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

 

RMN Convocation- What I Loved

photo 1(5)Earlier this month, I attended Reconciling Ministries Network’s biennial Convocation. This year’s event, Churchquake!, was held over Labor Day Weekend (hey, I’m trying to fit my thoughts in within the statute of limitations window!) in Chevy Chase, MD, and despite my long love affair with RMN, this was my first time attending Convo.

I loved it.

It wasn’t perfect, by any stretch (we’ll get to that in another post), but it was after all a reflection of people in beloved community, so how could it be?

Here’s what I loved most:

1. The People. They are, of course, the reason I went to Convo, the reason I’m part of RMN, the reason to do anything. The amazing, expansive, imperfect, deeply passionate, powerfully loving people of my progressive, queer, relational church life are incredible. Many folks I met for the first or second time at Convo, and in other cases it was like the best church family reunion ever.

2photo 4(2). Worship and Preaching. There is nothing quite like the gift of participating in worship rather than presenting it, and knowing that our shared understanding of the Holy is one where I can pray, sing, reflect, wrestle, and live before the God of my understanding without having to defend against language that erases me and my loved ones, distances me from the act of worship, or makes me feel like I have to defend God from the charge that “He” is a sexist, racist, homophobic, vindictive meanie. The preachers (some of whom I caught in person and some online after) were all good, but there’s something extra amazing about receiving the Word from a woman I know in person and deeply love and respect, as was the case for me with both Vicki and Karen. Beautiful.

3. Bible Study. Okay, I know this wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. Our bible studies were a series of talks and monologues that were part scholarship, part art, and part entertainment. And yes, there were rough patches, and yes there are problems with suggesting that we rename the Book of Esther the Book of Eunuchs– but this is a great jump off place for talking about how minorities often compete for airtime in a majority-dominant place like the bible, and in a justice movement like RMN, so let’s look at how powerful women and sexual minorities vie for space and attention in Esther, and maybe how their struggles overlap and intersect and are at odds with one another (and maybe how powerful women are also sexual minorities?). In any case I like the approach, and I learned things I didn’t know.

I love that moment when the preacher is preparing to preach (Karen Oliveto)

I love that moment when the preacher is preparing to preach (Karen Oliveto)

4. Challenging Myself. I like learning new things and I like being pushed outside my comfort zone, because how can you learn otherwise? So it’s good that I’m not the most leftist, radical person at Convo, because I can learn new things. This came up especially when I was in a particular workshop, where I went to learn about post-colonialism in the UMC, because I think that’s an important topic in our quest to be a global denomination. But the workshop was a little on the 101 level for me and I got distracted looking at Twitter, where people were posting from the “queer sexual ethics” workshop. Some tweets intrigued me, some made me uncomfortable, and some were things with which I strongly disagreed, the latter two often about poly. I’m kind of all about monogamy, and I know that my approach to polyamory sounds just like the approach to homosexuality I fight against: “It’s just not what I think marriage/relationships/etc are.” So, I engaged in workshop polyamory, and decided it was time to spend time with the queer sexual ethics workshop because it was pushing the edges of my comfort. So that’s what I did. And I’m not going to go seek out poly relationships for myself any time soon (or ever, I imagine), but I learned a lot about new perspectives to me and I think I can be a better ally because of it. I love anything that encourages me to stretch myself.

5. Naming Intersectionality. This was tough, and is a growing edge, but I could really hear the awareness in the RMN leadership and in the way things were presented to try to address the intersections and overlaps of various kinds of oppression and of justice-seeking. It’s sticky and challenging, but we talked about gender and gender identity, sexuality and ordination, and a growing list of how these pieces overlap. We can improve on this, and I hope we do.

6. Coming Home. I don’t mean home to my house; I mean home to a church family I always had and where I was always welcome, but where I don’t get to gather in this way often (or ever before).

