What happens now? I have heard that question multiple times this week. Following the actions and rhetoric of the called session of the General Conference of the UMC, it has been difficult to see where we go from here. Only a small percentage of the delegates from the United Methodist Churches in the United States were in support of the Traditional Plan that was approved this week, but there is a growing percentage of the denomination that exists beyond the USA. Many of the delegates from the African continent and Central and East Asia tend to be more conservative in their values.
But the question of why the One Church Plan (which allowed greater contextual decision- making) failed continues to nag at us. There are multiple reasons that will come to light in the days ahead, and the Traditional Plan that was adopted is under serious constitutional review by our Judicial Council (which will next meet near the end of April).
What appeared to me at the close of the General Conference is that our United Methodist Church is now more untied that united. We are broken. We are, in fact, experiencing death. I agree with Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas, who is convinced that the Wesleyan Covenant Association has won the battle but has lost the church. You can read his blog HERE.
This Sunday in worship, we will acknowledge the brokenness and harm that has come to our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who are further marginalized by this action. We will speak honestly with one another, and together, we will discover a way forward.
What I want my congregation to hear from me is that we are not going anywhere. We are still Wellspring, and nothing about our stance has changed. We are still the welcoming affirming church … a Reconciling Congregation … who still proclaims that, at our table and in our fellowship, all means all. When we feel shackled by this, it is perhaps helpful to remember that Paul calls himself “an ambassador in chains” in his letter to the Ephesians (amidst a chapter of scripture which is problematic, but which was conveniently overlooked by those wishing to force a literal interpretation of the Bible on us).
I think it is important for us to understand how God works through us even when we are shackled. My experience is that God has worked incredibly in my life during those times when I was most broken. God has liberated me during those times when I felt most constrained. God has spoken through my life when I have been left without a voice.
And God will work again … this I believe … here I make my stand. We will continue to work as partners with Jesus “to proclaim release to the captives and … to let the oppressed go free.”
Natalie Sleeth, in her hymn known as Hymn of Promise, shares the many and varied things in our lives that may seem to be hopeless and dead, but which ultimately are signs of something new. She shares that in buds, we find flowers … in seeds, we find apple trees … in cocoons are hidden promises that are soon to break free with life. In the last verse of the hymn we sing:
In our end is our beginning;
in our time, infinity;
In our doubt there is believing;
in our life, eternity,
In our death, a resurrection;
at the last, a victory,
Unrevealed until its season,
something God alone can see.
The United Methodist Church as I have known it … the big tent Methodism of my childhood and my youth … is dead. And it is in the midst of that death that God begins to do a marvelous thing. It is in the darkness amid the stench of decay … where the chain of death holds us down … that God is at work. There is a hope, my friends, that is coming to you and me.
No, I don’t know what the future holds, but I know this. I am still the same pastor who left last week for General Conference to watch this all unfold. Wellspring is still the incredibly hospitable, welcoming, affirming, reconciling church family we were called to be. And God is still God … working through our death to bring a resurrection.