I had never been to Myers Park Methodist Church
before, but I knew I was in the right place by the number of cars with Green
Street UMC flair. Like faithful members of any organized animal group, we
travel in packs. My directions ended at the parking lot, however, and once
inside, I was off the map, wandering the halls of the massive and beautiful
building looking for what I expected to be a colorful gathering. Instead,
I ran into two well put together, middle-aged women surely on their way to a
United Methodist Women’s function. Still, I figured they could help me find my way
and asked if they could point me toward the Reconciling Ministries training. And,
what do you know, that’s where they were headed.

Roaming the halls like a ragtag trio on the way
to Oz, we finally found the right room and settled in at the closest open table.
Noticing play-doh, pipe cleaners, and Mardi Gras beads at its center, I
re-questioned my bearings until Laura, a Reconciling Ministries Network
Regional Organizer and our RM Process Coach trainer, explained play-doh and
pipe cleaners were for the kinesthetic learners (read: big kids) among us. The
beads also held purely pedagogical significance, reinforcing some of RMN’s key
themes: purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power. Anyone wearing
a bunch of beads in New Orleans probably earned them from flashing their
theological goods, after all.

Friday
afternoon’s session was mostly about getting to know one another and why we
wanted to be involved in the work of Reconciling Ministries. As we went around
the room, voices were raised from across the spectrum of humanity—gay,
straight, bi; female, male, transgendered; black, white, Hispanic; young, old,
lying about their age—motivated by everything from a desire to be better
ministers to LGBTQ congregants and their families, to having directly
experienced rejection from the church, to the simple but unrealized truth that we’re
all human
. Taking advantage of the supportive space, I came out to the
group. As a Baptist.

The eclectic crew gathered because we believe
all human beings, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, have an
equal place at God’s table—whether it is a fancy communion table in a church
like Myers Park or a makeshift surface where people come together for a free
community meal. We could recite the chorus of objections to churches becoming
open and affirming to all orientations and identities: We’re already
welcoming. Why do we need to take sides? Conservative believers will feel
excluded.
But we also know those old lines must be replaced with the
refrain all means all.

Members of the LGBTQ community have not been slightly or implicitly hurt by the
church; they have been devastated by specific words and actions from so-called
Christians. It is going to take a lot more than moderate acceptance and half
hugs to heal the lingering wounds of ecclesial abuse. Churches who take
seriously God’s inclusive love of all are called to extend to the LGBTQ
community explicit, radical welcome that celebrates—not tolerates—who
they are. Charlie, a 73-year-old straight man, offered one of the most moving
statements of the training—part explanation, part exhortation—through tears:
“Discrimination is a luxury we can no longer afford as a nation and especially
as a church.”

Yet, as Laura reminded us, we learn
discrimination from people and institutions we love and trust, so changing our
perspectives can feel like betraying someone or something incredibly dear to us.
Keeping this in mind, Laura explained the importance of telling our stories—personal
stories that connect with the stories of others, stories that are our
individual stories as well as our collective stories as human beings and
followers of Jesus.

Rev. Kelly Carpenter also found power in
storytelling. Referencing Jesus’ parable about the yeast a woman mixed in with
flour, Kelly explained two significant but often overlooked details in the
passage: Jesus was intentionally using a negative image with yeast, knowing
that his hearers would have avoided leavened bread. Further, the amount Jesus
mentions is enormous—about 1,500 pounds. The work of Reconciling Ministries,
however small and absurd it may seem, can eventually transform the church
universal with a subversive understanding of the Kingdom of God—one story at a
time. In the spirit of Transfiguration and Fat Tuesday, perhaps an unlikely
alliance, may our congregations put on—and earn—beads of justice, faith, and
uplifting power.

. . .

Want to help guide churches through the process of becoming Reconciling? Learn more here!


Mandy Mizelle

Mandy Mizelle is a third year student at Wake Forest University School of Divinity. An out and proud Baptist, she loves interning at Green Street UMC in Winston-Salem, NC.
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