I have things I’d like to see improved (coming from a place of love and hope), and I’ll post those thoughts soon.

photo 5(1)

A Year Ago…

Lifting the bread and cup. Photo from UMNS

Lifting the bread and cup. Photo from UMNS

A year ago, I broke a loaf of bread.

A year ago, grace again was shortchanged, voices again were silenced, division again went unnamed.

A year ago, hearts broken and sealed and scarred over were broken again in places familiar and new.

A year ago, the Body of Christ was broken.

And so I broke a loaf of bread.

I wasn’t alone, and it wasn’t my action.

It was the action of a body, a community, a family, a Christ. Wounded and hopeful, hurting and despairing, fragmented and one.

A year ago, as we always are, we were broken.

And we broke bread together.

And I was broken open.

Somehow, some way, this breaking of bread– something I do at least once a month, something I  participated in thousands of times– somehow this changed me.

I found, in the breaking and sharing of bread, in the reflection on the chaos and frustration and agony and fragile hope of General Conference, a deeper sense of my calling.

A year ago, I was broken open. A year ago, I was called anew.

I set my feet on another path. A path running parallel, or nearly so. A path to someplace deeper.

I found a depth of passion I didn’t know I had. I renewed a sense of vision and purpose that had dried up and hardened, like our scarred-over yet fragile hearts.

Lifting the broken Body of Christ, tears in my eyes. Photo by UMNS

Lifting the broken Body of Christ, tears in my eyes. Photo by UMNS

From that place of brokenness, or broke-open-ness, life could never be, entirely, the same.

Seeping up from the cracks was a need to advocate for deeper justice, to live with deeper conviction, to delve more fully into faith an ministry and compassion and peace.

I spoke out when injustice happened. In my denomination. In my church. In my home.

I spoke my true heart. I said the hard things. I let myself feel what I was feeling.

A year ago, Someone broke down my defenses, demolished my protections and stumbling blocks (and made it harder to tell which were which).

And in the past year I have watched a new movement grow. I have witnessed the elation of church doing it right and the crushing betrayal of getting it so wrong. I have relived the pain of the past and envisioned hope and purpose for tomorrow. I have been a better pastor, and Methodist, and person of faith. I have struggled more deeply and trusted more fully, or really, really tried to.

In the past year, I have found my truer self, uncovered pain and vulnerability I didn’t know I had and tapped a depth of strength I didn’t know existed. I have seen my children grieve, and let them surprise me with their resilience. I have mourned the loss of love. I have celebrated it in new and beautiful places. I have seen cruelty in ways I never imagined, and received compassion from unexpected sources. I’ve made friends who changed my life. I’ve lost friends who had touched it deeply. I have shattered all my understandings, and learned from life what grows out of that rubble.

All because of a loaf of bread.

A year ago, Christ’s Body was broken.

And when we take hold of that reality, it takes hold of us. When we lift up the pieces of the bread, the body, the world, broken and wounded, we are lifting up parts of ourselves. When we live into the broken places, we find ourselves in them, seeking transformation and new birth and needed healing.

A year ago, I broke a loaf of bread.

A year ago, I didn’t know how broken I was, or how broken open I could be.

A year ago, I broke the Body of Christ. And Christ broke me open too.

The Phrivolous Phantom

photo(4)On Thursday, I led devotional exercises at the Vermont House of Representatives. I said something like this:

Depending on what route you took into town today, you may have seen that downtown Montpelier was “attacked” by the Valentine’s Day Phantom. Sometime during the night before Valentine’s Day, this anonymous person– or group of people, more likely– plasters the community with thousands of paper hearts. Montpelierites wake to hearts on storefronts and street signs and bridges and bell towers. It must take hours and hours to cover the town with hearts. That’s a lot of work, just to bring a smile to people’s faces, to spread a little love and joy and hope in one’s community.

It also strikes me that that’s a lot of paper. Reams and reams of it. Perhaps that paper could have been more efficiently used to draft important memos, or pieces of legislation. Instead, it was “wasted” on the frivolous task of taping hearts all over store windows.

