The time has come for me to begin to process this past week. And all of the decisions that have been made by the United Methodist Church, the church in which I was raised + worked + felt a calling to full-time ministry. The church that has been, and always will be, the foundations of my being + the roots of my spiritual life. I’ve been dreading writing this post, because it all feels like so much. I mean, I have all the feels right now and my head is a jumbled mess of outside impressions, opinions, and decisions. But, I must step away + find some quiet. I must find my way forward. Upward + onward from this church. Because, something shifted for me this past week. And, it is now that I feel my soul whispering to me,“Accept. Release. Resist”.
Is it possible to do all three of these things at once? I don’t know. And I have no clear understanding of either the church’s or the my way forward. But, I am committed to the long, slow, discerning work of discovering how my calling is evolving. And I am devoted to living out that calling.
Because if there is one thing that has not, nor will ever change, then it is my calling (all of our callings really) to live my truth, to serve the world using my spiritual gifts + leadership, and to co-create a community or tribe of justice + love + equality.
How I do all of that is what is evolving. As it should, actually. And that leads me back to where I am right now… understanding that acceptance + release + resistance are somehow my way forward.
What happened: The background of why I need a way forward
This is a long story that begin in the 1970s, both for me + for the UMC. For me, because that’s when I was born. For the UMC, because that is when they voted to put some very hateful, heartbreaking, exclusive words into their Book of Discipline (law book). With those words, church policy declared homosexuality to be “incompatible with Christian teaching,” rejected same-sex marriage and barred self-avowed, practicing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender Methodists from being ordained or serving as pastors.
Because this has been a heated issue in the church since the 70s, with more + more deep divisions of conflicting opinions growing throughout the years, the church called a Special Session of General Conference to help find a way forward within the denomination. The goal was to present a few different plans with suggestions for splitting, for remaining united but agreeing to disagree, or for creating a completely new organization of the church.
The Special Session took place this past week St. Louis, Mo., with 800+ delegates from all around the world. The UMC is a global church with wide ranging societies, traditions, contexts represented… hence the great debate on LGBTQIA issues. What came out of the conference this past week was very disheartening, painful, and revealing. The suggested/proposed way forward of unity with diversity was rejected and, in its place, were adopted several resolutions + plans that reaffirmed the church’s longstanding conservative positions. But, it also created punitive rules for any clergy (pastor) officiate at any marriage not involving a man and a woman will now face a one-year suspension for the first offense and permanent removal from the ministry for any following offense. In short, the UMC voted to adopt a more strict, conservative stance on an already discriminatory rule/law.
My story in all of this
Many of you who have followed my blog have heard my story. So, I am not going to retell everything in detail here + now. If you want to read my story + hear my experience, then head on over to these posts:
I must admit… I just reread those posts as I was putting the links into this one, and it left me feeling inspired, broken, sad, and emboldened. Just needed to say that.
Ok. Here’s a tiny summary of what happened to me + why I am so personally deeply affected by the decisions made this past week.
As I said before, I was raised in the UMC. It was a freeing, liberal, grace-filled, accepting way of discovering my own spirituality + later my own sacred calling to full-time ministry (as an ordained clergy/pastor in the UMC). I worked full-time for a congregation for 8 years, studied for my Master’s Degree full-time for 4 years while I also worked, and was a certified candidate for ordained ministry. When I was ready to be accepted + confirmed for review for commissioning/ordination, I met with a committee one last time. We had a great session together, with them asking me questions + examining me before hopefully passing me on towards my last steps. It was, honestly, a formality. A serious one, but I knew that I met all of the requirements.
All except one. In the midst of our conversations, as I was discussing how I might could serve in ministry in the UMC in Sweden, I mentioned my wife. That one word “wife” changed everything. Because I had just admitted aloud that I was married to a woman, I was asked to leave the room, as I was in direct violation of the Book of Discipline.
After 30 minutes or so, I was escorted back in and given 2 options. Either retract my candidacy + quit. Or have the committee essentially reject me on the grounds of who I love. I know that this was not an easy moment for the committee members, many of who did not agree with the rules/laws. Nevertheless, in fulfilling their orders, they had (in their opinions, not mine!) no other choice. I boldly said that I would not quit because this was my calling. So, they rejected my candidacy and it was over.
That was 9 years ago now. Since then, I’ve felt everything. A lot of anger. Deep sadness. And also empowered.
Mourning. Hurting. Breaking.
Back to this week. The votes have been cast. And, yet there’s much that is still unclear. But, one thing is for sure. Many are hurting, mourning the potential split of the church + the continued rejection of who they are, and breaking open their vulnerability in order to share their stories and decide what comes next for them.
I thought I’d done all of this before. Dealt with it all when I was rejected as a candidate for ordained ministry 9 years ago. Back then, I didn’t give up, though. I did my thing. I pursued my calling to serve + live a life of spirituality without ordination. All the while, holding out hope, believing that the UMC was moving slowly, and all would be resolved in some years. Full inclusion of LGBTQI people was inevitable, I thought.
Now, once again. It isn’t. In the past, the can has been kicked down the road. The issue has been put off again and again. But, this special session was called for the single purpose of finding a way forward on this issue. However, in the last few days, all of the old feelings of abandonment, reflection, confusion, disappointment have woken within me again.
And now, the church has made its decision. And it decided to not only continue to exclude LGBTQI persons from from full inclusion in the UMC. Yes, it is a complicated, global issue. And it is now clear that the UMC cannot continue as it has in the past. So, there’s also mourning for the loss of the UMC church that has existed for 40 years. It is, perhaps, time to separate. Or to create something new.
