FAQ regarding the upcoming Reconciling Ministries Network vote at St. John’s
On what will St. John’s members (full, associate, and affiliate) actually vote?
On March 22, the Church Council unanimously approved the recommendation of the Welcoming/Reconciling Task Force that St. John’s, subject to approval by a church vote, should join the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). St. John’s members (full, associate, and affiliate) will participate in a church-wide vote whether St. John’s UMC affirms its welcome statement and should affiliate with RMN.
If St. John’s members (full, associate, and affiliate) approve RMN affiliation, St. John’s officially becomes a reconciling congregation, joining more than 800 United Methodist congregations and communities and almost 34,000 individuals who have affiliated with RMN.
What is Reconciling Ministries Network?
Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) is a network of United Methodist and other Christian individuals, communities (organizations other than congregations, such as Sunday school classes and UMW circles), and congregations who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer)-affirming and committed to full inclusion in the United Methodist Church. RMN works for full equality in membership, ordination, and marriage for God’s LGBTQ children.
For more information on RMN’s programs, members, and history, go to rmnetwork.org.
What does the term “reconciling” mean?
The term “reconciling” is used to describe a church that adopts a public statement which specifically welcomes persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. Here is what the RMN website says about the meaning of “reconciliation:”
Reconciling Ministries Network is committed to reconciliation that leads to the healing and transformation of animosity into honest relationships that respect all God’s children. Reconciliation is a profound ongoing individual and collective commitment from all those affected to establishing new relationships embedded in mutual recognition. Authentic reconciliation requires the naming and the speaking of truth to create relationships and communities grounded in peace with justice.
Why is this issue important?
Since 1972, the UMC Book of Discipline has included language stating that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and forbidding UMC clergy and churches from performing and hosting same-sex marriages. The UMC also does not allow LGBTQ persons to be ordained clergy. Since these are the only Christians that the UMC excludes from participation in the full life of the UMC, churches, like St. John’s, have adopted welcoming statements that explicitly welcome LGBTQ persons and worked to change the language in the Book of Discipline. Affiliating with RMN is another way for St. John’s to join with other churches that are striving to make the UMC fully inclusive.
What does it mean to affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network?
Congregations and Communities who affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) embrace RMN’s goal of full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the church, both in policy and in practice, and engage in the Ministry of Reconciliation in two ways:
- Outreach, welcome, and ministry with and for LGBTQ persons in the local setting.
- Create ongoing opportunities to engage in dialogue, build relationships, and advocate for the necessary changes to the discriminatory statements and policies in our Book of Discipline, including those that prohibit same-sex marriage officiated by UM clergy, same-sex marriage ceremonies held in our sanctuaries, and the ordination of gay and lesbian persons called to ministry.
Are Reconciling Ministries Network affiliates required to conduct or hold same-sex marriage ceremonies?
No, RMN affiliates are not required to conduct or hold same-sex marriage ceremonies, only to advocate against the discriminatory and prohibitive language and policies in the Book of Discipline.
What are the specific steps and requirements to affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network?
- Adopt a welcoming statement that specifically mentions “people of all sexual orientations and gender identities” (St. John’s took this step in 2009) and send the statement to RMN, typed on church letterhead, and signed by an appropriate authority (pastor, lay leader, Council chair, etc.).
- Keep the welcoming statement in visible places, such as newsletters, worship bulletins, websites, in Facebook “About Us” sections, etc. (Again, St. John’s already fulfills this requirement.)
- Be listed in RMN’s directory of reconciling congregations and communities.
- Consider an annual donation of $250 to RMN. (This donation amount is a request and a guideline, not an actual requirement.)
Is affiliating with Reconciling Ministries Network a violation of the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church?
