An Invitation from the New England Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church

Here is the full text of the motion I made, as amended and adopted by the 2014 session of the New England Annual Conference:

An Invitation

The New England Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church strives to be an inclusive conference that celebrates, develops, and affirms God-given gifts for lay and ordained ministry. We commend our District Committees on Ordained Ministry and Board of Ordained Ministry in their work of discerning wisely, fairly, and prayerfully the readiness and effectiveness of those seeking to be accepted as candidates, commissioned as provisional members, and ordained as deacon or elder.

Whereas, we oppose all forms of personal bias and discrimination, including institutionalized discrimination written into our Book of Discipline, as criteria in evaluating potential clergy members, even as we confess our complicity in systems of exclusion;

Therefore, be it resolved, that the New England Annual Conference affirms the following statement:

We believe God calls all persons to lay, and sometimes LLP, Associate Member and ordained ministry. We grieve instances of systemic discrimination, prejudice, and unjust practices that cloud the discernment of this call within The United Methodist Church. The New England Annual Conference extends our invitation to people who wish to explore if their call to ministry might be affirmed and/or lived out in the New England Annual Conference.

While we do not promise to accept such persons into candidacy or membership, we do promise to discern in the Spirit with justice, fairness, and consistent standards to the best of our ability, and we entrust our District Committees on Ordained Ministry and Board of Ordained Ministry to act accordingly.

Be it further resolved, that the New England Annual Conference encourages its churches, Board of Ordained Ministry, and/or District Committees on Ordained Ministry, upon request from a candidate/potential member, or an individual inquiring on their behalf, to extend a written invitation to individual ordination candidates or potential members, inviting them to apply for membership in the New England Annual Conference, in accordance with Disciplinary and Annual Conference requirements.

In the 18+ hours since this motion was adopted, I have already been moved and amazed by the statements of relief, thanksgiving, and joy from those who have been marginalized and harmed by The United Methodist Church. I’m thankful to have been part of this action of the Conference, and hope and pray that this might be the beginning of a new chapter for New England, for those living at the margins, and for The United Methodist Church. Justice and joy, friends!  – Becca

 

Sermon: What You Make of It

blocks wood“What You Make of It”

(June 1, 2014) We pause to “check our privilege” and remember where we have an advantage. The question is not how privileged are we, as if this somehow makes us better or worse people, but what do we do with the privilege we have, that others might share in justice. (Matthew 25:31-46)

My sermon references this video. Take a look!

I invited the congregation to do on their own a printed version of this quiz as a self assessment. I added reflection questions at the end.

For reflection:
How do you feel as you read some of these questions? Where do you feel you have privilege? Where do you feel a lack of privilege?
Where do you feel awareness for others’ struggles?
Where do you see possibilities for power and action regardless of privilege?
How do you feel called to use your privilege?

A Call for In-Home Separation

house dividedPerhaps I thrive in what others call “broken homes.” Not that I’ve had a lot of choice in the matter. A child of one divorce and a participant in another, it seems that separation is just part of my life. I can rage against it or not, but it simply is.

I live in a church home that’s divided too.

The United Methodist Church, like so many others, seems on the brink of another schism, this one over questions of homosexuality: whether open and partnered gay and lesbian persons can be ordained and serve as pastors, and whether United Methodist clergy and churches can participate in the blessing of “same-sex” (whatever we eventually decide that means) weddings. Recently, 80 mostly-anonymous traditional clergy people called for an amicable separation of the denomination, citing, like any good celebrity, irreconcilable differences. Responses have included people pledging unity, recalling the importance of honoring our vows, and calls for staying together no matter what, for the sake of our children (our ministries/the people being served by ministries).

Painful as it is for me to flog to death the metaphor of marriage and divorce, having traveled that road myself, there is something that I think we can learn from couples and families who try to live in their differences together as a way of avoiding, or of discerning in the lead up to, divorce:

The value of in-home separation.

For some couples, there are just a few things that they simply cannot talk about, work out, or engage in together, yet their shared resources, family, and life together might still work well. These couples opt for an in-home separation, sometimes as a time to work on their differences and attempt to come to reconciliation together, sometimes to remain in the same space while they do something for a time (like raise children, or run a business together), and sometimes when reconciliation fails, as a stepping stone to more literal separation. This typically involves some shared space and some individual space, and a set of agreed upon guidelines.

Before we file the papers for the Great Divorce of The UMC, I’d call us to deeply consider how we might live together in one home, in the midst of our divisions. As Northern Illinois Bishop Sally Dyck writes, “Having watched countless couples work for an amicable separation, it doesn’t look like too many can pull it off when it just involves two people, much less 11 million.” Perhaps it’s worth it to try for something less than full separation, at least at this time. I think there are several ways to accomplish this (and that’s fodder for plenty more blog posts), but to me the most promising involve the creation of an United States (or Jurisdictional) Central Conference/s, and a two-volume Book of Discipline, with the option of emending the second volume in each Central Conference. Kind of a way, I hope, of holding together those things we do well– our ministry and mission, our Social Principles (SOME of them– I’ll get to that), our ways of funding and equipping local ministries across the globe– and allowing one another the grace and space to carry out our ministries in our contexts. As Wesley would say, in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.

