What came into existence was Life, and the Life was Light to live by. The Life-Light blazed out of the darkness; the darkness couldn’t put it out… We saw the glory with our own eyes… Generous inside and out, true from start to finish. John 1, The Message
This morning United Methodists around the world received a word of hope that the strife that has racked our Church might find a peaceful end.
A group of sixteen United Methodist leaders from around the world, who hold a wide range of theological and social convictions, have negotiated protocols for a graceful separation within The United Methodist Church. If adopted by the General Conference in May, the proposal would:
Maintain The United Methodist Church intact.
Allow local churches and annual conferences that choose not to remain affiliated with The United Methodist Church to leave, while maintaining their property, assets, and liabilities.
Commit $39 million to racial and ethnic inclusion and anti-racism work.
Convene the first session of the post-separation United Methodist Church, perhaps before leaving Minneapolis in May, to create four regional conferences.
Allow for the first session of the newly established North American Regional Conference to act on proposals to remove prohibitive language regarding LGBTQ clergy and weddings. In the meantime, signers to the Protocol have agreed to abeyance on complaints against clergy for related offenses.
While this is not the resolution I hope for, I believe it may be the best next step for the people called United Methodists who have been unable to find a way forward that maintains the unity of the Church. It does not move the Church toward Christ’s vision that we “may all be one…so that the world may believe” (John 17:21), but it is a faithful effort “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3), even as we find it necessary to walk separate paths for a season.
I trust this proposal is designed to unbind us from our “irreconcilable differences” and free us to focus on the future. It does not guarantee a particular outcome, but it appears to offer United Methodists in the United States the opportunity to choose a future that is fully inclusive of LGBTQ persons.
Please read the attached proposal, asking prayerfully whether it offers Life and Light as we seek to create a new movement of Wesleyan faithfulness in the Northwest and around the world.
May the Life of Christ live in us, and the Light of Christ lead us into the future,
Please enjoy this Christmas message for United Methodists across the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area from Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky. She invites us to step outside to see what God is up to beneath the surface.
When I was a little girl and it was just about Christmastime, we’d go out as a family in the station wagon and we’d get a Christmas tree at a lot. We’d bring it home and we’d get out the boxes of decorations to hang on the tree, and when we came to the tinsel, the shiny tinsel; in my family we called it rain.
Now, my friends when I grew up made fun of me for that. They thought hanging rain on a tree was a pretty dismal thing to do. But as a child, it was the rain that reflected the light and that reflected symbolically the love of God in our lives, and so that taught me that at Christmas time it isn’t so much about what’s really going on on the surface of things. It’s really about what’s going on in here that matters.
That amazing couple, Joseph and Mary, traveled to a distant town. It’d be like my family going to the mountains of western Virginia where my family first migrated to this nation. They were in a place they didn’t know. They were not among family. They were about to have a baby out of wedlock. They were homeless. They were displaced. They were alone.
And it was there that they experienced this amazing miracle as this tiny baby was born to them. God’s miracle that life can come with joy, and anticipation, and incredible blessing even in the worst of circumstances. And so, we all these years later, we celebrate what happened that night and we do it by lighting lights and listening to music, making music, singing music. We do it by eating great food and inviting people over to our homes and saying, “Oh, let’s get together and celebrate this amazing thing that happened to Joseph and Mary when the tiny baby Jesus was born.”
You know you can get lost in all of that. You can make it about the food and the song and the lights.
I invite you this Christmas to step outside. Step outside of your home. Step outside of your preparation. Step outside of your expectations, your anxiety. Step outside of your sorrow to see what God’s up to this year this Christmas. What’s being born?
Step outside to see the goodness, the kindness, how merciful God is, and take a deep breath.
The heavens will dance. Peace will settle gently. Hope will shine again and anew for us. God is faithful. God is steadfast.
May it be to us according to God’s promises for this day, for our lives, for our church, for our nation, for the whole beautiful world. A blessing to you. Amen.
Video by Rev. David Valera, Exec. Dir. of Connectional Ministries (PNW)
Long ago and far away, my walk with Jesus took me to Russia, just as the Soviet Union broke up in the early 1990s. Russia was crossing over in 1992 from the secularism, suppression and social control of the Soviet Union. Churches, whose property had been seized and had operated largely underground for 75 years – Orthodox, Catholic, Baptist, Lutheran, Methodist – were all emerging, from the long winter of repression and confinement.
Imagine crossing through security at a prison furniture factory in St. Petersburg, Russia. Your guide is a Russian Orthodox priest, in long black robes, newly recognized as chaplain to the prison. He has convinced prison administrators to allow Christian prisoners to produce small icons of the faith instead of furniture to sell to fund the prison. In a small upper room, it is like a tiny workshop of believers. Those believer prisoners lead you to a far corner of the prison to show you the chapel with a shiny copper onion dome they are building in their free time.
