On the Body Being Broken

by Rev. Dr. Julie Todd of Love Prevails

There was a regularly scheduled communion at every lunch break in the plenary hall at General Conference 2004 in Pittsburgh. On the day the votes went badly yet again for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people, we decided as a movement to go to that communion service, where we could stand in the presence of the broken and resurrected Body of Christ. We did this as a means of re-asserting our presence in that Body. We did this as a means of resistance against the false institutional proclamation of one cup, one Body, and one baptism, when clearly the actions of the General Conference actively sought to harm and exclude members of that Body. All forms of our resistance and disruption are embodied statements that the unity of the church cannot continue to come at the cost of LGBTQ lives. These same acts of resistance are theological affirmations that the resurrected Jesus lives on in our whole and beloved queer bodies.

There was weeping and there was anger at communion. There was a need for a deep and spiritual release of the violence that had just been done to the queer body of Christ. Because when votes are cast against the very existence of LGBTQ lives, that is what is happens: violence. Christ’s body crucified again. To not act in the face of such violence does further violence.

A communion chalice, broken in protest of the United Methodist Church's stance on homosexuality, is returned to the altar during the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

A communion chalice, broken in protest of the United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality, is returned to the altar during the 2004 General Conference in Pittsburgh. Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS

When the sacrament was over, Rev. James Preston grabbed a chalice from the communion altar and smashed it on the floor. The smashing of the chalice was not a planned disruption. While there were many interpretations of that moment of breaking the chalice, in fact there was no chaos, no storming the altar, no desecration of the sacrament. There was a holy anger that took shape in a prophetic act. A movement of the Spirit interceded to express anguished sighs too deep for words. In the breaking of the cup, Christ spoke to the real brokenness of the moment.

The bishop who presided at the communion table was distraught by the destruction of the cup. He got down on the floor and started gathering up the pieces. Others joined him in the gathering.

I had an instinct to take a piece. I had some internal resistance to making the moment feel better than it was. I didn’t want all of the pieces to be gathered up. I pushed toward the front of the group, bent down, picked up a piece off the floor, and put it in my pocket. At the time I had no idea that later they would try to reconstruct the chalice from the broken shards.

 

I Julie's piece of cuphave always had that piece of the cup. I rarely speak of it or even look at it. It sits in the same box with other sacred items from across the years. I know exactly where it is in my home. It is in my consciousness. When a recent article came out in the United Methodist News Service surveying the history of LGBTQ protest at General Conferences, I saw a picture of the reconstructed cup and I remembered my piece. I went to the box, took it out and held it for a while. Twelve years later. Things are still so broken and bad in this church for queer people. It is so devastatingly sad and wrong.

The LGBTQ participants in the communion service in 2004 were accused of breaking the church body and fomenting division. This accusation, which will no doubt be leveled at pro-LGBTQ forces at this 2016 General Conference, is completely ludicrous. The Body already was and is broken. The piece of the cup I possess stands as a symbol of this. In the church there simply must be some recognition that parts and pieces of the LGBTQ Body of Christ in the United Methodist Church have been not only broken, but lost. Left. Dead. Gone. Taken. Parts that aren’t coming back to be made part of the whole. Irretrievable by choice or by force.

Despite accusations to the contrary, many of our actions as pro-LGBTQ organizations and as a movement at our General Conferences are Holy Spirit led. This was true of this moment of communion in Pittsburgh in 2004. This will also be true of the disruptive actions of pro-LGBTQ forces at this General Conference. You may not experience it this way, but we ask you to be open to the possibility that this may be true. The LGBTQ body may be broken but the Spirit of Christ is alive in us. All forms of our resistance and disruption are living, embodied statements that the unity of the church cannot continue to come at the cost of LGBTQ lives. Jesus the Christ is working through our movement to speak truths and to resurrect the parts of the broken body that remain.

Episcopal Address Response: Rev. Wesley White

The Episcopal Address 2016 focused on humility. St. Bernard of Clairvaux once summarized the four Cardinal virtues as, “Humility, humility, humility, humility”. This is a pleasant hook with which to begin a sermon/Episcopal Address.

Examples of humility were related back to liturgical formulations that presuppose a community’s virtue to be held by each individual within it and that an individual’s humility is sufficient within a larger community that defines certain people out, regardless of their humbleness.

