more strategic perspective, we have the opportunity to influence the framework/agenda for GC ‘19. There are questions around both the constitutionality of the process used with the Commission on A Way Forward and the definition of “in harmony” that applies to petitions submitted to the Secretary of the General Conference by July 8. The RMN and Love Your Neighbor Coalition (LYNC) strategy teams are working together with others as we review our options for this historic General Conference.
One way to combat the anxiety folks are feeling is to do something.
- Take a delegate to lunch and talk about your story and vision for our beloved church.
- Urge your bishop to spend time with LGBTQ people in your annual conference and listen to their stories.
- Host an inclusive conversation in your church, district, or conference.
- Pray for our delegates and encourage your friends to do the same. Pray for each other.
- Disengage from the system of anxiety by grounding yourself in God’s love through your own spiritual practices, Bible reading, and prayer practices.
My devotional this morning was about having the heart of love that Jesus had. That may be the biggest thing that we can all do to calm the anxiety we feel …. Greet those that God puts in your path with a heart of love. Share a kindness and a smile. Share something from the many blessings God has given you with them. Know that the Christ in you loves the Christ in them.
Thank you all for the opportunity to serve with you in the journey for justice in The UMC. And, thank you for balancing the quest for justice with the many many ministries you are all engaged in on the local church level. The church’s doors should swing wide both ways as we welcome those who enter and meet those who are on the other side where they are.
I hope to see you in St. Louis in July for the For Everyone Born National Convocation and in February for General Conference 2019. Our beloved church may look different after February, but the two things I can tell you with certainty: there will be LGBTQ people and allies in the church and that your local home church where you are in ministry will still be your local church. Continue showing up. Continue holding the church and its leaders accountable. AND, continue greeting those in your path with the love that Jesus taught us to share.
Blessings in this Annual Conference Season,
Jan Lawrence, Executive Director
Reconciling Ministries Network