Sit with the Admiral of the Russian Fleet, in the ornate Russian Admiralty, as a U.S. Navy Chaplain tells how he gives spiritual care to sailors and they discuss what military chaplaincy might look like in a post-Soviet Russia.
Now walk to a sagging two-story brick building, held upright only with the help of salvaged railroad rails driven crudely through exterior walls to provide cross bracing. Older women love and tend shunned teenaged girls, who are learning to love and tend their babies. They sew dolls that they sell to support their children in an honorable way.
Visit the women’s ward of a stone-cold, drafty 150-year old prison hospital, where a post-operative woman climbs a rattly ladder unaided to her upper bunk every time she has her bandages changed or uses the bathroom.
Notice as one of your traveling companions, a substance abuse counselor, sneaks away from our church hosts to meet surreptitiously with underground advocates for treatment of alcohol and drug dependency in a country that brands alcoholics criminal.
It took the collapse of the Soviet Union for churches in Russia to have the freedom to step outside the tight restrictions on freedom of religion to re-engage in the fabric of community life and to bring the life-giving good news of Jesus Christ to people and a nation who had sat so long in darkness. In 1992 the Christian faith felt fresh and robust, shiny and new. Everything seemed possible. It was a CrossOver season, with plenty of uncertainty, but an irresistible tug toward living faith with every breath, every word, every human encounter.
From Russia with Love
Could we learn from the Churches in Russia? What if The United Methodist Church woke up to discover that our buildings were gone, our websites and Facebook pages shut down, and bank accounts were closed? What would be left of the Church? What difference would it make to the woman in her bunk? A hopeless sailor in the Navy? An alcoholic trapped in his addiction? What would the church be, without all of its institutional forms, habits, schedules?
What if we viewed this season of breakdown or break-up in The United Methodist Church as offering a rare opportunity to think anew and afresh about what the church is for, and how it can best share the blessings of God with the world?
Crossing Over as a Way of Life
Thank you, for reading, praying, discussing, pondering, imagining new ways to be lovers of God, neighbor, and self.
A year ago I invited you to join me on a year-long CrossOver journey to become “Alive in the adventure of Jesus.” In small groups or alone, for the whole year, or just for a season, many of you read wondered with Brian McLaren in his book, We Make the Road by Walking. A remarkable number of you wrote brilliant, touching, wise blog posts for each chapter of the book. We asked ourselves, how do we understand the Bible? What was Jesus up to? What does it mean for the Church to be Christ’s living presence on earth? How must I live to serve?
Here we are a year later – at the end of our book – realizing that we have not reached the other side. Yet, we are not stalled. We are making the road by walking and we are stronger and bolder as we continue the adventure of Jesus. What I know more clearly now than I did a year ago is that most United Methodists in the Greater Northwest are firmly committed to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life of the Church, but that a significant minority understands the Bible to prohibit full inclusion.
So, what’s next? Though we may not all think alike, may we not love alike?
I don’t know today if The United Methodist Church will stay together as a world-wide connection, if it will split into two or three separate incompatible entities, or if some “amicable separation” will be negotiated between parties that do not choose to live together anymore. What I think I do know is that God is using this time of uncertainty to invite us to deeper connections with each other. And that deepening our connections with each other will make it easier to walk the way that will unfold before us without hurting each other.
I am working with a team of leaders from across the Greater Northwest to offer a season of deeper, broader, authentic relationships across the divisions among us from January through May of 2020. John Wesley saw the church as a great life-giving connection. For Wesley, connection was personal, relational. I’m calling for growing a new, personal, gracious Grassroots Connections among church participants, between our churches, and between people inside and outside our churches. This is where Jesus shows up — when we are in relationship. Watch for more.
PREFACE: Bishop Elaine invited people to join her in reading and praying their way through We Make the Road by Walking, A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation – beginning last December with Chapter 14. If you haven’t begun, this is a great time to start at Chapter 1. If you have been journeying with McLaren since January, this is a fresh reminder of the purpose of the book study – to revive our connection and love for the beauty and life God called into being at Creation and to join Jesus in his quest for aliveness.
Life is not boring! When I become bored, or so busy I don’t notice the abundance of life that hums everywhere, I know it’s time to stop, look, and listen.
Last month Clint and I were camped at the Coal Banks Landing and Campground on the Missouri River in north-central Montana. We went out of our way to get there by driving many miles on a dirt road to cross the Missouri River on the FREE! two-car cable ferry at Virgelle. On a mid-summer weeknight following region-wide thunderstorms, the campground was mostly empty.
The sunset that evening with a full moon rising, crickets chirping and a silent, relentless river flowing … flowing … flowing. About 3 AM, I imposed on Clint to accompany me to the outhouse. After fumbling with zippers, shoes, and flashlights, we finally emerged from our tent and started the long walk to our destination.