First, a collect for purity: Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you and worthily magnify your holy name, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Any number of people can say these words and remain desiring and subversive of communal values that they might have the community reflect only their desires. Humility aspired to is not humility in deed. The limit of this intention comes when we get to the details of life, not its theory. As code language we can claim anyone as prideful if they experience and complain that the community has cleansed them from presence at the table (on either or both sides of it).

Second, a prayer of confession: Merciful God, we confess that we have not loved you with our whole heart. We have failed to be an obedient church. We have not done your will, we have broken your law, we have rebelled against your love, we have not loved our neighbors, and we have not heard the cry of the needy. Forgive us, we pray. Free us for joyful obedience, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

As noted in the sermon, the focus here is communal. Unfortunately a communal confession needs a communal repentance. Our usual process is to confess and confess for decades or a century before actually doing something about the pain inflicted on those who were powerless to effect an earlier change. The injured and their allies, not the community, are the humble. The application of communal confession to humility is very dangerous in allowing the community to be righteously blind about their doing harm. Confession does not do away with a need to change divisive legislation.

Confession does not protect from “mutually assured destruction” when it covers the harm being done by intentionally denying God an ability to distribute gifts and graces to the youngest and the furthest outcast as God sees fit. Legislatively limiting God is certainly not a humble act and continuing it because the limits were repeated and hardened is no act of humility.

Third, a Commendation and Welcome in the Order for Baptism and Reception: Do all in your power to: Increase their faith, Confirm their hope, and Perfect them in love.

Who is being spoken to here? If it is General Conference in regard to current church members or a parent/sponsor in regard to an infant, there is no way to increase, confirm, and perfect without acknowledging that the mystery of spiritual gifts and personal identity is not in anyone’s control. They cannot be constrained to a desired outcome. It takes much humility to know the limits of what can be increased, confirmed, and perfected before these become requirements for one more closet.

The address ended with a hymn, “God forth with God”. In addition to going forth in peace, love, strength, and joy. There is a question left about how humbly we will leave this General Conference. This question extends to what increase in peace, love, strength, and joy others will have as a result of our actual humility and not the use of humility as a further constraint on those without power to offer their gifts in a larger community of United Methodism or the use of humility as an accusation to make against those who would offer their gifts to transform the land, beginning with the church.

What then is a legislative expression of humility at this General Conference regarding those lives have been injured through previous legislations? In particular, how might the presumption behind “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” finally be brought to its knees at this late date of 2016?

Remember Me: Queer Communion

remember meRev. Sue Laurie, an out lesbian, was ordained by a grassroots group of LGBTQ United Methodists this morning. Sue earned her Master of Divinity from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1995. Though barred from entering the candidacy process because of her sexual orientation, Sue has dedicated the past 21 years to ministry in the United Methodist Church. Today’s ceremony was a public affirmation of Sue’s gifts and graces and of God’s ordination of her long ago.

After her ordination, the sacrament of Holy Communion was celebrated. As an act of radical hospitality, we offer to the General Conference the bread and cup consecrated at that service.

The United Methodist Church proclaims that anyone who calls upon the name of Christ is welcome at the table. However, too often, openly LGBTQ persons feel excluded; and, in particular, are banned from presiding over the sacrament. Love Prevails works for the day when all people are welcomed as equals on both sides of the communion table.

During opening worship at General Conference, Love Prevails will provide stations where you can receive communion from openly LGBTQ United Methodists. We recognize that the call of Jesus is never “safe,” so we create this space as an oasis for queer and straight folks alike, where the welcome is explicitly wide.

The banners at the stations will read, “Remember Me”.

We remember the people who have been lost to our denomination as a result of the church’s categorical discrimination against queer people. We remember all who have been marginalized and violated by the church’s many acts of oppression. We also commit to Re-Membering the Body of Christ – to making whole that which has been broken and torn apart.

We encourage you to take communion at the “Remember Me” stations as an act of resistance to our church’s ongoing discrimination of God’s LGBTQ people and to work for the day when Love Prevails.

A Love Letter To Our Church From Your LGBTQI Religious Leaders

Originally posted by Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN), the letter below caused RMN’s website to crash due to an overload of traffic just hours after the letter’s release. Love Prevails is honored to also host a copy of this historic letter, and we stand in solidarity today with the 111 LGBTQI clergy and candidates below.