But was it really wasted? Sometimes, I think, in order to spread love and joy and hope in our communities, we have to be a little wasteful, a little frivolous. We have to act without counting the cost in hours or in sheets of paper, and labor not for recognition, but for the simple satisfaction of knowing we brightened a day, made a life easier. So let’s learn from the Privolous Phantom (see the Phantom’s Phacebook Phan Page). Let’s spread love and joy and hope without counting the cost!

Resetting an Open Holiday Table

thanksgiving dinneras posted on the Reconciling Ministries Network blog

Family legend tells that the year after my parents separated, my mom faced the prospect of her first Thanksgiving alone. She accepted an invitation to the home of a friend, and my family and I have been spending alternating Thanksgiving holidays with them ever since, adding spouses and children and new traditions along the way, changing the location but keeping the love and laughter that I have always associated with my favorite holiday.

My nuclear family system is undergoing tremendous and unanticipated change. Change of the sadness and separation variety. With my two children spending the holiday break with their father, Thanksgiving represented for me my first long stretch away from my kids since the new visitation rotation started, my first holiday separated from the joys of my life, and my first Thanksgiving without a delightful, warm, amply-set table, packed to capacity with mismatched flatware and ringing with the noise of little people’s laughter.

Your basic hell.

Invitations to each of my parents’ houses did little to ease that pain; the thought of being surrounded by family—but not the family I missed—stung deeply. When I imagined myself with the rest of the guest list, as literally every other person who would be at each gathering spent the holiday with at least one of their children, there was no way I could imagine keeping turkey and stuffing in my belly.

Sometimes, family isn’t the place we can be. Or should be. Or is healthy or safe for us to be.

Sometimes, when family feels broken, what is really happening is a breaking open.

Fortunately, I know and love a lot of people who have a much more expansive concept of family. I’m part of this crazy connection of Methodists, and reconciling ones at that. I called a friend, who called a friend, and I ended up with a much more inclusive, broadly defined family celebration than the typical Thanksgiving crowd: four reconciling United Methodists, some good cooking (duck, not turkey), some shared laughter and song (okay only two of us sang), and a supportive space for tears, joy, and rejuvenation.

If that sort of feast isn’t a foretaste of the inbreaking of the kin-dom, I don’t know what is.

My expectation of the holiday stretch from Thanksgiving through the New Year isn’t born out of magazines and Martha Stewart, and doesn’t need to be picture-perfect. It does, however, include a strong focus on connection and love and family, and I’m experiencing what so many already know: that family is defined by who we love and cherish, the people with whom we set (and clear) the table, the ones who welcome our grief and our celebration.

In the Thanksgiving episode of the NBC show “The New Normal,” the main characters define for themselves a difference between relatives and family. While the former might represent obligation and dysfunction, places of pain or alienation, the latter are the ones with whom we choose to surround ourselves, the people who make a holiday special and sacred. I found mine, and it’s a vast and diverse family, some of whom are even related to me.

This season, may your places of brokenness be places of breaking open, and may your gatherings be filled with love and laughter and the deep joy of chosen family.

Diary of a Delegate: She Moves in Mysterious Ways

(continued from previous post)

The progressive ad hoc caucus huddles at the communion table. I’m in black, just in front of the person in yellow (picture from afar by Laura Young)

When Judicial Ruling 1210 was handed down at about 4:15 pm on Friday (with the General Conference scheduled to recess at 5 and then return for a two-hour legislative session before adjournment), creative chaos ensued. One of my fellow Church and Society B committee members called for a five minute recess, and a flock of progressives (it’s like a pod of whales) surrounded the communion table. One thing was clear: we had very little time to get a structure in place that would let the church function within the budget that had already been passed, eliminate inconsistencies, and keep any form of the constitutionally unsalvageable and now defunct Plan UMC from resurfacing.

