The memories of the night before quickly faded into my subconscious–so many beautiful moments. I had been with my children dancing around the waves that crawled up the shoreline, each watery gesture tickling their feet as if God had sent them as a message. Through the water, God seemed to say, “I love you, and I am glad you meet me in creation.”
Recollections of Holy Communion, which we had received with a diverse group of pastors of rural United Methodist congregations from across the state, had also faded, and with it the feeling of connection–of being brought to the Table. In place of the sweet feeling of juice-covered sourdough bread with a hint of rosemary moving into my stomach was a feeling of hurt, a sense of both my stomach and chest constricting with stress.
The two-day retreat of rural pastors, part of an initiative called “Thriving Rural Communities,” started on a high note, but as soon as we looked into each other’s saddened eyes and heard how we were doing, the mood changed dramatically. One of my friends, a lady with whom I went to Divinity School a decade ago, shared an email that had been forwarded to her by a parishioner. The correspondence was from a Global Methodist Church leader to a member of her congregation who was learning about the GMC. In it, this GMC leader talked about the state of the congregations disaffiliating from the United Methodist Church and, among other things, said to the church member that my friend, this member’s pastor, was “not on [her] side.” It instructed the questioning church member to have initial meetings in secret.
Listening to my beloved friends talk about their hope to lead worship and form disciples of Jesus Christ–and how it was undercut by meetings happening in secret–broke my heart. It reminded me of taunting Facebook posts that I had seen, which pointed ideological fingers as if to say, “what are you going to do when all of the orthodox people leave the Church at the end of the year?”
Having shared this letter, my friend looked humiliated, showing the same expression of violation that I remembered from other kids in high school who had been bullied.
The undermining of my friend’s leadership by other pastors played out like a literal under-mining. It was as if the ground on which they were standing, their very foundation, had been hollowed out in the minds of the people they were leading. That is one of the challenges with black-and-white, binary thinking. If one side is correct, the other side must be wrong. If one side is “orthodox,” the other side is “unorthodox.”
In any divorce, it is so hard to resist falling into those binaries. In an e-mail response to the GMC leader who wrote this email to my friend’s church member, I said this: that if the timetable had been sped up by 15 years, I would have been a child of the Global Methodist Church. Three out of four of my mentors are leaving the United Methodist Church to become leaders in the Global Methodist Church.
For a long time, I’ve been thinking about the conversations swirling with the members of the United Methodist Church, talks which affect me like a child of divorcing parents. This divorce is not my fight; it is not my decision. I think my theological parents would have been better together, and I know that the Church I am inheriting would have been better without this divorce.
Both sides will point fingers and say that they have been abused, and maybe both sides are correct. I have written several blog posts and social media posts…that I have kept to myself.
I have stayed silent, because I assumed that my voice was not needed–that everyone who was inquiring was receiving the information they wanted, receiving it in a straight-forward way. I am writing this for one reason: to say, “I see you,” to those who are under-mined – whether pastors that feel humiliated, seeing the church they love hollowed out in its foundation, or church members who are not able to have the conversation in their churches. To the other children of divorcing parents, “I see you.” To those who are watching your spiritual parents leave without ever having been invited to have a seat at the table (who knows, if I had been invited into the Wesley Covenant Association five years ago, I might be on the other side of this schism), nothing is wrong with you. I see your pain. You are not alone.
I do not have any words of argument towards the soon-to-be GMC leaders that have already decided to leave the UMC. Others are arguing much more than I care to. I am so grateful for the life of love and grace that my spiritual parents who are leaving have taught me. I am hurt, but I am also grateful.
To you who feel like your foundation is hollowed out, who do not know where to land, I want to say that there remains room at the United Methodist table where I sit, room enough for everyone. You do not have to leave and go to the Global Methodist Church.
Having looked at the draft of the Book of Discipline for the Global Methodist Church, (it’s soon-to-be governing document) I do not see any theological beliefs that go contrary to the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church. What is beautiful about the UMC is how many people fit under this umbrella.
We are a church that believes in the Good News, even if we are not “evangelical” as some would define it. We are not a monolith, but we are people who believe different things about how to live out our life of faith. Some United Methodist congregations still want an older, white man to be their pastor, and some congregations would prefer a person of color. We are people who, some of us, stick to the letter of the law of the Book of Discipline and we are people who, some of us, intensely want it to be changed.
In a world of ever-increasing echo chambers, where we want to cancel out others who think differently than us, we are miraculously a church with a big enough umbrella to have people who are different come to the Communion Table. In a world where fascist ideas threaten to unify people only around what they dislike and not around what they love, we are somehow unified as a family even a family with lots of problems.
To those who have resolved in their hearts to leave, I bid you farewell. To those who feel pulled apart, and who want to still have the conversation, I invite you to stay.
I lament that some have under-mined the conversations that would argue for us to remain in the same theological home. I honor those who have had these conversations without undermining the authority of fellow pastors. I also hope that, for those who have left and those who have stayed, that we can practice the love of each other, as disciples of Christ. Even if we have left each other, may we practice love of neighbor. Even if we have made ideological enemies, may we practice love of enemy.
And whatever Communion Table we end up calling home, may we be reminded of the future hope that it will include all of us.