Musing 1.29.21

MUSING 1.29.2021

This past Tuesday night our Administrative Council voted on whether or not to continue escrowing our apportionments to the district, conference, and general church. The decision to escrow apportionments was made in March of 2019, in response to the General Conference decision to prohibit same sex marriages in the church, prohibit and penalize UM pastors who celebrated such marriages, and to prohibit the ordination of LGBT persons. King Avenue saw itself as misaligned with the denomination. The escrowed money would remain in a fund and not be used for any other purpose. Every three months the Ad Council would review this decision. At the same time our Staff Parish Relations Committee created a subcommittee – ACTS - to monitor developments in the General Church and to explore our future options for affiliation. You may find the work of ACTS on the church website, kingave.org, under General Conference response.

While I supported the decision to escrow, it has caused me much worry and many restless nights. I have wrestled with numerous internal debates, “on the one hand… on the other hand.” On the one hand, apportionments support worthwhile ministries; on the other hand, the denomination is treating almost half of our congregation as second class and not worthwhile. On the one hand, I vowed at my ordination to obey the Discipline of the Church; on the other hand, the Church was preventing me from being in full pastoral ministry to our congregation and fulfilling a dimension of my vows. On the one hand, apportionments are one expression of our connection to the larger Church; on the other hand, the denomination had chosen not to be connected to our members. I could go on. I alternated between anger, hurt, sadness, and disappointment. A statement had to be made. One of our membership vows is “to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” To escrow apportionments was the resistance expected of a member of the United Methodist Church.

General Conference was to meet in May of 2020, to reconsider the mistake of the 2019 General Conference. A Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation through Separation was proposed that created a path for full inclusion of LGBT persons; hope was high. Of course, the pandemic caused the postponement of General Conference until this fall. The effect is that the Church is, unfortunately, still under the exclusionary legislation of 2019. In October of 2020, Ad Council asked ACTS to contact Bishop Palmer for evidence of progress toward inclusion. The bishop’s response is encouraging. Among the highlights are the plans to start two intentionally reconciling new churches; his work on the Protocol itself; the work of conference staff nationally and globally to influence inclusion; the use of a Lily grant to work with congregations for diversity training for inclusion of LGBTQI+ persons; the cabinet’s decision not to pursue charges and trials; the appointment of gay pastors; and the bishop’s commitment that, if the protocol is passed, he will work for the conference to be fully inclusive.

Based on this evidence ACTS made its recommendation to Ad Council Tuesday night. I shall give only the conclusion. Please read the recommendation in its entirety by clicking  here.  The reasons for the decision are well stated.  In summary, it was decided that King Avenue hold in escrow 24 months of apportionments and then begin paying its apportionments in full. Since we have been escrowing since March of 2019, we shall begin paying apportionments in March of this year.

I want to address the ministry of the members of ACTS and Administrative Council. In I Corinthians, Paul lists administrators as members of the body of Christ. We tend not to think of administration as a spiritual gift. “It is just committee work. It is not like preaching, prophecy, or evangelism.” But I came away from these meetings with a different feeling, a feeling that I had had a spiritual experience. God can work through committees! I called their work a ministry, and it was. We wrestled some; I am sure not everyone got what they wanted. The members were treated with respect. They were listened to; they were heard. Responses were calm and thoughtful. There was true dialog. There was a strong sense of working together for the good of our church. There was unity. Unity is not unanimity. Unanimity is usually achieved through silencing or driving away opposing voices. Unity is taking all voices seriously. By so doing unity takes people seriously. Unity is not sameness or same thinking; it honors diversity. A witness a church can make at this time is to model unity.

As I said at the beginning of this musing, I have had many restless nights. I was wrestling alone. Thank God for the body of Christ. What a blessing. It is a gift of God to edify us. We are not alone not only because God is with us, but also because we are members of the body of Christ. Tuesday night I slept well.

Be safe and well.