Dear United Methodist Church,

As we gather in Portland to begin the 10 day discernment of God’s leading for The United Methodist Church known as General Con-ference, we, your Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex (LGBTQI) religious leaders–local pastors, dea-cons, elders, and candidates for ministry–want to remind you of our covenant with you.

We share with you the covenant of baptism which has knit us together as one family. You cradled us into the body of Christ, helped us know the grace that invites us to move more deeply into relationship with God, and invited us to listen for God’s call on our lives. We responded, finding that we were most faithful when we gave our lives over to full time Christian service. You embraced us, af-firmed us, ordained us, and sent us to serve throughout the connection.

However, while we have sought to remain faithful to our call and covenant, you have not always remained faithful to us. While you have welcomed us as pastors, youth leaders, district superintendents, bishops, professors, missionaries and other forms of religious service, you have required that we not bring our full selves to ministry, that we hide from view our sexual orientations and gender identities. As long as we did this, you gladly affirmed our gifts and graces and used us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in the varied places you sent us.

While some of us have been lucky to serve in places where we could serve honestly and openly, there are others in places far more hostile, who continue to serve faithfully even at tremendous cost to themselves, their families, and yes, even the communities they serve, who do not receive the fullness of their pastor’s gifts because a core part must remain hidden.

There are many voices within The United Methodist Church who want us to break up with them. From bishops, Boards of Ordained Ministries, and other leaders, we are told to simply leave. Is leaving home ever that simple? We are United Methodists because there is no other denomination with our unique connectional polity and distinctive Wesleyan spirituality. We are here because God has called us to serve in this denomination, and our souls are fed by the theology in which we’ve been raised.

We are coming out as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer/Questioning, and Intersex persons at this moment for several reasons. Foremost, we want you to know we still love you and seek to remain in relationship with you. Even if we should leave and you seek more restrictive language against LGBTQI persons, know that God will continue to move mysteriously in the hearts of LGBTQI young people and adults and will call them to serve within this denomination. You cannot legislate against God’s call. The “LGBTQI issue” is not one that can be resolved through restrictive legislation but instead by seeing that all persons are made in the image of God and welcomed into the community of faith.

We come out, too, to provide hope for LGBTQI young people in hostile UMC churches. These young people are more at risk for suicide than their peers, in part, because of the condemnation they hear from the pulpits and pews of their churches. We come out to remind them that God’s love for them is immeasurable, and offers them a love that will never let them go, even when it feels like the church is willing to let them go.

We come out to invite them to listen for God’s still, small voice that will speak in the quiet places of their hearts, who will call them into leadership positions. We seek to create a pathway of hope into ministry for them, even when the church has tried to shut its doors on them, or overtly or indirectly condoned the persecution of LGBTQI persons.

We love you, dear church. Through you, we have stood on sacred ground and seen the face of God more clearly. Our prayer, as the church begins its time of discernment, is that you will remember that there are nameless ones around the world, hungry for a word of hope and healing. LGBTQI people and their families exist in every church in every continent of this denomination. They are seeking to remain in faithful relationship with you, even when you refuse, because they know God’s tender mercies and great faithfulness.

Dear church, our prayers are with you, with all of us, in the coming days. May we all be surprised by the Spirit who continues to breathe new life in unexpected ways. May we find the body of Christ stronger at the end of our time together, not weaker or more deeply harmed. May we provide a powerful witness of finding unity even in our differences to a world fractured by fear and mistrust.

