Diary of a Delegate: in the end, Hope.

In the Greek myth of Pandora’s Box (from Hesiod’s Works and Days), Pandora opens a container from which all the world’s evils spill, never to be contained. But there is a glimmer of possibility, because last of all things in the box is the most powerful force: hope.

Perhaps for those of you who attended or followed General Conference with me, that’ll preach.

As my earlier posts attest, there were all manner of ills that spilled out of the box of General Conference, and by Friday morning I was counting down the hours until I could go home and plot my exit strategy from my beloved denomination. I could no longer live in a church that would silence voices, consolidate power, diminish grace, bargain away accountability, tread upon biblical interpretive lenses, and call my friends incompatible and worse.

But last out of the box, from a most unlikely place, hope.

The creative chaos that ensued after the Judicial Council struck down Plan UMC was a breath of fresh air. And we all know that breath, wind, and Spirit are the same, right? Ruah. Pastor Deb, from North Broadway UMC (a friend on Facebook) described it, saying, “Divine creation loves holy chaos. There was a Spirit of freedom in the room…” Indeed there was.

What was so perfect about that moment was that what we’d been feeling and saying all along was proven true: there actually is something inherently un-Methodist about consolidating power in the hands of a few, and people don’t tend to like big huge plans that are made without their voice and involvement, especially in a movement that was once upon a time so grassroots.

But we all agree– change is needed. And it’s clear now that this change can’t be hierarchical, can’t be made by one or two people behind closed doors, and can’t be limited to any particular group, with some token demographics thrown in. Change has to be transformational from the inside out, from the grassroots up. Change has to be transparent and invitational, with many voices at the table. Change has to be free and freeing.

And #dreamUMC was born.

All over twitter, this is what people were clamoring for. Young people, yes, but people of all ages. GLBTQ and allied people yes, but people from all demographics. Women, people of color, progressives, moderates (lovers of the Adam Hamilton Amendment, which I now call AHA), and yes, even some conservative caucasian looking males.

We all want a conversation about the future of the UMC, what it should look like, how it should be shaped, and how we get there. And we all want a voice in it. And the chaos in the void of a defunct plan gives us the space for the Spirit we need to have it.

This isn’t a young people thing. Oh sure, we’re kind of starting it, and it’s on twitter, which is our sandbox in many ways. But see, the thing is, we objected to plans that were made without our voices, so we’re not going to silence anyone else’s. And speaking as a progressive, I object to the marginalization of many unique voices; I’m not going to push aside a theologically diverse voice at this table.

Here’s where we will start: next Monday night at 9 pm Eastern time, we will have a TwitterChat. If you’ve never done this before, you just need to sign up for twitter and search the hashtag (that’s the little # followed by word/s) #dreamUMC. You may also want to follow the account @DreamUMC (you can also “like” us on Facebook). At 9 Eastern, we will have a prayer and then ask some questions for an hour. I’ll start with something like “what did you take away from this general conference?” Over time, with monthly chats, we hope to build a conversation around what is needed for the future. We may one day craft legislation or make a motion, but for now, we want to have a conversation– a conversation as big and broad as twitter can manage.

You’re invited. Whoever you are. We are trying to build a United Methodist Church that has room and freedom for all voices, and springs from the Spirit’s leadings. If that speaks to you, come speak with us.

We have a window, a light at the end of the tunnel, a sliver of hope at the end of all other things. This is the time to dream.

I close with some of aforementioned Pastor Deb’s observations, used with her permission:

  • The body has taken authority and the reformation of our structure will be driven by vitality at the congregational level that is contextual and incarnational. Vital congregations cannot be legislated, or mandated, or created by statistical reporting. The Spirit has begun to empower the people.
  • The attempt of a few people to write a plan for the whole denomination from their social location of power and privilege has been soundly refuted. We are a connectional church, and our connectional structure worked at a very critical moment in our life.
  • A great deal of time and money was wasted over the past 4 years by people preparing a plan that placed too much power in the hands of too few people. There was an arrogance on behalf of those who prepared this plan, and their efforts to exclude the voices of the less powerful did not prevail.
  • Those who support a church that fully affirms and includes GLBT persons will begin to live in disobedience to the formal authority of the church. 40 years is long enough to wait for permission to do the right thing. The pledge many of us made to uphold The Discipline while disagreeing with it will be refuted. It is time for organized, thoughtful, sacred disobedience.
  • There are young leaders in this church who have a better idea for restructuring and reformation. They’re already planning to meet on Twitter, (a radically open forum) and you can expect some enabling legislation from them at the 2016 G. C. Closed door deals between powerful people will not shape the church of the future.

It is a good time to be a United Methodist. I do not think it will be an easy time. The backlash will be fierce. But I do believe that the Spirit of God, free and radical and creative, might have captured again the heart of the people called United Methodist. I pray that many will join in “occupying” the church with risk taking, bar crossing, rule breaking ministry that brings the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ to many, many new people.

