General Conference on the Way Forward

Dear Friends,

I want to take a minute to answer some of the questions that have been asked after this week’s Special General Conference.   

What passed?

Changes to clergy pensions were made in order to give them more protection from denominational changes.   

The major piece of legislation that passed 53-47% was The Traditional Plan.  The passing of the Traditional Plan reaffirms the incompatibility language about LGBTQ persons and their families.  It also puts in mandatory sanctions on clergy who perform same-gender weddings, including being removed from active ministry.  

What did not pass?

The Once Church Plan, which offered a compromise position, allowing for churches and annual conferences to respond to ministry with LGBTQ persons and families in ways that best serve their local context and honor their theological commitments failed 44-56%.   

Attempts to create “gracious exits” for congregations and pastors who no longer feel they can remain in faithful covenant with the United Methodist Church were ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council, our church’s “Supreme Court.”

What are the implications for the United Methodist Church?

The Traditional Plan is being referred to our Judicial Council for review.  There are some real questions about the constitutionality of portions of the plan.  In short, it will be months or even years before we understand the full implications of these decisions.

In my opinion, the single biggest loss to the United Methodist Church is our sense of being a big tent denomination.  The great contribution to the Body of Christ from the UMC has always been our ability to offer the world a model where people who hold different theological, political and social opinions and beliefs can continue to stay connected for mission and ministry together.  We have found ways to compromise in order to stay connected because we always felt that despite our difficulties we were better together. That is not the feeling leaving this General Conference.

That middle ground is what has been lost.  It will be very hard to find a United Methodist center, big tent Methodism, institutional compromise, or a middle road to hold the denomination together. The dream of dialogue and deliberation has given away to a moment of decision. Churches, pastors, and congregations will have to decide where and with whom they will stand.  This will redefine United Methodism in ways I am not sure lifelong Methodists are fully prepared for.

Lastly, as the church reshapes, we will lose some of the amazing ministries we have been able to do together as an international church.  Our global witness through things like the United Methodist Committee on Relief, United Methodist Women, The Upper Room and The Board of Church Society will be greatly diminished if not eliminated.   These decisions will force us all to be far more active in our local contexts, which at the end of the day might just be our saving grace.

How do I feel about the decisions of the General Conference?

First and foremost, I am embarrassed.  I am really embarrassed. I hoped for better than this!  I believe we can do better than this!

Secondly, I feel like I need to make an apology to my LGBTQ friends, their families, and their allies that I may have naively misled you into believing, despite the commitments of Royal Oak First, that you were joining a safe and inclusive denomination.  I was hopeful that our denomination was going to take the next steps towards a more just inclusion of LGBTQ persons. I was wrong. If you cannot stay affiliated with the United Methodist Church, I understand and support that decision and I will help you make those steps towards a denomination that will not deny your identity or humanity.   

Thirdly, I have to be honest that I find the United Methodist as a denomination has become less safe, just and affirming of LGBTQ persons, their calls to ministry, and the sacredness of their partnerships and marriages than it was a week ago.  I am struggling to figure out what it means to remain connected and employed by an organization that has not only reaffirmed its discriminatory stances against LGBTQ persons but has made them stricter and more punitive. I would imagine some of you are similarly struggling.    

Lastly, this week has convinced me more than ever that our denomination, our community, and our world needs churches like Royal Oak First, churches who are willing to embrace all people and invite people into mission and service to transform the world.  The Body of Christ needs churches that will say to LGBTQ persons, “You are children of God that your love is holy and redemptive and your partnership and marriages are sacred.”

This week I received messages from all over the country, from old friends and acquaintances, both from inside and outside the church, telling me about their gay kid or grandkid and how they have struggled to find a faith community that will help them understand and love their child.  Their stories and heartbreak convinced me that our witness needs to remain firm and clear. They are people looking for churches like ours!

Therefore, at the end of this tough week, I emerge more committed than ever for the work to which God has called me!

I am not going anywhere!  It is my sincere hope that wherever we go from here that we will go there together!

What is your message to our LGBTQ members?

You are all persons of sacred worth and there is nothing incompatible about you.  

Your calls to ministry are real and valid and will be honored under my leadership.  

Your partnerships and marriages are sacred.  

Your children are blessings.  

Your leadership in every area of our movement is necessary.  

Your presence makes us more whole.  

What does this mean for Royal Oak First?

First, we are still Royal Oak First United Methodist Church.  

Secondly, we will still offer membership and ministry to ALL persons, including LGBTQ persons and families.  

Thirdly, we will keep feeding the hungry, visiting the sick, caring for and empowering young people, welcoming the stranger, and giving to missions.  

Fourth, our church and its inclusive message and movement are needed now more than ever.  People look to us this week to lead. You are taking this message to the world and sharing it with your networks.  We are becoming a source of inspiration in our community and annual conference. We need to keep doing what we are doing!

Lastly, we must clarify who Royal Oak First wants to be in its ministry to all people, especially LGBTQ persons. I will be meeting soon with our members who are impacted personally.  Our queer members must help us understand what this moment means for them and for us first. We will not make plans about them without them.

I then anticipate forming a team that will help lead us through the process of discerning who we want to be, especially as it relates to this issue of remaining United Methodist, recognizing the ministry calls of all persons, how we will handle marriage and our ministry with LGBTQ persons and families.  This moment will change us. It will help us clarify who we are going to be and focus our ministries of hospitality and justice. We will be better because of the work this moment requires.

So in closing let me just say – keep doing what you do so well!  Love all people! Include more people in our ministries! Show up for passionate, inspired worship, expecting God to surprise us!

I truly believe God has called us for just this moment!

Together, we are leading this church in ways that are inspired and necessary.  

Please be talking about this in your circles.   Be honest. Be transparent. Be hopeful (if you can)!  

Please let me know your thoughts.  I look forward to what God will do with this important moment in our life together.  

Grace and Peace (and Pride!)

Pastor Jeff's Signature

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