Signed,

Rev. Jeanelle Ablola
Rev. Brian  Adkins
Rev. Austin  Adkinson
Rev. Dr. Israel Alvaran
Pastor Elyse Ambrose
Rev. Douglas A. Asbury
Rev. Jeanne  Audrey Powers
M Barclay
Rev. Dr Bonnie Beckonchrist
Rev. Ann Berney
Rev. Anna Blaedel
Rev. Daryl Blanksma
Rev Jan Bolerjack
Rev. Dr. Joanne Calrson Brown
Rev. Kristan M. Burkert
Rev. John Cahall
Rev. James C. Carter
Rev. Dr. Nancy A. Carter
Rev. Randa Jean  D’Aoust
Rev. Alex da Silva-Souto
Rev. Karen Damman
Rev. Diana Jani Darak-Druck
Sean P. Delmore
Rev. Greg  Eaton
Rev. Dr. Karen Engelman
Rev. Dr. Janet Everhart
Rev. Anthony M. Fatta
Rev. Robert  Gamble
Micah Gary-Fryer
Rev. Ruth Ann Charlotte Geiger
Rev. John Girard
Rev. Rebecca J. Girrell
Taylor Gould
Rev. Nancy Jean Goyings
Rev. John Edwin Griffin
Rev. Gregory D. Gross
Rev. Dr. Emily B.Hall
Rev. Trey Hall
Rev. Dr. Edward J. Hansen
Rev. Marcia Hauer
Rev. Michael A. House
Rev. Brittany Isaac
Rev. Monica Isaac
Rev. Marguerite Jhonson
Tyler R. Joyner
Rev. Elizabeth Jones
Rev. Lindsey Kerr
Rev. Dr. Jeanne G. Knepper
Ms. Ellen Knight
Rev. Katie M. Ladd
Pastor Bruce Lamb
Rev. Cathlynn Law
Rev. Ardis Letey
Rev. J. Daniel Lewis
Rev. Dr. Pamela R. Lightsey
Pastor Christine Lindeberg
Pastor Rolland Loomis
Rev. Kelly Love
Rev. Dr. Joretta  Marshall
Pastor Lea Matthews
Rev. Courtney McHill
Rev. Ralph A. Merante
Rev. David W. Meredith
Rev. Cynthia Meyer
Rev. Jerry Miller
Rev. Sharon L. Moe
Rev. Richard W. Moman
Rev. Deborah Morgan
Rachel Neer
Rev. Joshua M. Noblitt
Rev. Catherine Noellert
Rev. Gregory Norton
Rev. Dr. Karen P. Oliveto
Rev. Dr. Rebecca A. Parker
Rev. Lois McCullen Parr
Rev. Matthew A. Pearson
Rev. Drew Phoenix
Emily Pickens-Jones
Rev. Jay K. Pierce
Kendall Protzmann
Pastor Kathleen Reynolds
Pastor Jonathan E. Rodríguez-Cintrón
Rev. Daniel  Sailer
Rev. Siobhan A. Sargent
Kenneth M. Schoon
Rev. Tyler  Schwaller
Kimberly Scott
Pastor Ryan J. Scott
Rev. Patricia Simpson
Rev. Kim A. Smith
Rev. Althea Spencer Miller
Rev. Terri J. Stewart
Rev. Katie Stickney
Rev. Kristin G. Stoneking
Rev. Mark F. Sturgess
Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy
Rev. Frank E. Trotter, Jr.
Rev. Martha E. Vink
Rev. Kathleen Weber
Rev. Dr. David Weekley
Marvin K. White
Rev. Dr. Mark E. Williams
Rev. Brenda S. Wills
Pastor Jarell Wilson
Rev. Angela G. Wolle
Rev. John Robert Wooden
Rev. Vicki L. Woods
Rev. Wendy Woodworth
Rev. Frank D. Wulf
Rev. Laura  Young
Rev. Nancy Kay Yount

– See more at: http://www.believeoutloud.com/latest/love-letter-our-church-your-lgbtqi-religious-leaders#sthash.HkGqlLc6.dpuf

On Why I Do This – Laura Ralston

On Why I Do This
by Laura Ralston

1910092_518138893353_7231_nThat’s me in the corner. Hoping that there won’t be pictures taken and that if there are, they won’t be public. It was the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors worship service at the United Methodist Student forum in 2004. This is the day I wore a rainbow stole for the first time. When I returned home, I promptly hid the stole in my closet, a fitting metaphor for the way in which I remained closeted for almost the next 10 years.

As I prepare to head to Portland on Monday for General Conference, I’ve been reflecting on my baptism. Of the promises made by my community of faith. The congregation is asked, “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?”

And the congregation responds: “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”

Before coming out, I am certain that the congregations that I have worked in and with would affirm that they stayed true to their commitment to uphold the vows they made in my baptism, but after I began to come out, there were doubts and questions in my life about where my support system was. The cross and flame that had long been a source of hope and a place I called home began to feel very distant, a sort of mirage where I didn’t quite know where I had been and I certainly didn’t know where I was going.