After the five minute recess, the secretary announced that we would recess early for dinner, returning at 7:30, so that the calendar and agenda committee, the Council of Bishops, and other groups could figure out what needed to happen to conclude enough business that the church could move forward.

That’s when we went to work.

Our unofficial caucus group met in a large room. We did not bar the door; all were welcome. We knew other meetings were taking place, and we tried to have conversation with folks that weren’t in the room. We tried to invite representatives from all over the world, although only one international delegation ended up joining us.

Everyone spoke who wanted to. We hashed our possibilities: we couldn’t come up with a constitutionally sound plan to reorder the structure of our global denomination in two hours; there really wasn’t a way to resurrect Plan UMC and amend it into something that we could find palatable (including reinstating COSROW and GCORR); we didn’t want to simply refer Plan UMC because it had already been ruled unconstitutional and would eat up massive resources for study and amendment of a plan that we felt was fundamentally flawed (and we suspected this is what the group supporting Plan UMC would do). This left us with two options: revert to the 2008 denominational structure and somehow try to make it work in the reduced budget that had already passed, or approve the plans that the boards and agencies themselves had made to streamline and come into harmony with the initial findings of the Call to Action reports, and then save further restructure for the four years ahead. By consensus, the group decided this last was the best option.

To make that happen, several legislative things had to happen in very quick succession. The body had already approved a handful of legislation that allowed for some boards to function properly, but now had to bring up, bundle together, and approve several more pieces of legislation from the boards and agencies to enable the rest of them to have streamlined functioning, and then reconcile a few pieces that had inconsistencies.

The larger group disbanded and about ten of us wrote out the plan. I had been taking notes and began typing out an order of approach and talking points. We had an hour.

We wrote the motions for bringing up the legislation and the talking points for why it was important to do it this way: approval of the boards/agencies own plans for independent restructure allows for immediate streamlining while maintaining the functions of each body to do ministries, and leading the denomination into the necessary adaptive change that can take us through the next quadrennium with clear and thoughtful focus rather than hurried scrambling.

We anticipated that there would be a motion to bring up and refer Plan UMC. We strongly objected to this option and wrote talking points anticipating this motion: Referral would delay the option to lighten the burden on local churches because it would continue the structure at the current costs. Further, it would divert the attention, resources and energy of our boards, agencies, and governing bodies from their vital work. Basically, we could hash and study Plan UMC for four years at tremendous cost, or we could get busy making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We were assured by the committee on calendar and agenda that they agreed, and that the first motion brought to the body would be a motion to consider the plans of the boards and agencies for their own restructure. We were assured this as late as 7:15, when Brad Laurvick took my laptop from my sweaty hands and ran to print and copy our motions and talking points.

Curiously, for whatever reason, that is not how it went down.

When the session reconvened at 7:30, there were people *on the stage and at the podium* who brought a motion to refer Plan UMC. I’d like to think this was a miscommunication. It felt like more than that, but we were deep in politics at that point, so I’m going to err on the side of grace and say we must have had some wires crossed.

Undeterred, our folks jumped down in the talking points and argued against referral of Plan UMC on the basis of its unconstitutionality and the numerous points that we had lifted. And we ran down the clock debating, asking questions, amending and amending. The plan was flawed and unconstitutional. It didn’t in actuality even exist as it had been struck down entirely. It could not be referred. I myself made an amendment that I thought might have helped me feel better about it: that the resulting plan be released prior to all Annual Conferences in 2015, so that those bodies would have time to look at the plan, study it, and offer amendment and suggestion. I felt this would address one of the central problems with the entire process: the lack of grassroots voices and engagement in the future of our church.

Eddie Fox (black shirt, khaki pants) huddles with others during the final recess, just before he would come and caution me against further motions. Mr. Fox later contacted me to add that this was a prayerful gathering, and many of those in the circle are bishops from the UMC worldwide.

