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A Fragile, Hallelujah-Hope

posted Mar 1, 2019, 11:50 AM by Tricia Sheffield

The grace of our friend and Savior, Jesus Christ, be with you.


This was a tragic week for the body of Christ. 


On Tuesday, February 26, in St. Louis, Missouri, in a Special Session of  the United Methodist General Conference, delegates passed what is called The Traditional Plan on human sexuality, 438 to 384. The point of the Traditional Plan was “to strengthen the denomination’s prohibitions against clergy officiating at same-sex unions or being ‘self-avowed practicing homosexuals.’ The plan also [was to] encourage those who will not obey church prohibitions to find another church home. 


Conversely, a One Church Plan was put forward, hoping to maintain unity in the denomination. This plan did not pass. The One Church Plan would have left questions of such weddings up to individual clergy and congregations — and questions of gay ordination up to individual conferences. Central conferences — church regions in Africa, Europe and the Philippines — would be able to determine their own policies” (www.umc.org).


As best as I can parse it, as there have been so many reports coming out since that day, and the Plan will be reviewed by the Judicial Committee for Church constitutionality, the bottom line is that LGBTQ ministers and other officers in the UMC will have until 2021 to adhere to the Traditional Plan, or they will be brought up on charges and subsequently told to go to another denomination. 


Yes, you read that correctly. Methodist LGBTQ people will be told to leave their denomination, their church, the spiritual community of their baptism, because of whom they love, and/or their gender identity, how God created them. 


Lord, in your compassionate mercy . . .


Since Tuesday, I have felt in my body and heard in my soul the Holy Spirit groaning with sighs too deep for words. And I couldn’t help but think this may be the “writing on the wall” for the Reformed Church in America (RCA). This is because the realist in me who has attended far too many General Synod meetings in the RCA has seen and heard the same kind of actions and rhetoric of exclusion that was at the Methodist General Conference. Because of this possible future, I think our vote to dual affiliate with the United Church of Christ was not only a stand for God’s justice, but also very wise. And yet, the idealist in me who has witnessed wondrous works by the Holy Spirit, clings to a tentative hope that God’s arms-wide-open Love and welcome for all people will prevail in the Church Universal. I go back-and-forth, to-and-fro between a sighing resignation of possible, soon-coming division, and a joyous hallelujah for hope that we can and will welcome our LGBTQ siblings in Christ. As my friend and colleague Marilyn Paarlberg said to me, “I can’t not hope until I can’t hope.” Here’s to a fragile, hallelujah-hope then, and to continuing to work for God’s justice in the world.


As we prepare to enter the season of Lent (See below for information regarding Ash Wednesday worship), journeying with Jesus into Jerusalem, marching toward death but knowing new life is on the way, the decision from the UMC seems so tragically timed, and for me, doesn’t reflect God’s resurrection, healing power. So, I invite us during our Lenten journey to pray these words from the Belhar Confession as a witness to a fragile hallelujah-hope for a divided and hurting body of Christ: We believe that unity is, therefore, both a gift and an obligation for the church of Jesus Christ . . . [and] that this unity must become visible so that the world may believe that separation, enmity and hatred between people and groups is sin which Christ has already conquered, and accordingly that anything which threatens this unity may have no place in the church and must be resisted (John 17:20-23). 


May new life come where the spirit of death has divided. May it be so, O Holy God.


In gratitude for the joy of being your Pastor, and the holy call of loving you,


Pastor Trish

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