While there is a statement from the Judicial Council of the UMC from the late 90’s that creates a gray area around this question, we do not anticipate that there would be any adverse response based on this decision. Of the 800 congregations and communities that have joined RMN, we are not aware of any annual conference having taken any adverse action against a congregation or community based on this decision. Closer to home, four congregations in the Nashville Episcopal Area which encompasses the Tennessee and Memphis Conferences (Belmont UMC, East End UMC, Edgehill UMC, and Hobson UMC) are already affiliated with RMN. In addition, conference leadership is aware that St. John’s UMC is exploring this step, including conducting this vote.
Is there a financial obligation to affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network?
RMN suggests a minimum annual donation of $250. These donations enable RMN to provide training events, travel to annual conferences, and witness at large UM gatherings. RMN also operates a defense fund to assist UMC clergy charged with violating the Discipline through LGBTQ-affirming actions. RMN receives no money from the UMC, only from congregations, communities, individuals and charitable foundations. All donations are voluntary.
Are other congregations in Tennessee already members of Reconciling Ministries Network?
Yes. Belmont UMC, East End UMC, Edgehill UMC, and Hobson UMC are all affiliated with RMN. In addition, many communities and organizations in the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences such as the St. John’s Sojourners Sunday School class and the St. John’s Youth Group are also part of RMN. There are also several St. John’s members who have joined RMN.
What benefits may be derived from affiliating with Reconciling Ministries Network?
Affiliation with RMN is a very public and unequivocal way to affirm our belief in full inclusion. It is an effective and powerful way to add our voice to the hundreds of other UMC connectional congregations advocating for our Church to eliminate the contradictory, discriminatory, and hurtful language regarding human sexuality in the Book of Discipline and to change the exclusive laws of our denomination.
As a reconciling congregation, St. John’s will be able to build and strengthen its relationships within our existing church family, some of whom are LGBTQ persons, some of whom have LGBTQ friends and family, and some of whom are simply anguished that their denomination discriminates against anyone because of their sexuality.
Affiliation provides an opportunity for St. John’s to attract new members who are seeking a progressive church that takes a stand on important topics. St. John’s affiliation with RMN means that LGBTQ persons seeking a welcoming church community in Memphis will be able to find us more easily by searching RMN’s website or contacting RMN. Affiliation with RMN will enable St. John’s as a congregation to live more fully into our welcoming statement and our commitment to the practice of radical hospitality.
Are there any risks associated with affiliation with Reconciling Ministries Network?
Affiliation with RMN will distress some St. John’s members. St. John’s pastoral and lay leadership is committed to the love and care of all at St. John’s, whether they vote in favor of this action or not. We will continue to offer classes, programs and counsel for all who have questions about full inclusion, regardless of the outcome of the church-wide vote.
Is affiliating with RMN an endorsement of their lobbying activities to change the Book of Discipline?
By affiliating with RMN, St. John’s will be joining other reconciling congregations to advocate changing the exclusionary language in the Book of Discipline. The current leadership of RMN is committed to working to change the Book of Discipline within the framework established by the 2016 General Conference; RMN’s Executive Director is a member of the Bishops’ Commission on a Way Forward. Ultimately, St. John’s can have a greater influence on the movement to make the Church more inclusive than we can as a single congregation.
If we affiliate with Reconciling Ministries Network, what happens next?
St. John’s UMC will be listed on RMN’s website, along with more than 800 other reconciling congregations and communities. St. John’s hospitality and commitment to making the UMC fully inclusive will be more visible. The Welcoming/Reconciling Task Force will work with Church Council to develop ways to support and welcome LGBTQ people, their parents, families, and friends, including education and outreach activities. St. John’s UMC will serve as a leader to other UM congregations in the Memphis Conference that are considering going through the reconciling discernment process.
For the next 18 months, we will continue to support and pray for the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and join UMC Prays, the Council of Bishops’ call to prayer for the mission of the United Methodist Church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
How and when will the vote happen?
- Voting will be held at St. John’s United Methodist Church on Sunday, May 14 and Sunday, May 21 in the Hospitality Room. Individuals may vote, in person, any time from 10am until 11am and 12 noon until 1pm on those two Sundays.
