The heaviness of the discussions and decisions of the 2019 General Conference is “in the air” and is felt deeply across the United Methodist connection in various places around the world, including in Central Florida and more specifically, right here at First UMC, Orlando.
The roughly 800 delegates from around the world gathered in St. Louis earlier this week voted in favor of the Traditional Plan, which upholds the current wording of our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality, including the prohibition on marriage and ordination for LGBTQ persons.
The UMC in the United States and the Council of Bishops of the UMC prefer the One Church Plan, which gave options around these issues for local churches and clergy to make decisions about them. I was a proponent of the One Church Plan, and I am deeply disappointed. My heart is heavy because of how clear it is that we are divided over the issue of full inclusion for LGBTQ folks.
While I could directly observe and feel the hurt that this decision has caused many people who attended General Conference in St. Louis, I felt it even more intensely on Thursday evening in a room at FUMC Orlando where Pastor Emily, Pastor Shelly, John Shughart, and I shared a meal, some open, heartfelt, intense dialogue, and the Sacrament of Holy Communion with 17 LGBTQ individuals who are active members and participants of this church. More important, they love Jesus and seek to follow him.
I heard real life stories of pain rooted in examples of being threatened and bullied, to being told to leave churches, to being ostracized from families, to seriously contemplating suicide, to wrestling with issues related to self-worth and value. One person said, “I didn’t choose to be gay. It’s just who I am. It’s how I was made.”
My responses felt inadequate because they were inadequate. I told them that I was sorry they were being hurt by a decision of the United Methodist Church and that they could be assured that their experience of First UMC Orlando as a largely welcoming and safe place would not change.
There is more to come as follow up to the action taken at the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis before we can assimilate the full implications of that action. Several segments of the Traditional Plan will be reviewed by the UMC’s Judicial Council to decide which parts of the plan are valid under our denomination’s constitution.
In the meantime, my friends at FUMC Orlando, let’s keep being the church. In fact, let’s work on being the church even better each day, each week, each month, each year. Let’s remember that FUMC Orlando is not our church. It is God’s church. And God’s church, just as God’s love, is for everybody. That’s spelled e-v-e-r-y-b-o-d-y.
As for our LGBTQ members and participants, I close with these words from our bishop, Bishop Ken Carter, in his comments addressed to you and sent out right after the General Conference session ended:
Please know that you are of sacred worth. You are not the problem. You are not “out there.” You are present in our churches. You bless us with your faith and your gifts strengthen the church. And my calling, for you and all people, is to remove the obstacles to your experience of the grace of God, and especially in the life of the United Methodist Church.
May it be so.
I hope to see you in worship this Sunday.
Grace and Peace,
Interim Lead Pastor