Beloved Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
You may have heard already about the unusual and historic 2016 New England Annual Conference which met June 16-18 in Manchester, NH. Usual business was delayed while the body of delegates, sent as laity and clergy from every United Methodist Church in New England, grappled with a tipping point in this journey we share as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ in the Wesleyan Movement begun by John and Charles Wesley. The result was adoption of a resolution of non-compliance with seven items in the United Methodist Book of Discipline which deny aspects of Christian living to members of certain sexual identities. http://www.neumc.org/newsdetail/conference-adopts-action-of-non-conformity-resolution-5074535
This was not an easy decision. But too many faithful Methodist had lost confidence in the legislative processes of our global connection. Many clergy were sincerely exploring surrending their credentials and affiliating with other denominations. Children of lay and clergy members were ashamed of the church they had been baptized into. We were stunned and brokenhearted by the violence in Orlando. What was once discussed as an “issue” are now faces and stories of individuals genuinely seeking to live out the faith to which their living savior calls them. How can we be agents of redemption when person after person spoke of being turned away from their United Methodist Church or told they were damned by a pastor, youth leader, or other trusted adult? And yet they persisted in their belief that the church could be more. So we will try. We will need to find ways to process this news together. We will need a sacred combination of patience and boldness. We know it will cause pain, but we also know it will save lives.
This week I have been reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, especially chapter 5-8, and am struck by the similarity to the early church’s painful journey toward full inclusion of Gentiles. His words describe the community’s painful wrestling with change that felt as though it threatened their very identify, their heritage. They did not change to accommodate the culture, but in response to the needs of people in non-Jewish cultures who, encountering the living Christ, wanted to follow. I’m so glad the church made that journey, so that a person like me, of gentile heritage, could be part of the Jesus Movement. We are not leaving scripture behind, we are diving deeper and more urgently into the Word of God.
Tension between law meant to form and hold our life together, and grace that reveals new work of Spirit groaning for the renewal and completion of God’s creation, goes back to our earliest days. The Wesleys and other early British Methodists resisted revolutionary movement in the American colonies, remaining loyal to the crown. Yet they were adamant change agents against slavery. Two native born circuit riders, including Jesse Lee, the New England apostle of Methodism, led us in the direction of free colonies. As the young country grew, New England Methodists were key in the struggle to free slaves. They educated and sent abolitionist leaders whose efforts sometimes disturbed the peace, even in their own families. Even in disagreement, the Wesleys allowed the American church to grow as the Holy Spirit led it.
None of us wants to cause pain to another. As you wrestle in whatever way this turning point requires of you, I ask that you keep each other first in prayer. When the images of 49 young people, most Latinas, lost in Orlando, filled the screen in worship, I also saw the images of several young people I have known, who took their own lives in the pain of rejection they felt. May this church be a place that is safe for all. May we suspend our own hesitations long enough to truly hear each other’s experiences and concerns, spoken with words of mutual respect.
In the Confidence of the Good Work that Christ is doing, and will do, among you, Pastor Karen
Thank you to Rev. Dr. Thom Blackstone, Pastor of Pleasant Street UMC, Waterville, Maine, who offers these observations:
- This action is not schismatic. The conference was very deliberate in supporting our financial and spiritual ties to the wider United Methodist Church.
2. We are not alone in this. At least two other Annual Conferences have taken
similar actions, and more clearly will in the future.
3. The Bishops will continue to work on a process by which we can live together as
one church while holding differing views of human sexuality. New England UM's
support that process and have said that in a separate resolution.
4. We've been here before with New England churches taking stances that
differed from General Conference policy on pastors and bishops holding slaves,
and on the licensing of women to preach. Those differences were resolved;
these will be as well.
5. We will continue to be a UM church doing what UM churches do: feeding
thehungry, comforting the grieving, studying God's word, supporting important
ministries here in Maine and around the world.