In the midst of my coming out process, I was blessed to have people in my life who walked beside me especially when I wasn’t sure I could take the next step. Those people surrounded me with love and forgiveness and reminded me of the vows made by the United Methodist Congregation over 30 years ago. Many of those people who walked alongside me didn’t have a relationship with the church or had left long ago. Some were connected with other denominations, and just a few shared the same United Methodist heritage that I claim. During this process I spent time in spiritual direction, determining how I might keep hold of my faith in the midst of my uncertainty about the church’s love for me. During that process, I determined that continuing to life my life as a lie was a barrier between God and I, and I needed God more in that process than ever before.

As I worked to embody that conclusion, I was approached to be a member of Love Prevails. Julie Todd had been a professor of mine and was one of those few United Methodist people who walked alongside me in the midst of my coming out process, reminding me of that United Methodist heritage and the fact that there is grace abundant in this world even when we may not believe it. I’ve never been the most outspoken person in groups, and I had never engaged in direct action, but I knew that joining Love Prevails in 2013 was what I needed to do as a next step in reclaiming my call in a denomination that categorically discriminates against me.

My commitment to engaging in nonviolent direct action at General Conference terrifies me, but I know that it is the right thing to do. I must engage in action because I have made the same promise that was made for me in 1982 at my baptism for countless children throughout my life. I do this for them. I do this for me.

On Why I Do This – Sue Laurie

Why I Do This20160504_184500_resized
by Sue Laurie

So, I am celebrating my ordination at the Portland General Conference.

For some liturgical flair, I am bringing some stoles that have been given to me as gifts. But, to robe or not to robe? Then I had a great idea… my Affirmation shirt would be a good robe!  Affirmation is the foundation of the vision and ministry for inclusion of LGBTQI people in the life of the UMC … well, such as it is!

The first time I attended a United Methodist “Listening Post on Homosexuality” was in 1984. Yes, I know, listening posts are nothing new.
I had never heard of General Conference, but something was in the works that caused there to be a District level meeting at my home church in Edinboro, PA. It was February, I was a high school math teacher and basketball coach, closeted. However, Julie and I had met at that church and our pastor was affirming of us. We sat with him in the pew.

The church was packed, a couple hundred people. And the speakers were confidently speaking about the abomination of homosexuality. Every argument was made – even ones that anti-gay people no longer mention. It was horrible. Our pastor, Ron, would jot a note to us to critique their venom as the morning wore on and on.

Then one lone soul stood up to talk. One young man who told us he was gay himself and shared about his life and faith. He was there as local member of something called “Affirmation”.  While I can no longer see his face, I can still feel his presence and the goodness that cut through the abuse of that day. I marveled at the Spirit in our midst. I knew he was being authentic and he exhibited the trust in God with his whole being.

Little did I know that in the next few months the band of Affirmation folks would be present at the 1984 General Conference. There they would resist the ban being implemented against the ordination of gay and lesbian candidates. The prohibition against the ordination of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” being ordained was made into law. Affirmation was ready with a positive response –  they were present the next day passing out flyers and giving birth to the “Reconciling Congregation Program.” I would not hear of this until I came to seminary at Garrett in 1990.

Affirmation led the way with authentic voice for queer people in those grim years … changing its byline as new awareness and sensitivity gave insight.
I am grateful for that one person who spoke to a hostile crowd so that I could hear. I am grateful for the group they formed, the vision and the Holy Spirit they shared that gave birth to RCP, now RMN. Last summer at the RMN convocation in San Antonio we heard some of this amazing history.

Grace. Gospel. Calling. Community. I believe…

God is calling a lot of LGBTQ people.

I am frequently asked why I am still United Methodist. I give many answers. But surely, I could not have had the ministry I have enjoyed if I had not the shoulders to stand on … thank you to all the saints.

Sponsor Love Prevails at General Conference

Your support has made the small MIGHTY!!! Love Prevails appreciates the AMAZING moral and financial support we have received over these few years. As we make the final push towards General Conference, we have a variety of levels at which you can give to make help make our witness as strong as possible. Here are some ways & amounts to donate:

One Night at a Hotel – $149

Team Travel – $99

Nonviolence Training –  $49

Feed the Love Prevails Team – $15

Support Sue Laurie’s Ordination – Any amount you wish to honor Sue’s ministry!!

Donate here today: https://loveprevailsumc.com/donate