As the wind whipped around the Fairfield Inn and Suites Monday night in Overland Park, KS, I wished for a pair of red sequined pumps. Tornado warnings across the Midwest, not right where we were, but close enough ran across the weather reports. Torrential rain poured down. I awoke at 2:15 AM to the sound of the wind and checked to see if a watch had been issued. I wished for red shoes and the ability to click my heels three times to get home.
Earlier in the evening I had been part of a gathering discussing the future of The UMC that left me uneasy and restless. I was uncomfortable with the strength of the language being used. The theology was not easy for me to hear. The hurt was palpable, the anger heavy. While I needed to listen and experience it all, I wanted to click my heels together to get out of the space – immediately. Many of those in the room had been feeling that way about The UMC for decades but were continuing to challenge us to see a wider vision for the church. My feet – without red shoes to take me away – needed to be in that sacred place.
Then by the end of the day yesterday, I could see a glimmer of the church I have always dreamed of being part of, a church that could actually reflect what I think the kingdom of God is supposed to be. I began to feel that even without ruby red slippers, I could be at home with God in a place that models the teachings of Jesus as I understand them and the means of grace in our Wesleyan roots that I love so deeply.
That home was a table filled with authentic stories of hurt and harm, surprise and resurrection: his and her pronouns, LGBTQIA+ and cisgendered, urban and rural, clergy and lay, Black and White, resisting, leaving and staying in The UMC.
That home was a place of worship and conversation where everyone was safe to be who God intended us to be, knowing that despite how we look, who we love, what our histories say about us, and how we speak, God loves us all unconditionally.
That home was a place where we felt the weight of the “structure” sitting on our chests, knowing we had to find a way to emerge from underneath but having no idea how. There was a clear recognition that every individual and church may have to find a different way out from under the weathered, battered house. Some may feel compelled to stay and struggle to rebuild. Others will need to step away with what is left of the walls and possessions, landing in a new community of connection. Still others may need to dissolve the connection to the original foundation all together. No one has any idea at this point where the road will lead. There certainly are no yellow bricks guiding us on the path ahead. There is no good witch to lead us to the great of Oz.
There is great wisdom. There is amazing courage. There is more heart, more love, than you can imagine. There are strong winds of change blowing.
But don’t be naive. There are armies of challenges flying all around us. There will be days of unknowing, long periods of wandering in scary dark forests and the disillusionment of finding that Oz may not be all great and powerful.
With or without the ruby slippers and with much harder work ahead than just clicking my heels three times, I can affirm my commitment to the tenets of UMCNext.
This is where I was called by my baptism to be. This is where I hear my membership vows directing my steps. Right now, I still don’t know if all that is leading to a particular place of brick and mortar. I do know it’s leading me home.