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14 Responses

  1. It is amazing that the product of the Dark Night of the Soul is always faith and hope. John of the Cross notes how the log in a fire (his metaphor of God’s burning light) first shrivels, shrinks and turns black before the light ignites. And Mother Theresa of Calcutta, continually referred to the pain and darkness of her work as feeling at times the furthest from Christ. But these and so many others of deep understanding and faith all know what you guys experienced at the GC – that the fear and ugliness and pain of that dark night is exactly what reaffirms our faith. It is in fact only when all is lost, when all is seemingly hopeless that we find faith. Faith and and hope are defined by the absolute absence of rational logical evidence. It takes no personal work to believe that the sun will come up! Anyone can do that. But where there is nothing on which to hang our hope, we turn inward to find the living breathing God that is in fact breathing us.
    Those of you who are continuing this movement are people of faith and hope. How miraculous this all is!

  2. Sacred disobedience. I like the sound of that. Look forward to seeing it, too!

    • Sacred disobedience to unjust human laws, in my mind, is actually greater sacred obedience to the Law of Love written on our hearts.

      Becca

  3. Thank you, Becca – for your passion, your voice, your leadership and for quoting me so liberally! I am beyond flattered! And I plan to join the dream umc conversation!

    • Thank you Deb, for your words, and for your powerful presence and support in the dark moments the past 2 weeks.

      Blessings,
      Becca

  4. I stand with you in solidarity. This white-haired man will be on #dreamUMC on Monday night. In the words of Joshua, “We are able to go up and take the country….”

  5. Your passion and drive are inspiring. I’ve been reading your writing for a few days now and sorry I never read more prior to your experiences at the conference. Your church is one I’d like to attend. And I’m Jewish.

    • I won’t hold it against you 😉 In fact, I’d entrust my firstborn to your kindness and care.

      Love you!
      Becca

  6. […] Diary of a Delegate: in the end, Hope. […]

  7. […] It is clear to me that one thing that came out of the General Conference proceedings was that the top-down model that was to be the salvation and saving model for the church will not work. But then again, anyone who has ever studied how excellence is created in an organization could have told you that; effective change in an organization begins at the local level. Effective change occurs when the local church looks at where they are and what they can do and should be doing. I followed Rebecca Clark’s blogs as she traveled from Vermont to Tampa to participate in General Conference. What she wrote was often not easy to read because she wrote of the strife and struggle she and others encountered during General Conference. But out of that came an opportunity to seek and effect change. In one her latest blogs, she quoted a colleague and friend on Facebook, Pastor Deb, as saying “vital congregations cannot be legislated, or mandated, or created by statistical reporting. The Spirit has begun to empower the people.” (From “Diary of a Delegate: in the end, Hope.”) […]

  8. So let me get this straight, Pastor Becca. You declare in debates that you take your personal dislike of “hierarchical language for God” to the point of declaring, “I don’t have a King!” Does this mean that you do not see Jesus Christ as, among other things, your Lord to Whom you seek to submit in every area of your life? In your blog you actually brag about playing a prominent role in an unauthorized protest in order to essentially take over part of the General Conference time for a while and forcibly prevent delegates from doing their work. You say you want to “do no harm” at the same time defend the violence of abortion against defenseless, healthy children. You celebrate clergy breaking their promises (voluntarily) made in ordination.

    You are of course perfectly in your rights to organize a Twitter conversation about anything you want, with whomever you want. But given the above, I am really wondering if people are actually welcome in this conversation if they DO believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ, if they want our General Conferences to be conducted with fairness and integrity, if they don’t support pastors lying when they give their word to people, if they want our church to support compassion rather than violence towards “the least of these,” and/or if they don’t share the theology of the most progressive wing of the New England Conference? If you say yes, what assurances do they have that they will be treated with any more respect than what you offered at General Conference?

    • Hi John, thanks for taking the time to comment.

      I’m familiar with your writing and the methods of the publication for which you write, so I have to confess that I’m fundamentally skeptical if your misuse of my words signifies a simple misunderstanding or an intentional misrepresentation. I’ll err on the side of grace, but caution that personal attacks, including intentional misrepresentation and distortion of another’s words and actions, are not permitted on my blog.

      You’ll have to point me to the comment where I say I don’t have a king. I suspect that the K is lowercase; my recollection is that I was saying the metaphor of “King” for God or for Christ is not persuasive or meaningful to me personally because I don’t have an earthly king to which to compare (nor do earthly rulers of any sort have the reputation for the depth of grace, compassion, and justice that I associate with the God I serve without hesitation or qualification).

      I’m not going to debate lifesaving women’s health care or clergy vows in a comment; I think I’ve covered them elsewhere. Again, I’ll point you to the many places where I’ve said that I made more than one vow in ordination, including the vow to be in ministry with all persons. I fully support upholding those vows, and recognize the tension and struggle that arises when we must be faithful to the gospel above all other laws, including denominational ones. I don’t think these questions are as simple as you seem to suggest, and I strenuously disagree with your characterization of those who live in this tension as “lying.” Please be more accurate and dialogical in your language in the future, should you comment here again.

      I believe I saw you participating in the Twitter chat last night. Hopefully you found the forum open-ended and inviting. I suppose that’s the only assurance we can have on anything– give it a try and see how it goes. Ironically, I get the same questions from GLBTQ persons who want to attend our church– what assurances can I offer that they will be welcomed? I can only speak for myself. I welcome each person with open arms, and trust to grace. It takes deep courage to engage in a community when one has been pushed to the outside. That’s true for all of us, and the responsibility of all those on the “inside” is therefore to be gracious, respectful, loving, and humble in our invitations and interactions.

      May the God of peace hold you,
      Becca

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