But finally it was clear that Plan UMC could not be referred or even dealt with. The presiding bishop was forced to rule that indeed a delegate from the Western Jurisdiction was right: it was unsalvageable and the attempt to refer legislation that didn’t exist was out of order.

We got to the mics. We made our motions. We approved the plans of the boards and agencies and reconciled the inconsistencies. We recessed.

Just before reconvening, I was approached by an older delegate with whom I’d served on committee, and with whom I had frequently—okay always—disagreed, Eddie Fox. Eddie is a man who I’m told had previously seemed to pride himself on using the parliamentary process to advance legislation he supports and kill legislation he does not. He was not in a good mood. Smiling but appearing pretty miffed, he wagged a finger in my face and said something like, Now young lady, I don’t want to see you making any more amendments or speeches tonight. “Why Eddie,” I said, “I want to ensure that we approve the best plan for the future of our church, and that takes time and work, and room for the Holy Spirit. And She moves in mysterious ways.” Smiling tightly and pumping my hand, he wished me safe travels and said he’d enjoyed sharing this wild ride with me (Mr. Fox contacted me in writing, and does not share this recollection of our conversation or of his demeanor or actions. As with all things published on my blog, this is my perception of what I experienced).

We reconvened, heard announcements, and suffered one last attempt to pull a petition to the floor that would have tried to make the UMC withdraw from the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice. I scrambled for my speech, but the motion not only failed to receive the 2/3 that it needed, but it didn’t even win a majority.

Joey Lopez, who had been an outspoken voice for inclusion, especially of young people’s voices, had the honor of making a motion to adjourn.

The Coalition worships in the tabernacle after GC closes, drawing the circle wide.

The Coalition met in the tabernacle one last time for communion, prayer, and celebration. Of next General Conference, one leaders said “In Portland [Oregon], we’re going to need a bigger tent!”

Then out to celebrate together with dancing and refreshments. We made a good choice of an establishment, since they were playing Heather Small’s “Proud” (what have you done today to make you feel proud? oh, so so much!) and later some Lady Gaga, and because the delightful human being behind the bar asked to see my ID. Once again, there seems to be a fear that people under the age of 21 are into buying top shelf scotch. I think we need to refer that to a committee for study. I tweeted: “Best. Day. Ever. Defeat totalitarianism. Protect uteri. Outfox Fox. Get carded in bar. #Winning.”

We celebrated together late into the night, side by side with people I have named as heroes and role models and Methodist celebrities, and with friends I didn’t know or barely knew two weeks ago.The outcome felt miraculous. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was. We’d done everything we could, but I honestly believe the Spirit pulled us through. I was just along for the ride.

Later, I summed up what I felt was accomplished to a group of friends via text message:

1. Ministry with families of all configurations
2. Almost exactly what the General Board of Church and Society (hey it still exists!) wanted to say about abortion
3. Kept the UMC in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice
4. Avoided a totalitarian power structure
5. Provided basic structure for the church and its agencies to stay in mission
6. Held the line– didn’t get any worse!– on incompatibility and sexuality in the face of the most conservative General Conference ever
7. Met an amazing group of lay and clergy ministers who believe in grace, justice, and a contextually authentic church
Alleluia!

What happens next? Where do we go from here? What does God have in store for the United Methodist Church?

I have some thoughts in the weeks ahead, but the door is wide open. It’s up to the wily Spirit, and up to us to follow where She leads us.

Love, Norms, and Heterosexual Priveledge

Kurt and Blaine in "The Purple Piano Project" (screencap). I admit I chose this picture mainly for the bicep.

I don’t think it’s any big secret that I am an enormous fan of the Fox show “Glee.”

