Why some are choosing to stay in The United Methodist Church…
by Sarah Howell

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I stay because they stay

Last summer, I decided not to pursue ordination. 

I listened to Dr. Elaine Heath speak at the Western North Carolina Annual Conference’s Bible study sessions. She reminded us that Jesus probably smelled like sweat. Jesus was not ordained. Jesus did not have a Master’s of Divinity.

I didn’t care about the diploma on my office wall or whether I ever got to wear a stole. I just wanted to smell like sweat.

I was already frustrated by the ordination process. Despite whatever complaints I might lodge against the system, I knew the real problem was within me. A friend and colleague summed it up: “If you really wanted to, you could have done this by now.” Maybe I just didn’t want to do it.

So I decided not to.

24 hours later, I changed my mind.

After the official conference Friday night worship service, another service was held. This one was hosted by the Reconciling Ministries Network, and the good folks of Green Street UMC, whom I have befriended in my time in Winston-Salem, were providing music and testimony.

As we sang and shared and prayed, I had an epiphany.

My ordination is not about me.

My ordination is not about me. My ordination is about the God who has called me and the people with whom God has called me to serve.

I thought back to the spring of 2012, when I was disappointed and hurt by both church and state in the span of a week, when General Conference reiterated the United Methodist Church’s stance against inclusion and North Carolina passed Amendment One. A friend and colleague from Chicago had texted me: This is why you have to stay.

I am not interested in convincing anyone to see things my way. I am not interested in the “issue” of homosexuality. I am interested in people. Specifically, I am interested in the people of The United Methodist Church finding some way to healing through this brokenness. I am interested in an affirmative answer to a question John Wesley posed: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion?”

God is of one heart, and God opens that heart to all God’s children.

We talk about whether or how to be welcoming to LGBTQ people, but they are already here. Impossible, inexplicably, unbelievably, they are still here. They stay in a church that does not want them, standing with open hearts in the church that claims to have those, along with open minds and open doors.

I stay because this church is stubbornly, miraculously permeated with LGBTQ people who are gifted and called, and they are part of the body of Christ as I know it and love it and need it.

I stay because on this Thanksgiving week, among those people for whom I am most grateful are ranks upon ranks of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer people who are in the church, who serve the church, and who wish to follow the call to be ordained in the church, that same church that keeps telling them no, because they have seen and embraced the one, open heart of God.

John Wesley answered his own question: “May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.”

I stay because I believe, without a doubt, there is room enough for all of us in God’s heart.

I stay because they stay.

. . .

Reasons I Stay is a project of Reconciling Ministries Network dedicated to share the stories of individuals who have decided to stay in The United Methodist Church despite its descriminatory, unjust, immoral rules against LGBTQ persons. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across The United Methodist Church. We recognize that staying is not the right and healthy choice for all people, and we celebrate those too who have chosen to leave to more inclusive faith communities. You can read all the Reasons I Stay stories here.  We invite you to submit your own story to Reasons I Stay.

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