As a longtime member of Trinity UMC holding multiple lay leadership positions, and also a certified candidate for Ordained Ministry, words cannot express how distressing I continue to find this situation. As a Deacon, I will affirm my calling to ministry not only to word and service, but also compassion and justice. It is the compassion and justice elements of this ministry that God has convicted me so strongly in with Ryan’s situation.

I not only feel his pain, but I cannot turn a blind eye to the injustice done to this man and the hurt the church has suffered, now as a broken body of Christ. 

I would challenge anyone to search the hearts of every parent and child who has been touched by Ryan’s gifts at the church for even the tiniest shred of dissatisfaction from his work. On the contrary, Ryan has offered years of love and learning that any congregation would be blessed to have. Our children flourished. They went to bed at night singing the songs Ryan taught and couldn’t wait to be fed with more the following Sunday. God’s love is not only reflected in Ryan’s beaming smile, but any candid moment between Ryan and a child in his care is a radiant reminder of Christ’s enduring love for the children.

Our church possesses an obvious void where the children’s music ministry once lived and thrived, now a boisterous hole in our body replaces it–speaking volumes of its hurt. 

Rightly so, the news of Ryan’s dismissal of October 12 quickly spread through our community and, justifiably, sparked a response of confusion, hurt, anger, and feelings of deceit around this action. To make matters worse, rather than preaching the sermon “Grow–Praying for Others” on October 15, the pastor spoke of something very different. (It should be noted that the sermon notes, as well as the bulletin on the church’s website still, even as of the writing of this article, publicize what should have been preached, and not what actually was.)

In a church filled with members rallying around Ryan in a show of love and support, to include his parents sitting on either side of him, the pastor preached a sermon of baffling and inappropriate judgment-filled words identifying the man who lays with another man as an “abomination” and in need of “healing.” 

At one point, he even spoke of accolades he received from a woman whom he had perhaps “cured” of a sinful sexual orientation through prayer in the past. Chock full of specific scripture snippets to support this carefully planned sermonic attack, including the Holiness Code of Leviticus, the hour was as defiled as the way it made people feel. One church member went to the pastor immediately following the sermon and said she felt as if she “needed to go home and take a shower.”

A “Listening Session,” held on October 20 and mediated by a pastor from another church within our district, proved to be a second public humiliation for Ryan. While supporters for Ryan spoke of his impeccable character, countless hours of selfless service to the children, and pleaded for nothing more than love and acceptance, others were largely condemning Ryan as a sinner. One speaker addressed the need to “protect our children,” presumptively generalizing Ryan, or perhaps all homosexuals, as potential pedophiles. The obligatory, and incorrect, phrase “love the sinner, hate the sin” was heard. One member left many of us in ghastly shock with a hypothetical scenario involving two homosexuals getting killed in a car accident and going straight to hell if they had not yet repented.

One of the most troublesome issues surrounding Ryan’s unjust termination has been the lack of proper information, and perhaps misinformation, provided to and coming from the Staff Parish Relations Committee (SPRC). While the District Superintendent (DS) maintains that non-clergy staff relations are decided upon by the local churches, we continue to receive no recourse. 

An SPRC member told me that they informed the DS on October 16 (immediately following Charge Conference) that the SPRC was all but told by the pastor to fire Ryan. Later, I was part of a conversation where the pastor said that Ryan was, as a Children’s Choir Director, considered a “spiritual leader” for the church–and as such, he cannot be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”

When we pressed to find evidence in the Book of Discipline that supports this, the pastor simply said that he could not in good conscience continue to be pastor if Ryan had not been fired. 

While our church continues to work hard to maintain what we had prior to Ryan’s firing, we are not the same. This single act has given me pause to perhaps feel how Adam and Eve may have felt once their eyes were opened and their nakedness was revealed to them. That one act can never be taken away, as we are changed by it. We see each other differently. We see the differences in our beliefs. We see those who will stand and fight for the injustice felt by others–and those who will not. Our hearts hurt. Actions speak loudly, but perhaps silence speaks louder.

As a candidate for ministry in The United Methodist Church, I cannot be silent. 

The Holy Spirit moves through my conscience like an unending reminder that this must end. Last year, I was asked by the very pastor that I have written about within this post, what I planned to do in ministry as a Deacon. My response to him was an awkward but truthful, “I honestly don’t know. I just feel like God is not ready to reveal it to me right now.” A year later, I see God’s faithful work in it all. And now my answer is free of awkwardness and full of the confidence and guidance that God is providing.

For Ryan and for anyone who is being hurt because of who and how you love, let it be clear where I stand and where I will continue to fight. As for what I believe God has called me to in ministry as a Deacon, I know now. I will not be silent. Let our voices be God’s. And may love prevail. 

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If you haven’t signed the open letter to the Bishop and Cabinet of the North Carolina Conference, please click here to help us tell them that this kind of harm and misuse of the Book of Discipline cannot continue. 

Kathy Flanagan

Kathy heard the call to ministry at the 2016 Annual Conference in Greenville, NC through a gentle whisper from God that continued to increase in intensity. In her heart, she had no idea where this call would lead, but felt compelled to begin the journey. Now a certified Deacon candidate and in the Master of Arts in Christian Practice program at Duke Divinity School, she continues to follow the path that God leads her toward a ssecond career in word, service, compassion, and justice. Touched by the hurt and injustice a friend has met, Kathy now believes strongly that her work is meant to speak for those who have no voice, or whose voices are drowned out by intolerance and discrimination. She, her husband Gene, and daughter Caroline now live in a house lovingly divided--part Carolina blue and part Duke blue!

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