Yesterday was the hardest day yet in my journey toward the 2019 Called United Methodist General Conference Session. It’s been a long, difficult road for many personal and denominational reasons. Yesterday, all the frustrations and pain brought me to a tipping point.
I have said it to almost every group I’ve spoken with: this is by far the hardest work any of us serving on delegations from Annual Conferences have ever undertaken on behalf of the church.
- It is physically tiring: long hours of preparation, travel, difficult conversations and relationship building.
- It is mentally challenging: trying to listen intently to a wide variety of voices, reading and processing pages of legislative language, blogs, email and letters, attempting to become more culturally aware of the needs and understandings of our fellow United Methodists around the world.
- It is emotionally draining: keeping up with family and work demands while spending hours helping local congregations, individuals, pastors and staff teams deal with challenging conversations, crying with some and being extremely frustrated with others, having your words taken out of context and dissenting comments shouted all while trying to remain on the outside a non-anxious leader at the same time the extreme introvert on the inside wants my knees to quit shaking and the tears to stay away until I get to my car.
- It can be spiritually destructive: you can only be told so many times that your personal life choices may not honor God – especially when those speaking have no idea their generalities apply to you – before you begin to question your own faith.
Maybe I had a very unrealistic expectation that by this time, five days before the start of the General Conference session, people would have shared what they wanted to say in regard to support for one plan or another and the volume of email would slow. I was wrong. Maybe I thought the chastising looks would disappear from people’s faces and the hurtful words would turn to prayers for safe travel and endurance. I as wrong.
Yesterday in a face-to-face conversation I was asked how I felt about “this topic.” The conversation started about women in leadership as the individual was sharing that a young couple in her non-United Methodist church had left because a female had been called to serve as lead pastor. Knowing I was headed to St. Louis in a few days, the person moved to the question of full participation of persons who are LGBTQ+ in the life of the church.
“So how do you feel about all this?”
I gave my standard response when I’m not quite sure of the perspective of the other person. “The Jesus I choose to follow calls me to love everybody. I believe all of us have gifts and graces to serve in ministry and live out the Gospel message.”
A questioning glare, moment of silence and nod of the head followed. I’ve experienced that same response many times. It is better than the people who just turn and walk away. As I stood there before this person, I’ll admit I momentarily questioned whether my understanding of the man we call Jesus was right or wrong.
Early in the evening there was an attached document to an email describing all those who differ from the writer in their understanding of the Bible as “enslaved by Satan.” According to this person, I am there – shackled and tethered. And that was the last letter I could bear to read yesterday.
My soul is weary.
Last night I had to disconnect from it all. If I believed even half the things that people have been saying about who belongs in the church…if my understanding of Christianity was based on all the arguments I’ve been reading and hearing…there is no possible way I could even enter the doors of a church sanctuary. I would be unwelcome in their congregations.
Pray for me. Pray for the other 863 delegates like me who find themselves in similar personal space – and soon in the same physical space – where doubt surfaces, where patience and endurance wane, where relationships change, where faith is tested – yet where the Spirit can transform.
“It is said that when Martin Luther would slip into one of his darker places (which happened a lot…), he would comfort himself by saying “Martin be calm, you are baptized.” I suspect his comfort came not from recalling the moment of baptism itself, or in relying on baptism as a sort of magic charm, but in remembering what his baptism signified: His identity as a beloved child of God.” – Rachel Held Evans
“The church is not a group of people who believe all the same things; the church is a group of people caught up in the same story, with Jesus at the center.” – Rachel Held Evans, Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again