While the show contains much that is campy, cheesy, and cartooney, it also has several wonderful factors, which I early on decided were 1. Sue Sylvester (such incredibly snarky, wonderful, sarcastic writing), 2. Will Schuester (a character and actor who is my age so I could feel less creepy, and the best-looking man in the cast– or at least he was until part way into season two when the guy I’d started crushing on the moment I saw his viral YouTube Harry Potter fan musical joined the cast and introduced me to my mantra of “he’s 25, he’s 25, he’s 25″), and 3. Kurt Hummel, whose story of finding his voice and coming into his own as the tormented outcast with the single parent who is an absolute saint both moves me and conjures up memories of middle school.

But the best part about “Glee” is the way, in the midst of all the silliness and drama and total lack of realistic high school portrayals, they manage to make the audience push edges and question assumptions. In little glimpses of poignant, honest moments, viewers are stretched. Sure, there are the obvious ones about teenage drinking and sexual activity and gay and lesbian characters. But here in my liberal, progressive tower, I was sure I was above such things. So the writers throw me for a loop with “Born This Way,” when characters don’t self-identify the characteristics I’d have named as their biggest hurdles, or with doses of sympathy toward characters like Sue and Karofsky (but never Sebastian, I swear it!), or as early as the fourth episode, forcing me to confront my assumption that the man who wore flannel and a baseball cap and changed tires for a living was going to freak when his son came out to him. Think again.

Blaine and Kurt are the model couple in "I Kissed a Girl" (screencap)

And now the show has me thinking about heterosexual privilege.

For years, my gay and lesbian friends have bemoaned the difficulty of watching movies and television shows where the principle (or only) couples portrayed were straight. While I effortlessly lost myself in the romance, my friends lifted challenges. With whom does one identify? How weird it feels to simultaneously want to be the leading lady and want to be the man romantically involved with her. How demeaning that gay characters, if presented at all, are caricatures or exaggerations, often intended for comic relief, with relationships to be pitied or analyzed rather than emulated.

But in “Glee,” Kurt and Blaine present an alternative.

One of–  if not *the*– strongest couples on the show, Kurt and Blaine (or “Klaine” for the die-hard fans) have a relationship based in friendship and mutual respect, honesty and walking side by side through challenges (from haters and would-be lovers to competition to the tribulations of high school), frank conversations about sex and sexuality, and deep commitment to living and loving exactly as they are. They are often the ideal couple, modeling stability and integrity to other couples and singles on the show. In fact, compared to Klaine, the heterosexual couples in the show are a mess, a constant jumble of drama. The next-most committed and established couple I would argue are Brittany and Santana, two girls (only kept apart for so long because of Santana’s reticence to come out). Finn and Rachel, the “power couple” of the show, have more bumps than a Vermont road in March, and frankly, it’s pretty annoying to watch.

Hosting the holiday spectacular at their "bachelor pad" in "Extraordinary Merry Christmas" (screencap)

But Kurt and Blaine are magic. And it’s not because Kurt addresses and heals my inner middle school reject (although he does), and it’s not because Blaine is simply drool worthy (Darren Criss is 25, he’s 25, he’s a young but totally legal 25…). It’s because they have a relationship that is beautiful, and fun to watch, that I want to root for and be a part of, just like any other time I snuggle up in front of a romantic comedy and dreamily lose myself in the eyes of the leading man, placing myself in his paramour’s place.

In short, watching “Glee” makes me dream of being Kurt.

A gay man.

This is a rather new and somewhat disconcerting feeling, if I’m honest.

And knowing and naming that makes me realize quite clearly how awkward and strange it must be for glbt individuals to watch just about anything else, where the assumptions about normal and happily ever after never look anything like them, only and always like me. That’s not okay.

So for all its silliness and hype and despite the very real issue I take with inappropriate student-teacher boundaries (or lack thereof) presented in “Glee,” I love it, because it challenges me and invites me to step out of my comfort zone and walk a mile in Kurt’s (often fabulous) shoes, or the shoes of any other person who doesn’t live inside the comfortable bubble of my heterosexual privilege.

And have I mentioned that I think Blaine is cute HOT? And 25.

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