4/10/2019 4:01:00 PM "A Home for All God's Children" A view of the future
By Marcella Baker This letter is a response to the question many people are asking me: “Pastor, what’s going to happen to your Methodist Church?” Let me just say first: God is always ready for us to work for change, to invite diversity and look forward to new seasons in the life of the church. But I would like to offer a longer response about the future of the United Methodist Church during this Christian season of Lent and Easter. First of all, Lent allows Christians to take time to see what may be hidden and be ready for change. It’s a time in which the aim of any fasting, prayer and self-reflection Christians do is intended to nurture the spiritual life; it’s not about self-denial for its own sake but has a focus on preparedness for the coming Kingdom of God now and in the not-yet, and the ultimate celebration of resurrection and new life at Easter. I was really hesitant to write this article, because I’ve been spending any of my additional time in prayer and self-reflection focusing on slowing down and taking time to identify what I’m busy doing and being. I have been examining evidence in my life of love for myself and others, and how I’m learning to live the revolutionary values of love Jesus taught in the Gospels of the Bible. Every Lent is intended to lead Christians into change that helps us to do just that: change. The season of Lent is our invitation to examine our values; it’s part of a hidden future, a future being created by God, and yet unknown to us. Reflecting on these things – values and change – and a hidden future during Lent lead me to this response on the future of the United Methodist Church. The question of what’s going to happen to the United Methodist Church is one of many unanswered questions that came out of the majority vote for a “Traditionalist Plan” at the General Conference February 26-28. This plan would strengthen language in the United Methodist Book of Discipline where lesbian and gay clergy are called “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” and same-gender marriages are prohibited. In particular, stricter enforcement of the current prohibitions at every level of the Church would be implemented. A subgroup of the United Methodist Council of Bishops with a focus on scripture, applied a conservative Christian lens as the driving value regarding issues of sexuality when writing the plan. Another plan, the “One Church Plan” failed just short of the majority vote for the “Traditionalist Plan.” The “One Church Plan” placed a high value on unity, gave Central Conferences, annual conferences, congregations and clergy greater flexibility to make decisions. In particular, to allow specific ministry contexts to perform same-sex marriages and to ordain as pastors people identifying as gay, lesbian, transgender, and other (LGBTQIA+). It also sought to allow local churches to determine whether to be open and affirming if the congregation so desired and permit local churches to leave the denomination if they chose to do so. This plan was also recommended by the Council of Bishops in 2018. The Western Jurisdiction of the UMC met earlier this month to send a clear statement that its leaders are committed to full inclusion of all God’s children in the body and will not cut off a part of the body, nor ask it to carry the cross of exclusion for the church any longer. As a result of that meeting the following vision statement emerged, called “2020: Our Emerging Vision”: It states that our direction should be toward “A home for all God’s people, gathered around a table of reconciliation and transformation: the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church is multicultural and inclusive, engaged in the life of its communities, with confident, effective lay and clergy leadership who, in diverse ministry settings, form disciples who live out the Good News of Jesus as global citizens.” With this “Emerging Vision” in mind, during this season of Lent, instead of preaching, pontificating or trying to answer questions on the future of the United Methodist Church, I’ve been more focused on prayer for all our LGBTQIA+ friends and clergy who were hurt and felt threatened by the “Traditionalist” vote. Our church members have been provided ways to stay informed and dates to be in conversations with UMC leadership about their values and beliefs as we move forward. I’m not spending time on Facebook reading about the many ways the United Methodist Church might be divided up; and I’m certainly not paying too much attention to stories about the Episcopal Church swallowing up all the Methodist Churches and becoming dominated by priests. Not yet anyway. My final unhesitating response, as pastor of the United Methodist Church in La Conner is that our church greatly values God’s created diversity. The people of this church come from different places, with different understandings about our Creator and a different conscience and set of values about scripture being literal or interpretative. While their beliefs may be diverse, they are united in a common value – that through the love of God our Creator has made an inclusive home here for all God’s people to belong and to grow. When challenged by different opinions, they value love rather than differences in ideology. Those words “Open hearts, open minds, open doors” aren’t just a slogan – the people of La Conner UMC truly love and value the diversity of ALL people; and they will continue to be a “home for all God’s people.” Marcella Baker has been pastor of the La Conner United Methodist Church since July, 2014 She says she is in co-ministry with her husband, Ken, to La Conner and surrounding communities.