- All full, associate and affiliate members of St. John’s UMC as of April 1, 2017, are eligible to cast a vote on either of those two Sundays.
- To cast your vote, please visit the Hospitality Room during the polling times.
- Upon arrival, you will check in to vote, and representatives of the committee supervising this vote will walk you through the voting process.
- We encourage families, Sunday School classes and other church groups to make plans to vote together. We hope this will be a time for coming together physically and spiritually as a community. We urge you to make plans to attend a worship service the Sunday you plan to vote.
What should I do if I have a question not answered here?
Please email Kathy Barker, chair of the Welcoming/Reconciling Task Force at ksbarker [at] gmail [dot] com with any additional questions not addressed here.
Building an Inclusive Church Training
This workshop was originally scheduled for February but had to be pushed back due to a family emergency for our leader and special guest, Helen Ryde, Southeastern Regional Organizer for Reconciling Ministries Network. Learn how to create an inclusive church community through this program provided by RMN and the Memphis Area Reconciling Community. Join us April 29, 8:30am–5:00pm here at St. John's for this community event.
Donations will be taken for the light breakfast that will be provided. We will be taking an extended noon break and carpooling to a local Panera for lunch – please bring cash/cards to cover the cost of lunch.
8:30 – 9:00am: Registration
9:00 – 9:45am: Introductions, overview of agenda, group covenant
9:45 – 10:30am: Conversation on sexual orientation and gender identity
10:30 – 10:45am: BREAK
10:45 – 12:30pm: What is the Reconciling Process? Using the Building An Inclusive Church Toolkit
12:30 – 2:00pm: LUNCH plus opportunity to participate in some local outreach
2:00 – 3:00pm Graceful Engagement & Conflict – the process of how we have holy conversations about LGBTQ justice in our church, how we work with those with whom we disagree
3:00 – 4:00pm: One to Ones – practicing graceful engagement in pairs
4:00 – 5:00pm: Next steps – both individually and as a group, evaluation and close.
$10 registration fee. If you need assistance, please contact Helen(helen [at] rmnetwork [dot] org).
Pastoral Letter: Response to 2016 General Conference, Human Sexuality
To the people called Methodists who are St. John’s United Methodist Church, grace to you and peace. We, your appointed pastoral leaders, join our voices in response to the recent General Conference and invite our parish into a deeper commitment of advocacy for a Church that is fully inclusive.
In the days following General Conference there is a ray of hope that there can be a Methodist witness that is fully inclusive of our LGBTQ sisters and brothers. We ask you to join us in prayer for our Council of Bishops and the Commission they form to craft the way forward. Yet the fruit of their work is several years away at best. We agree that one more day of the current language of the Book of Discipline is one day too many in that it diminishes the power and impact of the Wesleyan witness, it perpetuates harm to everyone, and it directly pains members of our congregation who are LGBTQ and their families. These women and men, disciples of Jesus, vital participants in the life, character and mission of our congregation suffer at the hands of the very Church that at once calls them people of “sacred worth” but “incompatible.” The State of Tennessee recognizes their right to marry, but their service cannot take place in the sanctuary of the Church they love and support. Their clergy are not permitted to perform their service. And should they feel called to pursue the vocation of ordained ministry, they cannot do so openly in The United Methodist Church.
Harm is also done to those who are not LGBTQ who long to be a part of an inclusive Church and whose patience for the day their beloved United Methodist Church becomes truly open is waning. We recognize that The United Methodist Church is not of one mind on this question. We also recognize that not everyone at St. John’s is either. However, we cannot ignore the real harm done to people we love and serve, and we believe that those who struggle still with this issue do not wish harm upon their fellow congregants.
Over the next year, we invite our congregation to further conversation and deeper reflection upon what it means to be an inclusive church. We also believe our overt witness to advocate for inclusion can be instructive for other United Methodist Churches to encourage them to engage the question. To that end, we offer several opportunities to do just that:
• “An Act of Love,” the documentary about Rev’d Frank Schaefer’s journey will be screened on Tuesday, June 7, 6:30 p.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church. We are co-sponsoring the screening with Trinity. There will be time for conversation following. A number of St. John’s members appear in the film.
