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--
Rev’d Dr. Jonathan Jeffords, Rev’d Dr. John Kilzer, Rev’d Renée Dillard