Why does it feel so different if nothing changed?

Pastoral Letter to the Downtown Community

This is a letter I sent to our Downtown Community this week after completion of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference. I am hesitant to post it in this forum as it is a very personal reflection to the people I serve alongside. But if it can be helpful to others then I am grateful for that as well.

On paper, nothing has changed. 

In my heart, I know that is simply not true. 

That is the most honest expression of my reality right now after General Conference ended.

Yes, the Traditional Plan passed clarifying, and not changing, the United Methodist Church’s stance on marriage and ordination. But a vote of 55% to 45% is one of many reasons no one in good conscience should be celebrating or acting as if this doesn’t hurt many, many people. Depending on which study you read, well over 50% and even upward to 60% of people within the walls of a UMC congregation in the US support a different view of marriage and therefore ordination than is expressed in our Book of Discipline. We are deeply divided at the General Conference level and within the walls of our congregations, including First Church, on our understanding of who can be married and who can serve as ordained clergy. No vote can change that fact.

On paper, nothing has changed for First Church. The same stance we had last week and even last decade is the one we hold today. And yet, the reality of one more rejection; a contentious week of General Conference; and a sense of finality makes this feel different.

For those feeling rejection either personally, or for friends and/or loved ones, please hear me say that no vote was taken on sacred worth of each person. Every person is created by God and full of sacred worth.

Also, no vote could ever decide who is worthy to be in relationship with Jesus. I have actually read somewhere this week that the United Methodist Church voted that people in the LBGTQ community weren’t Christian and weren’t being invited to the Communion Table. That’s absurd!!! Some of the most faithful people I know are members of the LGBTQ community and are my siblings in Christ, friends in whom I trust, and the very people I pray will join me at the Table this weekend.

For these and some other personal reasons that I won’t go into I am carrying a deep sadness around with me. We as a community are grieving and I grieve with and alongside you. It’s going to take time and a lot of energy and most of all God’s grace for things to be better.

As with any loss the cycle remains constant: denial, anger, bargaining, depression (or I give up), acceptance. I believe many, including me, were in a state of denial prior to this week. Well, that’s changed. Many I have talked to and have heard from are expressing anger and hurt. The loss is real. Please know that, if for you I am the very face of the institution who has betrayed you, I am willing to receive your anger and hurt. Expressing our emotions is incredibly important to a healthy response. Come and talk or send an email; I want to listen.This won’t be a time for me to hide and hope things get better. I am here for you even if, or especially if, that means being a place to release your hurt.

Many will be, and are already, wondering where we go from here. I am not ready to even think about it quite frankly.Too much is left to be known to have any clue about what our response should be. And the timing is not right to move on from the pain. It would be callous of me or any church to demand a forward movement until some time has passed. For now, I am focused on personal and corporate healing. That is job one. Planning can come later.

So here is what I’d suggest for us to do in the name of healing. They have been themes you’ve heard week in and week out from me. And now they seem even more pertinent.

  1. Recognize that the church is not a museum for the saints but a hospital for the broken. And we are broken. Jesus said that healthy people don’t need a physician and that is why he came to heal the sick. It would seem that we are in a prime spot for Jesus to do his powerful work.
  2. Lean in and not drift away. I often see people drift away during difficult seasons and leave the very place God has given us all to find healing. But you may be thinking, “it’s the church that hurt me so why would I stay?” Remember the truth from bullet point number one. God never leaves nor forsakes us.
  3. Talk to someone. Again, you are always welcome to share with me. But maybe you would rather start with your Sunday school teacher or someone else and that is great too.
  4. Remember God’s timing is always best…and often slower than we’d like! Don’t allow anyone to rush you to move on until you are ready. But have a spirit of readiness so you don’t get stuck in a cycle of anger or despair. If you find yourself stuck please reach out for help.
  5. Pray. I know you may be thinking “I already am.” But pray specifically that God would work in and through you that in this time you may grow closer to the image of Christ. Let’s not allow these days to diminish but rather to grow our faith.

Love has been mentioned a lot this week. Often it has been used in such harmful ways that I fear it is losing its meaning. With all that being said I am going to use it anyway and pray you hear my heart.

I love you.

With tears in my eyes and heaviness of my heart I write those words. I am here to help you thrive. Whatever that means and whatever that takes. Period.

More importantly. God loves you. Always has. Always will.

And that is our greatest hope.