Reflections on a Historic Kenya RMN Gathering
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.Helen Ryde
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.JJ Warren
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.