In ten days, I meet with the Board of Ordained Ministry in Northern Illinois. It’s been almost four years since my process was first halted in Texas and three since my previous meeting with the Board there. I have since gone through seasons of wondering what in the world I’m doing, why I would stay in this ordination process, and if The UMC is really a church I want to be associated with. Some of this grappling has been vital for deepening my understanding of my call and other parts have simply been fear and self-protection. I am thankful for those who have helped me remember who I am along the way, not allowing me to abandon the things I care most about, no matter what.
To attempt to “follow Christ” is most certainly never a simple, clear, or obvious path. It is a life filled with seeming contradictions, paradox, and a lot of “you can’t be serious, God.”
I’m doing my regular re-reading of “The United Methodist Deacon” which never fails to ground me in my truest self and understanding of my relationship to the church and the world – complicated as it all is. In doing so, I am reminded this morning that the nature of call in scripture often requires leaving home, leaving one’s own community, seen especially in the lives of Sarai and Abram. As much as I want to say The UMC is my home, until I and my communities are fully embraced, that will never be true. There is always an element of “otherness” in relationship to the system and history and practices and policies and theologies and culture and certainly our own basic experiences.
My relationship to the church as one who is both queer and trans is, certainly, one of being “from” somewhere else.
But that is part of it, for me at least, as I understand my call as a deacon. The ordination process itself being part of my deacon ministry – an avenue of living out my call to bring the concerns and critiques coming from the marginalized to the church – when it wants to hear and when it doesn’t. It is a means of my being called away from staying solely in my “home” of LGBTQ people where my being is not questioned, my way of life and understanding of relationships is shared, and my “strange-ness” is known and celebrated. To leave that “home” for a church that names me “incompatible with Christian teaching” is a challenge in every sense of the word.
Like so many others in my community know, the challenge is never just the “yes” or the “no” the church ultimately gives, it is that and also the backdoor conversations had about us, being deemed “the problem” in the church, the monitoring of how and when and to what degree we can be ourselves without fear of “ruining” it for other LGBTQ people or on the contrary, being too willing to acquiesce in the system that is doing us all so much harm. This is only the start but because we are called, what else can we do but struggle through these products of an oppressive system?
We are all “called” out of such places of “home” in various ways and for various reasons – usually for the purposes of bringing goodness and new ways of thinking and challenge and even lamentation to the very ones who would reject us.
And we are each given what we need to follow through on such a task. As long as it is truly a task ordained by the One who is Love, there is always enough courage, enough strength, enough community to get through however long that “call” lasts.
Many LGBTQ people across the connection will be meeting with their Board of Ordained Ministry this month. Many will be holding all of this inside, terrified to do anything that will put them more at risk than they already are. Others will speak up and be punished for it. Both of these are means of the ongoing persecution of queer and trans people in our church and act as an affront to the gospel.
Even after 11 years in my ordination journey, perhaps more than ever if that is possible, I know without a doubt that I am called to be a deacon in The United Methodist Church. It is already who I am. I am committed to being a bridge of church and world and there is no changing that. I know my call is to be ordained but as I said three years ago in Texas, the end goal is never ordination itself. The end goal is being faithful to what God asks and empowers me to do – to refuse to accept a church that discriminates and to celebrate the belovedness of queerness and transness. I am called to do this as an ordained person in The UMC, but it is up to the UMC to decide whether or not it will be a barrier to my fully living it out.
I share only because I am one of so many. While I feel hopeful overall about the clear trajectory of change in our denomination, I am unwilling to pretend that means the harm being done yesterday, today, and tomorrow to LGBTQ people is in any way remotely acceptable.
I hope more and more allies will remember they too are called out of the places they are comfortable and into the cities in which they are unrecognized and unaccepted in order to bring good news about LGBTQ people – and all marginalized demographics – especially in political times like these.
If you know of any LGBTQ candidates in the ordination process, how will you support them, especially this month? Will you take risks in ways they cannot? Will you listen to their needs, believe what they say about their experiences, and call the church you represent to account for the havoc it has and continues to wreak upon the internal and external lives of the ones its raises to become its leaders?
“Call” is not something reserved for those of us who wish to lead as ordained ministers. It is about listening to the voice of the Beloved in your life so that you might use your unique gifts, personality, experiences, and social location for the work of love, liberation, and life in the world. In the way only you can do with the help of your communities.
Some of us, in various ways and for various reasons, don’t have the privilege of living ours out to the fullest extent. The work of God in our lives is stifled by oppression and injustice within and beyond the church because of gender, sexuality, race, class, or ability. If you have the freedom to live out all that God hopes to accomplish through you, do not waste that. There is far too much at risk. Our ability to live out our “call” is dependent on one another. Imagine what we could accomplish if we were all free to live out our full abilities, aspirations, and talents for the sake of justice!
That will never be the case until everyone, in all the ways we are privileged to do so, recognizes and responds to the simple fact that our lives are so deeply intertwined that your “yes” to God’s call on your life, whatever that may be, is a yes to justice, a yes to love, a yes to a world where every person gets to live out all that was intended for them – for the sake of the community and the flourishing of the world.