I remember my dad talking about his father and severe weather, being gathered in the storm cellar, and grandpa Little, who was gone by the time I was born, would hold vigil at the door to watch the storm. When I was little, the few times we had to take cover as the result of severe weather it seemed very similar to dad’s story of his own father. Really, the only vivid memory I have is when we lived in a parsonage without a basement and so we ran the one hundred yards or so and took shelter in the church basement, and dad, stood at the top of the stairs with the door propped open watching the approaching storm. I confess I have inherited that a bit as well, there is something that draws me toward the door when we are in the basement taking cover, I suppose it is about wanting to see what is coming, to get a glimpse at the approaching disaster or the miss and calm of storm passed.
I suppose when it comes to these kinds of storms there are those who approach them in several different ways and decide what to do based on what is approaching or what happens. There are those of us who deny it is going to happen and just keep on as usual. There are those who, like pictures I have seen on social media, pull up lawn chairs and sit in the front yard with a drink and watch the disaster roll in. There are those who take shelter yet watch diligently at the door to see what is coming. And there are those who go to the basement for cover and protection and do not emerge until the all clear is sounded.
That is the image and feeling I have of late with our beloved United Methodist Church. This coming week our United Methodist Judicial Council will meet and one of their tasks will be to determine whether the election of Bishop Karen Oliveto, will stand or if they will render the election null and void. I own where I am with this, and I believe Bishop Oliveto’s election to the episcopacy of the UMC was a crucial and positive move of the Spirit of God for our denomination toward full inclusion of all of God’s children. At College Hill United Methodist Church, where I serve, we will be holding a prayer vigil for the entire week keeping Bishop Oliveto and the Judicial Council in our prayers.
In addition to this crucial decision is the Bishop’s Commission on a Way Forward who are meeting in order to bring a recommendation to a Special Called General Conference in 2019 regarding our denomination and human sexuality, in particular how and to what extent LGBTQ children of God, members, and clergy are able to participate in the life of the church.
While there are nuances and differing specifics, as I have understood the possibilities it boils down to about four different options in terms of recommendations from the Commission.
1. The recommendation could be that the UM Church become even more punitive and restrictive regarding LGBTQ persons and allies, regarding ordination, participation in weddings, and other service areas.
2. The recommendation could be there should be no change in our disciplinary language regarding LGBTQ persons in the life of our church.
3. The recommendation could be one of more local control by churches and Annual Conferences. In this recommendation local churches could decide whether or not they would welcome a LGBTQ clergy person and would also decide whether or not the clergy serving their church could perform same gender weddings and whether or not they would host same gender weddings. Under this recommendation the local Annual Conference would decide whether or not they would ordain LGBTQ person.
4. The recommendation could be the Disciplinary language restricting LGBTQ persons regarding membership, ordination, and same gender weddings, would be removed completely allowing LGBTQ persons to participate fully in the life of the church without condition.
Understand, these four options I have identified are rather simplistic and there is much to be considered regardless of what the recommendation is and of course what final decision is made.
I believe there is an approaching storm and, at least for me, I think I need to be praying, considering, pondering, reflecting, and thinking about what my response is going to be to each one of these options or whatever the option and decision ends up being. I believe we as churches need to be thinking about that as well. Not in a handwringing and anxious kind of way, but just in a realistic preparatory kind of way, standing in the doorway, if you will, considering what the next step is going to be when the storm arrives. Because, I believe, regardless of what the Judicial Council decides, regardless of what the Commission recommends and the General Conference decides…the storm is coming and I/we need to think about how we are going to choose to respond.
College Hill where I serve, is a Reconciling Congregation, I shared with our church at our last Extended Council Meeting, as a Reconciling Congregation we need to be at least thinking about how or if we are going to respond to the decisions the General Conference is making, because it will affect us, because we are part of the connection.
No less myself, as a leader in a Reconciling Congregation, committed to working for the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of our church, on all sides of the table, I need to be thinking about how I am going to respond to the decisions the General Conference makes because as a United Methodist Elder, the decisions, whatever they are, will affect me.
In part this writing is just my way of processing the upcoming decisions in our UM Church, it is what I do, I write. And at the same time, for those in our United Methodist Church, I am not telling most of you anything you don’t already know, but I believe this is important, crucial stuff! The United Methodist Church I grew up has changed, and at least in my experience over the last forty-ish years, not for the better in regards to inclusion and grace. And, the United Methodist Church I have served for the last twenty-five years is changing again… I pray for the better, toward a more inclusive grace-filled church.
Join me this coming week in praying for our church, Bishop Oliveto, and our Judicial Council. Join me in holding them and the Bishop’s Commission in The Light of Love and Life. The storm is coming, but I am confident the winds of the Spirit will continue to move among us, and the doors, minds, and hearts will open wide to the love of God in Christ.
Peace and Light for Our Journey,
Rev. Kent H. Little