Letter to my Congregation

52607784_2050420751701159_1794689785856524288_oDear Church Family at Lebanon UMC,

The most important thing I want to say is this: Nothing, nothing, nothing in all of creation can separate us from God’s love (Romans 8:38-39). This is true for all of us, but it is especially important to say it to folks in our congregation, community, and families who are LGBTQ+. If you or someone you know are struggling to feel that love and worth right now, please talk to me (call me literally any time) or reach out for other support. You are beloved.

For I Am Convinced…

By now, many of you have heard that the General Conference (GC) voted this week– by a very small margin, 53% to 47%– to not only maintain our denomination’s restriction on ordination and marriage for LGBTQ+ Methodists, but to strengthen those restrictions. The meeting was tense, emotional, and painful, and did not go at all as we had hoped. Grim as this seems, I believe that there are many reasons for hope. I encourage us to keep these in mind.

1. This vote was not decisive.
What this vote reveals, more than anything, is that our denomination is deeply divided. Can you imagine if we were taking a vote as a congregation about something huge, and it passed with 53 percent? That most certainly wouldn’t indicate a consensus, but would demonstrate that we have more work to do, more conversations to have.

2. The legislation may not be binding. 
More than half of what was passed by the GC had already been ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council (which is like the Methodist Supreme Court). We have no idea yet what, if any, of these new policies will actually take effect.

3. The General Conference is not the Church. 
Much like the Congress of the USA, GC is a representative body of some pretty human humans. The polarization, politicking, and even the decisions seen there still do not represent the faith and service of the people of The United Methodist Church. Where is that represented? Local churches, just like ours. We are the church.

4. The voices of LGBTQ+ people were heard like never before. 
The GC allowed for debate on a plan that would simply remove all restrictive language, and many LGBTQ+ and allied voices spoke powerfully to this and against the division and restrictions. The “Simple Plan” drew 40% of the vote, far better than we had hoped. The speeches and prayers and songs demonstrated that LGBTQ+ people are most certainly already Spirit-filled lay and clergy leaders in the church.

5. Moderates and allies are emboldened. 
Precisely because the conversation became so ugly, and so focused on dividing the church, those in the “center” were shocked that folks couldn’t agree to disagree. These moderates joined forces with the more zealous advocates for inclusivity. Furthermore, many people who have previously been open but not sure what to do to help have entered the struggle full force. The heart of The UMC woke up, and is fighting for the inclusion of all people. Some are even starting their support from a place of listening to LGBTQ people and people of color first, which allows those most harmed to drive the movement toward their own liberation. This is holy work.

6. People are “thinking outside the box.” 
In multiple places, conversations are happening about “what next?” Whether the movement for inclusion remains a faithful dissent within The UMC, or a new version of what Methodism looks like (and many options in between), things cannot and will not be business as usual. The New England Annual Conference and each individual church has many possibilities moving forward, and time to prayerfully consider them.

7. Our ministry does not change. 
In the mean time, nothing keeps us from sharing the love of God. The people of Lebanon UMC will keep doing what we are doing, and being the people God calls us to be, bound to one another by our shared love, service, and faith. We continue to welcome and include all persons, and to hold fast to our conviction that the church is incomplete when anyone is excluded. No vote can take that away.

… Nothing Can Separate Us from the Love of God.

God is with us, and this is not our church, not our denomination, not our movement. These things– our very selves– belong to God. And God’s got us. The God who created, redeems, and sustains us is never letting us go. And God’s got work for us to do yet.

I miss you and will see you soon!

– Becca

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General Conference media

becca_girrellHere is a compiled list of my comments and reflections at/after General Conference:

An article in the Valley News, where both Sean and I were interviewed after General Conference.

I gave an interview on New England Public Radio, which you can listen to here.

I gave a slightly more raw statement to our Conference communication director on Monday, which you can listen to here.

Facebook users can watch, and all can read my speech on the floor of the GC (I spoke *against* the plan to remove restrictions, saying it didn’t go far enough. This took a speaking slot away from opponents who might have said more hurtful things, and pointed out that our job is to better than “say nothing”).

Our Annual Conference has compiled information at this website. This includes a message from our Bishop.

Speaking Against the Simple Plan

52875397_10218441290487391_7716323576680284160_oWhat??? Yes, you read that correctly.

On Monday at General Conference, I spoke *against* the Simple Plan, which would have removed all restrictions against LGBTQ+ people from the Book of Discipline. I did this for several reasons:

1. Truly, the Simple Plan stops short of doing good. It simply would remove discrimination from our polity, but does not mandate inclusion, nor protection for LGBTQIA Methodists. That is still truly a reason to object. Even in dissent, there is diversity of perspective.
2. By speaking against the motion, I prevented more abusive words from being spoken. This is indeed my job as a pastor and a human being, and in accordance with the very least the ancestor of my denomination asked of me, that I first do no harm.
3. By taking this time for a speech, I hope I did more than that; I hope I broke open in this harmful space one more word of grace and of God, and by so doing, did some good.

Here is what I said (words in parenthesis were after my time expired):

My name is Reverend Rebecca Girrell; I am a *queer* clergy person from the New England Annual Conference.

I know that I am a child of God, no matter what decisions and pronouncements are made on me and on you. I also know that my gifts and the gifts of the LGBTQIA community—our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness—bless the church as we together reach the world with the love of God in Christ and in the Spirit.

Our church, sadly, has a long history of harm, about which we say NOTHING: the sins of racism, of colonialism, the massacre of indigenous peoples, the sins of sexism, homophobia and transphobia. And these sins and many, many more, cannot be undone. They can be confessed. But they cannot be undone.

Here, with the Simple Plan, we could make a tiny step toward healing, but it does not undo our harm that we the church have caused to queer people around the world in places where they are not safe, where we are not safe.

This plan endorses NOTHING. It does not bind anyone, not even bind people to inclusion and safety. The time has passed to say simply, ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’ Now I know that we are not yet ready to say something nice, and I pray we one day will be.

John Wesley does say, ‘First, do no harm.’ But my siblings, he didn’t stop there. He said: ‘Do good, and grow in the love of God.’

I do not support the Simple Plan because it is time to do good (and not simply do no harm). 

 

Sermon: Beyond the Worry

BBB promo 1“Beyond the Worry”

(February 17, 2019) As I prepare to travel to the Called Session of The United Methodist Church, I am not alone in feeling worry about the future of our denomination. But if God cares for the birds and the flowers, perhaps God gives us something inherently human, which will provide for us so that we don’t need to worry. (Jeremiah 17:5-10, Matthew 6:25-34)