• We believe it is time for St. John’s to revisit becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network and commend that question to our Church Council.
• We are scheduling some level of public demonstration and witness inviting our membership to participate.
• In February, 2017, St. John’s will host a time of teaching and conversation featuring Bishop Sally Dyck of the Northern Illinois Conference and our own Bishop McAlilly. We expect to make this a Conference level event. Bishop Dyck will also preach at St. John’s on the Sunday of that weekend.
We believe St. John’s opportunity to make a witness is profound during an historic time in the larger Methodist movement. We are committed to shepherd our congregation through this season. We give thanks to God for the opportunity to serve you, and believe that in the end, all will be well. Signed on this the Second Day of June in the Year of our Lord Two Thousand Sixteen--
Memphis Annual Conference I
St. John's was well represented! Our awesome lay delegates donned the rainbow for love and equality! #YallMeansAll
Memphis Annual Conference II
One evening during a break in the Annual Conference proceedings, St. John's coordinated a special screening of "An Act of Love" at Grace United Methodist Church in Jackson. Beverages were provided and pizza was shared! While the film was released in advance of General Conference, it leads us to a place of awareness and hope as our Council of Bishops begin the work of forming a Commission to address human sexuality.
The documentary chronicles the story of UMC pastor, Frank Schaeffer, who chose to marry his gay son and partner despite the prohibitions on gay marriage in the United Methodist Church.
Prior to Annual Conference in Memphis, Trinity United Methodist Church and St. John’s hosted a screening in Memphis, resulting in good interest and conversation.
Litany for St. John's Prayer Vigil for Victims of Violence
"Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words." Romans 8:26
How do we respond to violence in our homes, our communities, our nation, our world? How do we deal with that reality? First, we pray. But let us not only pray for comfort and understanding and peace. Let us pray for holy boldness, for the courage to name injustice and to work for change. Let us not only talk of Love but demonstrate Love. Let the Church, God’s Church, respond. Below is a litany written for our St. John’s Prayer Vigil for Victims of Violence. May Love prevail.
Litany Against Violence
We gather to pray, as we try and make sense of senseless loss.
We gather to pray, as we grapple with the ever increasing reality of terror and hate.
We gather to pray, as we hope and long for peace.
We gather to pray, numb, outraged, fearful, and profoundly sad.
We gather to pray, to shake our fists at God or to kneel humbly before our creator...
Either way, we ask, we beg… How long, Lord? How long?
So, together we pray.
We pray for our LGBTQ neighbors in Florida who, seeking an evening of fun and celebration, community and sanctuary in a club, were killed or wounded because of who they are and who they love. May the grief of a community, a nation, a world propel us toward a season of healing and an unwavering commitment that love will prevail.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the families and friends who grieve the loss of their loved ones, for the families and friends of those wounded as they begin the long road toward recovery, for first responders, and for medical personnel who aided and will aid in the days, months, and years ahead. May we not allow fading headlines to lead to fading resolve. Let us build community with unending acts of caring and kindness. Let our love for God and our love for neighbor be demonstrated with every word and with every action.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the attacker and his family, and for others who are living with hatred and murderous thoughts and the access to weapons with the overwhelming capacity to kill. May we be bold in advocating for common sense gun laws. May we also be proactive in meeting and building relationships with neighbors of differing religions- neighbors praying just as fervently for peace as we are now.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
We pray for the church universal, the church local, and ourselves, for failing to offer true church, true community, true sanctuary for our neighbors of all sexualities. May we be clear in our language and in our deeds, stating and demonstrating that people of all sexualities are of sacred worth. May we listen well to the voices and stories of our LGBTQ neighbors. May we all work together to advocate for full inclusion in the United Methodist Church, for true welcome and sanctuary, for all God's children.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
And while we are shocked by the sudden loss of so many in Orlando, let us remember that in our own city we just bore witness to the 100th homicide of the year. So much violence, so much grief and despair. Let our Lamentations for these be strong and full. And again, may our grief move us toward action. May we be a people so firmly grounded in hope that we cannot help but bring hope to our community and our world. May we be ready and willing to advocate justly, to move beyond our comfort zones and into a wider circle of community. May we be instruments of God's peace and God's love. May Love prevail.
Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer.
Blog Post: “It’s (past) time for LGBT inclusion in the United Methodist Church”
By Rev'd Renee Dillard
Much has already been written, posted, tweeted, and voiced about General Conference 2016. I likely would not even add my perspective to the mix except for this - people I pastor and care for deeply have been hurt by the church, people in our community have been waiting and watching to see if the church will alter its rules and include everyone with a full welcome and full engagement, and there are mixed responses to the new plan based on the Council of Bishop's recommendation.
This was the first time I attended a General Conference. I was present in Portland for several days, not in any official capacity. I was there as a visitor and a mother.
I love the church. I even appreciate the structure of the church. Our General Boards and Agencies allow us to combine our time, talents, and gifts in Spirit-filled and life-changing ways all around the world. Our gathering for General Conference allows us to worship together, celebrate together, and plan together. Unfortunately, our structure also means that change comes slowly. We just celebrated the 60th anniversary of ordained women in the UMC and the 40th anniversary of the first women delegates for GC. I am shocked that women were so long denied these roles in the life of the church. Yet, I am gladdened and grateful for all the ways women visibly and powerfully lead today (lay and clergy female delegates and so many fabulous female bishops!) and that my 20-year-old daughter, Isabelle, was elected as a delegate to represent the Memphis Annual Conference. Change comes slowly, but it comes.
With all the good that is accomplished by and through the church, we have too long been at an impasse regarding human sexuality, specifically parts of our discipline related to LGBT persons. Which brings me back to my main reason for writing.
I have LGBT friends and LGBT allies who are considering transferring their membership out of the United Methodist Church. If you do so, know that I love you and respect you and I get it. It's time, and past time, for change. Yet I hope you do not. Selfishly I hope not because some of the folks thinking of leaving are also some of my all-time favorite people. I also hope not because your local church loves and appreciates, welcomes and needs you. And I hope not because the UMC needs you, needs your voice and talent and perspective, needs your full inclusion as families and as clergy.
To wait longer may be too much to ask. Yet I am hopeful about the way forward. The recommendation offered from the full Council of Bishops demonstrates a new willingness to focus the time and effort needed to enact significant change.
An excerpt from the Bishops' statement:
"NEXT STEPS We recommend that the General Conference defer all votes on human sexuality and refer this entire subject to a special Commission, named by the Council of Bishops, to develop a complete examination and possible revision of every paragraph in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. We continue to hear from many people on the debate over sexuality that our current Discipline contains language which is contradictory, unnecessarily hurtful, and inadequate for the variety of local, regional, and global contexts. We will name such a Commission to include persons from every region of our UMC, and will include representation from differing perspectives on the debate. We commit to maintain an on-going dialogue with this Commission as they do their work, including clear objectives and outcomes. Should they complete their work in time for a called General Conference, then we will call a two-to-three-day gathering before the 2020 General Conference."
Over my few days at GC I witnessed some powerful demonstrations and protests. LGBT persons and allies disrupted a plenary session with prophetic calls that "Black Lives Matter" followed by chants for justice and love. Clergy and supporters stood at the entrances to the plenary session, and later marched through, hands bound with rainbow stoles and singing "Blest Be the Tie that Binds." As powerful as these demonstrations were, I was also overcome and overjoyed to see support from others in the room. People stood. People joined in with chants and singing. People listened. That support demonstrates something stronger than the hurtful words of our discipline - that support demonstrates true community, love, and grace.
May God's love for all be proclaimed and experienced.
May we all be instruments of God's love and peace and joy.
Hopeful Blessings abound!