Airports on the day I leave a General Conference seem to be the place to process and share reflections. I’m starting this reflection while our plane is deiced in St. Louis. An ice storm came through early this morning. A mix of ice and snow is beginning to fall again (8:50 AM CST). Seems fitting that there is a coating of ice to cover this area.
Division surrounds us. It could not have been more evident than in a gathering of Southeastern Jurisdiction leaders yesterday. A story shared by one of our fellow lay members about trying to talk a young person out of “being gay” was heartbreaking. And that person wouldn’t stop despite the obvious distress the story was causing some in the group. Others commented that if we could “just tread water long enough” to get past this General Conference, the young people will come to revive the church. That sentiment was echoed by others. All I could think was that we’ve been treading water in the U.S. church for 50 years already. Then there was a request for a group to gather to create a plan to present to the 2020 General Conference as a way to work out this division, as if anything had hope of passing after serious attempts for at least the 4 General Conferences I’ve attended. When I added that I thought at least 40% of us were wondering if we could stay in The UMC (to match the voting divisions all session), I was met with questioning responses.
Yet, God made God’s self known in…
- the evening fellowship around the feast on the table
- the conversations about how those of us who are feeling lost in the faith tradition we love and have given our lives to can move forward
- the texts, email messages and calls offering support and prayers
- the face of the shuttle driver to the airport, with whom I shared the front seat, who had been transporting United Methodists all week and was courageous enough, knowing he had another UM group this morning, to share the experience of going to his goddaughter’s bachelorette party at her favorite gay bar. As he shared his love for her and her now wife and his appreciation for all the people gathered that night, I asked if he was a person of faith. His answer was a resounding “Yes!” My next question to him was “And you realize you have a group of United Methodists you’re taking to the airport this morning?” “Yes, and I know all about what you’ve been doing in St. Louis.”
Just like the cooing pigeon with a rainbow on its neck on my windowsill yesterday morning, God appeared to start this day with another messenger of love.
My heart continues to ache not just for myself, but for all of us who feel that we have lost our home in The UMC. I grieve a little more with every pastoral letter that I read. Knowing so many of those pastors personally, I understand their struggles and have heard their questions of whether they can continue in a church that excludes God’s children. I cry with the laity who share the same questions.
My soul continues to struggle as good people express their reactions to what has taken place in our church in such hurtful ways. Again this morning, a message came in which the person said they were glad I was hurting because I got what I deserved for supporting the One Church Plan. They went on to tell me that I needed to go back and read my Bible some more. Doesn’t the Bible say a few things about treating others as you would treat yourself and being compassionate? Maybe I’ve been reading the wrong version all these years.
My mind continues to be confused by actions and words that say any group is not welcome in the Body of Christ. If it’s right to exclude one group because of particular statements in the Bible, we must be honest and confess that the rest of us really shouldn’t be here either. I’m childless; following arguments people have shared with me much too many times over the past few months, I don’t glorify God. I don’t eat right, exercise enough, or sleep well so my body certainly is not a temple. As a cisgendered woman married to a previously married, divorced man, I’m not worthy. The list could go in. Maybe I’m really not welcome either.
All of us who served as delegates to this Called General Conference – no matter what plan or actions we supported – come back home hurt and in need of healing. Offer us space. Continue your prayers. Help us renew our spirits.
I still firmly believe God’s got this. THIS won’t look the same over the coming months. THIS family will not include the same people – LGBTQ+ or straight. THIS denomination won’t have as many buildings, educational institutions or mission agencies. Yet, THIS hopeful, justice-seeking, grace filled message of a Body of Christ where all are welcome will continue to change lives and transform the world.