I write this letter with an aching heart. I have heard the pain in the voices of so many of you, wondering if it is time to “shake the dust off” and leave your local church. As your bishop, I cannot ask you to stay in a place where your soul cannot be at rest. However, I will share with you why I, as a lifelong member of the UMC and as a lesbian, choose to stay.
I stay because I know that the actions of General Conference are not a reflection of the church that has raised me, enveloped me in God’s grace, nurtured my walk of faith as a disciple of Jesus, and encouraged my call. Most United Methodists in the United States are appalled at the turn our denomination has taken. For them and for me, it is an affront to the very ethos of Methodism itself. We are not biblical literalists, as this vote implies. Nor are we a tradition grounded in rules and punishment. We United Methodists have always been about grace, grace and more grace. I am staying because I want to reclaim the best of our tradition for the generations that come after me.
When The United Methodist Church was formed and its Social Principle written, the 1972 General Conference turned a pastoral paragraph regarding the reality that lgbtq persons were in our pulpits and pews into one of condemnation when it added, “However we do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider it incompatible with Christian teaching.” This one sentence has enabled more and more condemning stances to be included in our Book of Discipline (like the fact that no same-gender weddings may be held in our churches or performed by our pastors). So there are some of us who have been living with the church’s rejection for a long time! Yet, we continue to be called to this church. Within our local churches there is commitment to welcome and care for every child of God. I stay so our churches can provide deeper care and greater witness to those feeling the sting of judgement and rejection.
I stay because of our young people. Last Sunday, I worshipped at St. Andrew and was asked by Pastor Mark Feldmeir to come lead communion. Robin, my spouse, and I stood with bread and cup and offered the elements to those who came to receive. All the youth stood in line to receive from us. Many were sobbing. How could the church that had taught them about God’s love for them suddenly make this love conditional? Many collapsed in my arms in tears, their hearts breaking. I stay so that our young people will inherit a church where every child is beloved, where no one is turned away, where Christ’s table is wide enough for everyone.
I stay because there is no place else for me to go. Our United Methodist way of living our faith in practical ways is found in no other denomination. We are the people who embrace Wesley’s understanding of personal piety and social holiness. I want our churches to give witness to this even more boldly.
I stay because since the decision, I am seeing United Methodist Churches across our connection saying “NO”! They will not allow a vote at General Conference to derail their ministries or commitments to love all people. The Holy Spirit is up to something. I want to be a part of it, and I hope you do to.
Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss this with me further. I am happy to pray with you as you discern where God is calling you.