Our siblings in Christ of the United Methodist Church (UMC) are in the midst of their General Conference until May 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Obviously, I’m not exactly up on my Methodist church structure operation or general hierarchy, but this would somewhat be our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) equivalent of the Churchwide Assembly, with voting membership gathering from our 65 geographical synods at one massive convention center to decide on church structure or overarching ministry matters. However, one difference would be that this General Conference is a global enterprise with church representatives from Africa and Europe, for starters. Yes, it can be rather moving to see the Charlotte Convention Center filled with Christ-worshipers and Wesley-adorers from so many countries throughout the world, but it can also…complicate things.

The complication emerged to a peak level in recent years as the UMC had to face the issue that many of their Protestant siblings had to confront before: what to do with children of God who identify as LGBTQIA+ . Our own ELCA made a public proclamation with its Churchwide Assembly back in 2009 to affirm such individuals in same-gendered monogamous relationships as more than worthy to be eligible for ordained ministry. Of course, that…complicated things for many individual congregations and members throughout our 65 synods, leading many to dissolve their official connection with our part of the body of Christ. And yet, such decisions to be made cannot be avoided, no matter the cost.

One of the delegates of this General Conference gathering is a colleague who grew up in the same hometown as me. When some of these…complications started a new phase a year ago for our Methodist siblings in Christ, she wrote the following on her Facebook page:

Today, no longer United Methodist are:
The church in which I was baptized...
The pastor who officiated my marriage with Garrett...
A church in which I interned...
It all just hits fresh. It hurts. I’m sad.
But I’m resolute in my call. None of this changes my story, and none of this changes how much God loves YOU. I just pray that the denomination which baptized this child of God and granted her authority as an ordained elder moves more toward God’s mercy, justice, grace, and love.
“God be with you till we meet again;
By his counsels guide, uphold you;
With his sheep securely fold you.
God be with you till we meet again.”

Oddly enough, at the same time of that writing, one of the largest denominations in our country, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), was in the midst of removing congregations from their official membership for promoting such individuals like Pastor Guillozet to serve as leaders in their respective faith communities, because, evidently, we are still under the impression that women are somehow inferior and incapable of such service to God and for God’s people. Such matters of organized religion operation remain…issues for many children of God, whether they be ELCA, UMC, SBC, or any other random collection of alphabet soup church identity, including some of which that were formed in response to those supposed issues. It reaches a point where some are not so sure that ministry for the good of surrounding communities and beyond can be done anymore across letter-combination lines. And so, all we can do is bid, “God be with you till we meet again.”

Sometimes, we prefer to avoid such matters not just with organized religion operation, but affirming others’ value in the eyes of God and our own, for that matter, to the point of recognizing that they, too, can improve our cherished organized religion operation, not to mention the all-around body of Christ, and further bringing God’s love to life. Yes, women are more than capable. And yes, people in same-gendered relationships are as well.

And yet, for Pastor Guillozet, it’s not just about specific church buildings/families she called home at some point in her life. It’s not just about nostalgia, and messing with those precious memories. It’s about her children, too. She craves a church that will insist on welcoming them as they are, no matter what. But it cannot stop there. Grace cannot stop with an open door to the narthex and a spot in the sanctuary pews and even carrying over to Communion hospitality. It must keep going to the altar and pulpit and the head of meeting tables and at hospital bedsides. Grace must be more than just welcoming them. It must include affirming and empowering them to proclaim that oftentimes human-defiant Gospel. As if the cross and Resurrection is about setting them free, too; sometimes from their very own church that wants to tell them they don’t have what it takes to lead any portion of the body of Christ. Sometimes, God has other heavenly ideas. May we all continue to strive to “move more toward God’s mercy, justice, grace, and love.” Amen (so let it be)!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad

Facebook post from The Rev. Anna Guillozet (Linworth United Methodist Church, Columbus, OH)

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