21 May 2019
My dearest siblings in Jesus Christ,
Greetings once again from Kansas, where we have completed Day Two of UMNext. We began at 8:30am(CDT) this morning with worship. Our text was Ezekiel 37, the Valley of the Dry Bones, where God breathes new life into the seemingly dead.
Our conveners then led us with the questions from the story of Esther and Mordecai, “If not now, when? If not us, who?” to help us enter into this good, holy, and hard work together.
The day was split between three potential paths forward. We spent time in our table groups considering 1) Dissolution - negotiating an amicable division of denominational assets into two or more denominations, 2) Disaffiliation - each local church leaving the denomination with the potential of possibly affiliating with some other organization in the days ahead, and 3) Stay. Build Community. Resist. Reform. - keeping all things the same and continuing to resist the laws and structures of the UMC that constrain us from being in full communion and ministry with LGBTQ+ persons.
As I alluded to yesterday, my table group for discussion is very diverse. I was sitting with (they gave me permission to share with you) Bonnie, a lay woman from Chelmsford MA (my high school alma mater’s arch rival!), Matthew, an out queer clergyman from the Western Jurisdiction, Anna, a Korean-American clergy woman serving in one of our sister conferences of the Greater Northwest episcopal area, Roland, an Indian-American staff member of the General Board of Global Ministries, Mike Slaughter, retired pastor of Ginghamsburg UMC and author of many books like Christmas is not Your Birthday, and finally J.J. (of General Conference fame) a young gay man about to graduate college and definitively called to be a pastor in the Wesleyan Methodist tradition. (My sincerest apologies if I have not described folks in the manner they might describe themselves).
Karen, Tina, Debbie, Carlo, and Charley likewise had their own mixes of people from across the denomination in their table groups of discussion.
At my table, we were not all of one mind of our path forward. After three sessions of considering each option separately, in a fourth session we elected to focus on and discuss the option of Dissolution, allowing the denomination to die and give birth to new iterations of Wesleyan Methodism. (Other table groups had the same opportunity to choose one of these three paths forward for further discussion and feedback in the fourth session).
While it is clear, there are other options forward besides these three, these are the three the convening team decided we would explore here in Kansas City. After visiting with so many people of different persuasions, both here, and in the Alaska Conference, and beyond, I truly believe our best path forward, minimizing fighting, freeing one another to be fully in ministry and mission to the world, we must find a way to gracefully release one another, pray God’s blessings over each other, and go our separate ways, seeking dissolution and forming new denominations for all parties.
And even though this seems clear to me, it is not the same conviction all people have reached. Indeed, there is a significant number of people here who believe we must stay and resist.
I believe tomorrow we will learn that UMNext will not proceed with one option, but that we might continue to explore and pursue multiple avenues simultaneously. I invite you to join me in praying that God would make the path straight and clear for the direction God is calling us, and that God might close the paths not intended for us, and that we, as followers of Jesus, might have the eyes and ears to see and hear God’s leading so that we might follow in the Spirit’s stead, and not the path of our own choosing.
This is my prayer for us St John, not only at this hour, but always: that we might follow in the Spirit’s stead, and not the path of our own preference or choosing. By the grace of God may it be so.
I am committed to walking this path with you St John. I love you, and I thank God that I am with you for just such a time as this.
Tomorrow noon is the end of our time here, and I will be flying home to return to you on late Wednesday. I am looking forward to the days, weeks, and months ahead as we talk, as we wrestle, and as we discern our path forward together.
All grace and peace,
Pastor Andy on behalf of the Alaska delegation
Karen Shields, Tina Racy, Debbie Pintsch, Charley Brower, and Carlo Rapanut