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Submitted by the Rev. Elizabeth M. Jackson
Guest Blogger and Member of Rocky Mountain Conference
As I’m sure you’ve already heard, today at 10:30 a.m. (PST), Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) in partnership with other members of Love Your Neighbor Coalition held a press conference at an off-site location from General Conference. During the one-hour event, Matt Berryman, Executive Director of RMN, operated as mediator for the gathering.
Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, Senior Pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, D.C., was the first to speak announcing a letter of LGBTQI clergy allies from the United Methodist Church. Over 1550 clergy colleagues signed making tangible declaration of how they will be allies within the UMC moving forward. The three declarations are:
If a clergy person is removed from their charge for being LGBTQI, we will refuse to fill their pulpit, serve in their stead or accept an appointment to said charge so as to demand that the charge continue to be filled by our colleague.
If serving on the Board of Ordained Ministry, we will examine all candidates for ministry and make decisions of their process regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.
If a complaint is filed against a colleague for being LGBTQI, we will not support any action to place our colleague on leave of absence as some bishops have sought.
I urge you to not dismiss this announcement as just a piece of a wave of announcements from both within and outside of the UMC. I say that for two reasons. First, it is easy to assume the press conference ended after Rev. Gaines-Cirelli’s announcement, but it didn’t. People got up and spoke of their own personal experiences of when their personal lives and their ministries intersected in a way that drew attention from those who would like to maintain the current language of the Book of Discipline.
Rev. Cynthia Meyer, Pastor of Edgerton UMC in Edgerton, Kansas, spoke to her journey towards trial later this summer. She came out to her church as a woman in a “loving and committed relationship with another woman” in a sermon, and her faith community enthusiastically supported her.
Rev. Ben Hutchison, an Elder in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, spoke of being asked to serve a church within the UMC. He spoke of the exponential growth of the congregation, their ministry, and their finances. He spoke of his loving wedding to his life partner when the US Supreme Court made something new possible for him and his partner. And, he spoke to the fruits of his ministry and the health of his personal relationships were irrelevant in comparison to his identity as an openly gay man.
Rev. Frank Schaefer, defendant in the UMC’s last major church trial, spoke of being an ally to LGBTQI persons. He spoke of his trial sparking internal comparisons to our historical inquisitions and his unwavering love for his three gay children.
Kelly Bardier and Jaclyn Pfeiffer spoke of the love of God they experienced while working at Aloma UMC and their succinct dismissal when their relationship was discovered. They shared how they had been given the choice: be straight or quit your job. They continue to wrestle with the message their taught the children and youth about God’s unconditional love and the way in which that love and grace was not extended to them.
Finally, Rev. D. Pamela Lightsey spoke of how until last week she had been the only openly gay black clergy person in the UMC. It was with excitement she shared how she was no longer alone with the letter from 111 UMC clergy and clergy candidates release last week. She spoke of unity. She spoke of intersectionality. She spoke of how when anyone is oppressed we are all oppressed, and she reminded us that the pain she and other LGBTQI persons have experienced effects everyone in the church.
The other reason, beyond these rich and pain-filled stories, I think we should pause to consider this morning’s announcement is that the message within the letter and by the 1,550-plus clergy persons is real, it is a part of our story now, and we are each posed with the question: “What do we do next?”
How do we move forward with candidates who identify as LGBTQI? How do we move forward as colleagues come out as LGBTQI? How do we move forward as colleagues conduct wedding ceremonies for same-gendered couples? And, perhaps most importantly, how will we proceed if someone - inside or outside of the Rocky Mountain Conference - makes complaint of these colleagues? Perhaps we need to gather as a community soon to claim who we shall be as this narrative unfolds.