From Mark, one of our pastors …
“You seemed a bit uncomfortable …” That was some of the feedback I received following the service on November 24. It was related not to the sermon I preached but to the moment I shared toward the conclusion of the service regarding the media coverage the United Methodist Church got last week. The press-inducing incident was the trial and sentencing of Rev. Frank Schaefer for officiating at his son’s wedding. The same-sex ceremony was conducted in 2007. I was uncomfortable – not in the position I hold on the issue, but because we so easily slip from “announcement” to “pronouncement” to “judgment” (all of this heavily seasoned with self-righteousness, and often served up with a bit of anger).
The theme of our worship service was focused on the power of names. Some folks in the bible had their names changed. Abram to Abraham; Sarai to Sarah; Simon to Peter. In each of those cases the name change mattered. It said something about their calling and vocation. Others in the scriptures are given their names at birth – Moses, Isaac, John (the baptist), Jesus. These names also have meanings in terms of the calling and mission of each individual. But there are other ways we “name” people. We categorize them – homeless; addicts; immigrant; straight; gay.
Once again last week we saw the tensions within and pain throughout the United Methodist Church laid out in the open. For some, the verdict of the jury of Rev. Schaefer’s peers was spot on. For others it felt like the church is bent on yielding the higher law of God’s radical hospitality and inclusiveness to an indefensible and inconsistent hermeneutic. I’m uncomfortable – and sad – because last week’s events did nothing to bring people together. We have once again created “winners” and “losers”. When we take that approach in the church, everyone loses and our ministry to the wider community is compromised.
I am inviting people in the First UMC family to a conversation. It’s going to take place in February, on a day and at a time to be determined. And there are going to be the following guidelines:
- Persons are welcome to attend if they make the commitment to stay in the church. I invite people to come – not as “combatants”, but as brothers and sisters, committed to prayer, to listening to each other, to loving each other fully and unconditionally. If you feel the issue of homosexuality in the church might force you to leave at some point, it would be best not to come to this conversation.
- Persons will be invited to share their own heart and soul on the issue. No one has to speak, but we will strive to create a place that is safe for all of us to share what we believe, what we think, what we feel.
- There will be no votes, no resolutions, no attempt to formulate a “Congregational Statement”.
- People will be invited to share ideas for how to proceed together in ministry. Operating on the assumption that there will not be unanimity of opinion, we will entertain any thoughts that don’t force people to take sides or create division. How do we live together and do ministry in community even as individuals within the community hold fast to strong convictions?
More on this later. Please don’t hesitate to engage me in conversation about this. During this Thanksgiving Week, I give thanks for First UMC Burlington. What will God do in and through us?
Monday blessings to you …