Though I grew up in the Catholic church and Rob in the Presbyterian, we have been attending St Andrew United Methodist Church for fourteen years. Our boys were baptized there and our oldest two children confirmed in front of a congregation that we hold dear. St. Andrew takes the United Methodist slogan of "Open hearts, open minds, open doors" one step further; we are a reconciling congregation which specifically welcomes members of the LGBTQ+ community who are often denied the comfort of church membership.
Last week the global conference of the UMC met to vote on how to deal with this community. Our Book of Discipline states that homosexuality is a sin and incompatible with God's teaching, and many congregations in the United States - including St. Andrew - disagree and want the wording changed to embrace all people with God's love. Unfortunately, a conservative faction of the American UMC banded together with delegates from Africa and Asia and actually made the situation worse. Not only did they vote to keep the language, but they introduced draconian punishment for any clergy who came out as gay, and for any clergy who married a same-sex couple.
The plan approved by the conference, the "Traditional Plan," says that a clergy member who marries a same-sex couple will lose a year's worth of pay the first time s/he conducts a marriage, and will be excommunicated from the church after the second time. Our pastor, Reverend Mark Feldmeir, said that if he were a young man at this time, he would not elect to go to seminary, would not become a pastor. But, thanks to God's grace, he is our pastor, and he helped us all through a difficult week of reconciling the narrow and prejudiced decision of the global church with our congregation's open attitude. (In contrast to the decision, which he called broken hearts, closed minds, and shut doors.)
Rev Mark held a meeting last Wednesday, the day after the vote, and between 300 and 400 people came on the spur of the moment to be comforted, to organize, and to prepare to disobey. As our former Pastor Jerry Herships put it, "it's ecclesiastical disobedience but biblical obedience."
In his sermon yesterday, again addressing the bitter decision and the divide it has caused in the Methodist Church, Rev Mark answered his own question, "What are we going to do?" with this, "We're going to break some rules."
I heard that statement with such relief that I cried. The feeling of betrayal by organized religion (again, after growing up Catholic), the disbelief in continuing narrow-minded and exclusionary thinking by leaders of our church and leaders of our country, had swamped me into depression. To hear a courageous leader stand up for what is right, to brave consequences in defense of God's major laws ("Love God and love your neighbor as yourself"), was a buoy to my floundering spirit.
I should add here that all of our previous pastors agree with Rev Mark and posted lengthy responses to the Traditional Plan on Facebook. All are worried about members of the LGBTQ+ community, especially the youth who are denied welcome in so many areas of life. The church should be a haven and refuge for all, especially the marginalized, and I thank God that our leaders will stand up to the egregious decision to specifically outcast our members. They will marry same sex couples, they will come out, they will continue to spread love. The United Methodist Church will never be the same, will probably split into multiple factions, but brave people will continue to love audaciously, welcome boldly and embrace with all our strength.