My place in all of that is unknown + undetermined. Whether I remain to fight or move on is what I do not know right now. That I can never be ordained in the UMC is breaking my heart, though. All I ever wanted was to follow in my grandfather’s footsteps. I’ve lost the connection to my roots + my foundation. Oh, yes, I can and do practice ministry anywhere. The divine is much much bigger than the UMC. And, yes, I can be ordained in other churches. But I must mourn and release what has been. And that’s going to take some time.
Is it time for me to officially leave the UMC?
My way forward when I’m deemed “incompatible with Christian teaching”
Those goddamn fucked up words that break me (and so many others) remain as law in the UMC: Self avowed practicing homosexuals are incompatible with Christian teaching and, therefore, unable to be ordained or married in the UMC. These are words of hate. Of exclusion. Of judgement. And they remain in the UMC Book of Discipline (laws)
That more than half of the delegates of the conference voted to keep those words in + add punishment to them means that the UMC is no longer the church I grew up with.
Of course, most of the actual people I know who are both clergy ministers + members have the same broken, confused feelings after the conference that I do. Most everyone I know personally in the UMC supports the full inclusion of LGBTQI people into the life of the church. The church is not the be all, end all. And many clergy + members, gay or straight, and congregations are trying to understand their own way forward after this past week.
Perhaps, the idea of finding a way forward together was not meant to be. And, since I have not been active in the UMC for years now, I must find my own way forward. For once and for all. Now is the time that I evolve + embrace my calling in a whole new way I feel.
It’s time for me to release and move on. To choose my path and to walk it bravely and proudly. To not let the legislative decisions of a human organization define, restrict, or even think that they can accept or reject me. I hold the power to my destiny + respond to my calling. No one else. While i am crumbling inside, I acknowledge that somewhere in all of this, I am being liberated.
Lent + Equinox Rituals: My commitment to take it slow
It is just 3 days until the Christian season of Lent begins. And it is also the countdown to the Spring Equinox. So, I commit to allowing myself to wander in the desert during this time. To hold on to the hope that I have in living in truth, because I know that after the wilderness, after ministry, after death, after waiting in confusion, comes resurrection. Rebirth + new life. So that’s what Lent will be for me. A journey in the wilderness. A release. And a movement toward my own rebirth.
I cannot say what will happen to the UMC and I know that it will be a process + that there are so many others struggling with pain + confusion. I understand the plea to stay + fight from within. And I have guilt for even considering leaving the UMC for good. Guilt for closing the door. Yet, I know that I must be true to my calling. And I cannot be ordained or practice ministry in the way that I know is my truth within the UMC as it stands.
So, I devote this Lent + this spring to letting my path unfold. To boldly committing to where I feel that the spirit + light within me is guiding me. I cannot quite close the door yet. But, I also cannot stay silent. And, as of right now, I cannot be who I truly am in the UMC. So, I must deal with my guilt, my calling, and my intuition. I must make space for the messages of the Spirit and be aware of how + where they may be coming to me. I must listen + discern.
The story of Richard Allen
I received my Master’s of Divinity degree from an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (A.M.E. Zion) seminary, affiliated with the UMC. It was an inspiring 4 years of graduate studies to become clergy member/pastor that gave me so much perspective + offered me so many opportunities to expand my theology + spirituality, since I was in the minority at a black institution.
I stumbled across this anecdote the other day, reminding me of my bold decision to not attend one of the “traditional” UMC seminaries and how it made such a difference in my life. Reaching back to my connection to the AMEZ church, I feel that this message dropped into my lap for a reason. To remind me of who I am + perhaps inspire me in how to respond with power so I can move forward, fully embracing my calling to be in spiritual ministry. It may be the answer I am looking for:
One morning a group of black folk sat in some new seats reserved for white folk and started to kneel in prayer. When a white trustee saw what was going on, he grabbed Jones and violently demanded that they move. When Jones pleaded for the group to be allowed to finish their prayers, the trustee threatened to call the authorities. The group walked out and never turned back.
Is this my destiny? Maybe. But, I feel no need to rush that decision. And, yet, I definitely feel inspired to make a final decision. I am certain that it is time.
A word of love + thanks
I just have one more little thing to say after this super long, complicated post. I need to say a word of love + thanks. I am sending deep love to all of my fellow closeted, out, confused, hurting, broken LGBTQI brothers + sisters. You are loved exactly as you are. You are worthy + created to be just who you are. Do not ever be ashamed. And always reach out whenever you feel isolated, alone, frightened, angry, and scared. You are not alone:
I also need to say a word of thanks to all who have contacted, messaged, responded, and loved me for who I am throughout the years that I have struggled + wondered about my place in the UMC. Thank you all for all of your support and thoughts and words. As you can tell, I am processing and slowing down and letting things come as they may.
Acceptance + resistance… those are my words of balance and inspiration right now. But, I could not feel so empowered in the middle of all of this without all of your presence. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for simply commenting and motivating and loving.
There were other things that happened this week, but this is where my mind + heart + soul were focused most of the time. And rightly so. It is my time to decide + define my own way forward. And, that is exactly what I slowly, intentionally, mindfully intend to do. How can I be true to my self + my calling? And how can I create a more just, equal, accepting, and loving world? For, in the end, that’s what this life is all about.
So, I accept the reality of the situation. I accept that it is time for me to decide how to respond to my calling. And, I commit to resisting the unjust, discriminatory decisions that have been made in the UMC at the expense of loving others.
It’s time to decide my way forward. Accept. Release. Resist.