“And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb. In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, was the tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” – Revelation 22:1-2

It was the above passage that Rev. Grace Imathiu, Bible teacher for Gather at the River, expounded on in our first Bible study on Thursday night during opening worship, and it was a passage that perfectly described the purpose of Gather at the River: to proceed from and with God into a hurting world bearing fruit and healing the nations.

We are in a church that seems intent on stopping the river from running.

Even as many of our sibling denominations have begun the healing process, we are slow to begin the process of repentance, much less the process of healing. However, healing and bearing fruit was the whole purpose of Gather at the River. We had amazing worship, Bible studies, workshops, groups for reflection, met people from across the connection, and not just the US. We came from East and West, North and South – to be the Body of Jesus Christ.

While I’m tempted to say the best part of the weekend was the Biblical Obedience panel of which I was a part, I think the best part was Saturday after Rev. Sarah Tweedy’s sermon when Bishop Jim Dorff came to greet the attendees of Gather at the River. With a room full of Methodists that identify as LGBTIQ and allies, it was somewhat risky for my bishop to show up, and just as risky for me to go up and greet him as a candidate for ordination in his conference. There were silent people protesting with mouths bound and heads bowed, and people in the balcony held signs saying “To reject LGBT is to reject Christ,” “Bishop Dorff is not our friend,” “Remember M Barclay?” etc. And a bold woman, who I could have sworn hugged the bishop before standing before him with signs that read “A Friend lays down his life for his friends” and “Dorff not a friend to LGBTQ people.”

Bishop Dorff made a statement: “God wants an inclusive church. We must have an inclusive church. It must be fully inclusive. It has been very difficult to get to this point. The journey is far from over. I want you to know that I want to be a part of the journey. I want you to know that there are many bishops who wish to be a part of the journey to have a fully inclusive church.”

It was greeted with the phrase “Then do it!”

Naturally, Dorff expected push back – especially since he was speaking in a room where M Barclay was present and visible. After upholding the former Southwest Texas Conference’s illegal maneuver to remove M from the ordination process, Bishop Dorff waited until the Judicial Council made him reinstate M in the process. To his credit he did apologize in the sanctuary for the harm he has done, but made no solid commitment to stop the harm from being done to others.

The most powerful moment came after he stopped speaking, people applauded, and then over sniffling from people crying we did the most Methodist thing possible: We started singing.

And Bishop Jim Dorff of the Rio Texas Annual Conference sat next to Rev. Sarah Tweedy as he listened to hundreds of Methodists who have been harmed by his actions as an individual bishop and a member of the Council of Bishops, we sang songs of lament, and hope, and promise and he didn’t allow the discomfort to make him leave – he sat in the tension.

If for only a few minutes a little bit of healing began to take place. Naturally,  accusations on Facebook began to fly from pastors and lay people who weren’t present. There are already written responses about how awful “those people” affiliated with RMN and MFSA are for the way they “attacked” the bishop (despite the fact that RMN and MFSA did not approve any protest. Believe it or not individuals can make decisions for themselves and take actions with others without an official group leading it).

And while they rant and rave, they miss what really mattered: the bishop did something they weren’t willing to, he showed up somewhere where his opinions are the minority, where his actions have directly hurt many in the room, where he wasn’t comfortable, and he treated the people in the room as equals – as siblings in Christ.

Forgive me for not taking those angry comments seriously, because the people offering them aren’t Christ-like enough to do what the Bishop did, much less to see and hear the hurt the peaceful protestors were voicing. The bishop listened, the bishop was present.

The thing about the River of Life is, you have to go there to be healed, you have to go there to be fed.

Bishop Dorff confessed he is still on his journey, as all of us are. But we’re moving there. Gather at the River was a step to this River where the leaves of the trees can heal the nations. Where all of God’s LGBTIQ children are welcomed and affirmed. Where Black Lives Matter, the differently abled are included, where trans and nonbinary persons are safe from violence, and where bishops don’t have to choose between following Christ and following the laws of their denomination. Gather at the River was a step to this reality, and it was beautiful. May we not get complacent with one step, and keep moving forward, together until we reach the land of promise, that Kindom of God Jesus spoke of. Amen.

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