How and when does in-home separation work well?

  • When all parties agree to it (this could take some time to accomplish)
  • When there are agreed-upon, possibly mediated, guidelines about whose space is whose (like which powers belong to General, Central, Jurisdictional, and Annual Conferences) and how those guidelines will be respected
  • When there is the possibility to put on hold conversations or arguments that the parties know they can’t resolve now. If a couple cannot discuss sex without screaming at one another in front of the children, then they need to take a break from discussing it outside of the structured counseling/mediation setting until they grow up have some new perspective.
    THE SAME IS TRUE OF THE CHURCH. 

When is in-home separation not a good idea?

  • When abuse is present.
    And I think we need to ask ourselves if such an in-home separation is possible, because in the church, the maltreatment of LGBTQ persons is abusive and dangerous. Many persons who are LGBTQ and allies have already left the “home” to escape the abuse suffered there– in local churches, in Conference structures, in the Social Principles– and avoiding all conversation while the patterns of abuse remain unchallenged serves the abuser, not the abused. Can an in-home separation be wide enough to create space for safety? Can there still be conversation to address, call to question, and begin to change the unjust and harmful dynamics of this relationship? I hope and pray it’s not too late. I hope and pray we stop yelling long enough to find out.

What do you think? Can we children of a broken home give one another the space to live together?

Sermon: Through Faith

flower fence freedom“Through Faith”

(5/25/14) By popular request, I reflect on the interplay between the law and grace: can we see the law as part of grace– not a fence that keeps us in (or out), but a trellis that helps us grow? (Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 4:13-25)

Sermon: Martha: Steward

broom old 1“Martha: Steward”

(May 18, 2014) When Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary, we hear a story that reinforces our tendency to divide people spiritually between the contemplative and the active. Can we use the practice of mindful action to bridge that gap? Can we hear Jesus claiming and challenging Martha to be present in the moment as she learns from him as a disciple? (Luke 10:38-42)

 

Another sermon by request from a congregant who wants to know: why does Jesus praise Mary while Martha is the one doing all the work. All us failed contempletives join in asking that question!

Sermon: My Other Brother

brothers 1“My Other Brother”

(May 11. 2014) The story we call “the Prodigal Son” leaves more questions about the older sibling than the younger, and tells us not only about God’s grace, but about our common responses to it. Have we lost sight of being God’s beloved children? Do we let that un-loved feeling infuse our treatment of others? (Luke 15:11-32)

This sermon was preached by request when I asked for topics or bible passages that members of the church found challenging. The person’s question: shouldn’t the older sibling have received a party, too? A fair question, and one I’m sure many of us ask.

Sermon: On the Road

feet road bw“On the Road”

(May 4, 2014) Finally, the risen Jesus makes his first appearance in the Gospel of Luke, and it’s not at a tomb, in a safe upper room, or on the beach where the disciples first saw him; it’s on the road. Is the author telling us something about where we can find Christ– not in the mystical moments, but on the journey of our lives, as we talk, discuss, debate, question, and ponder? (Luke 24:13-35)

sermon recording also contains a prayer that I wrote.

Sermon: Redeeming Thomas

blindfold trust walk“Redeeming Thomas”

(April 27, 2014) We call the disciple Thomas “Doubting Thomas,” but maybe we’ve given him an unfair hearing. Elsewhere in the Gospel, Thomas exhibits great faith, and we might rightly be skeptical about casting him as a sudden detractor. Then again, perhaps faith and trust and belief are, like Thomas, more than we give them credit for. (Mark 9:14-29, John 20:19-31)

 

Sermon: Empty Tomb; So What?

picture for easter e weekly“Empty Tomb; So What?”

(April 20, 2014, Easter Sunday) Easter brings us to the the greatest miracle and mystery of the Christian faith, but what’s it all about? What happens *after* the empty tomb to change our lives? God’s salvation is still happening, not accomplished all at once. Instead, we are invited into the ongoing work of God. (Matthew 28:1-10, Luke 24:1-12)

Easter Sunday, complete with the interruption object lesson from my son William.

Sermon: “King of Kings”

palm leaf tree plant 6“King of Kings”

(April 13, 2014) Jesus rides into Jerusalem as a king, but not the sort of king anyone was expecting. When we fail to live up to the expectations of others– or when they fail to live up to ours– can we cut one another a little slack? Are we willing to ask ourselves if our expectations are good and healthy ones, or simply what we want to see? (Matthew 21:1-11)

First Sunday back in the sanctuary, and mic troubles and all the distraction and pressure that comes with that!

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