We were not on a mission of wonder. Our purpose was mundane. But we were swept into the wonder of the universe. The moon had set. The vast spray of the Milky Way pierced the remote darkness above, and the stars were shooting across and falling out of the sky at a giddy rate. It was the height of the Perseid Meteor Shower, and the heavens were telling the glory of God!
On the following day, we made new bird friends and learned their names: Eastern and Western Kingbirds. And when we passed a lifeless Badger on the road, we turned around, stopped the car and paused with it. To honor. To marvel. Probing snout. Tough but nimble paws. Able claws. Insistent stripe. Noble cloak.
Along the way, we met a few of the sparse people in that wide land. Adventurers floating the river. An anthropologist preserving the prairie. A woman and her son tending cattle. An Amish woman tending store. Cheyenne mourners preserving a sacred way of life. Hispanic cowboys. People honoring their dead; embracing their living.
And at the end of the journey, we helped lay a dear friend to rest in the Cheyenne country of eastern Montana before the long, straight drive west and home.
Since we began the quest for Aliveness reading this book, The United Methodist Church has entered into a season of turmoil and uncertainty, as harsh prohibitions and punishments for LGBT+ inclusion were adopted at the February 2019 General Conference, with plans being made by some to implement them, and by others to resist them. The church cannot hold together as it stands right now. How deep the divide will be and how many local churches will survive intact is all unknown. We are still waiting, praying, and planning. For my part, I don’t see why churches, where people have learned to live with their differences, should have to tear in two. It’s part of the wonder and richness of the community of faith, and all human communities, that we can be very different, and yet find joy in our life and service together.
You, lovers and followers of Jesus, and you, local churches, YOU are tend-ers of aliveness, week in and week out. Nurturing life through love. Noticing the goodness of God’s creation and celebrating it. Protecting life when it is threatened by hunger, neglect, disease, loneliness, gun violence, deportation, or hatred. You are ministers of aliveness at the birth of a baby, or in the shadow of death at any age.
You are alive to nurture life. You are blessed to be a blessing.
Thank you. Don’t stop. God is opening a way for us to CrossOver.
God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins
The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs — Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Elaine JW Stanovsky serves as the resident bishop of the Greater Northwest Area including the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences of The United Methodist Church.
I join Hispanic/Latinx United Methodists in calling for ACTION following three more mass shootings in America. God calls us to protect the innocent, and yet we permit people who are driven by racial hatred, mental illness and demons that are sometimes impossible to discern, to own and use weapons of mass murder to kill unsuspecting, undeserving innocent people. The two-month old baby who survived in El Paso because her parents sacrificed their lives to protect her has become a prayer icon as I grieve and look for a better way.
Taken together, conditions in the United
States of American today are explosive:
an embedded culture of white privilege (read White Fragility, by Robin Diangelo),
a sense of white disenfranchisement (read Alienated America, by Timothy P. Carney),
Prayers after the fact won’t reduce the risk of another attack.
The stones cry out and so do the people. “DO SOMETHING!” Pray! Yes. Light a candle! Yes. Weep! Yes. If we are not weeping, we have lost our love for our neighbors. Gather with your neighbors to bear witness to the goodness and kindness of human communities that embrace cultural difference and respond to people in need! yes.
But also SHOUT OUT! to protect the innocent and vulnerable. Write your congress persons, advocating humane immigration and refugee policies. Speak to gun merchants in your neighborhood, asking about what weapons they sell, and what their safety practices are. Let them know your concerns. When you vote, consider the poor, tired huddled who travel to our borders seeking safety, liberty, opportunity. Use social media to let your voice be heard and shared and spread.
Fellow followers of Jesus: BE the Church! ACT YOUR FAITH! Bring the good news that God loves you to everyone in your community. Find ways to connect with disaffected, isolated white men on the margins. Build bridges between newly arrived immigrants and members of your community who have lived here their whole lives. Learn about opioid addiction and how to help people out of its grip.
Christians and other thoughtful, compassionate people need find a way to advocate for policies that protect the public safety in the face of violence that is out of control. We can’t let ourselves become complacent as gun violence becomes normal. The debate about gun rights and gun control generates more heat than light. As people of open minds, it’s time to test our knowledge and our values about guns, gun rights and gun control against the teachings of Jesus. Gun rights and mass shootings are not ALL-or-NOTHING matters. The right to bear arms was only guaranteed by the Supreme Court in 2008. Before that it was never absolute, it was always limited and subject to interpretation.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by anxiety on so many fronts at the same time. That’s why we pray to get in touch with the power of the Creator of the Universe, who is working in and through, and in spite of us to care for all the children of the world. I know we can’t all do everything that needs to be done. But we can each do something.
Rich men using and trafficking vulnerable girls and women as instruments of sexual gratification.
Suicide and drug overdose rates soaring, especially among rural white men.
Children continue to be separated from their parents and held at the border, sometimes without adequate food, water, medical care or a place to sleep.
Growing numbers of people sleeping under bridges, in green belts and their cars due to gentrification and a crisis in affordable housing in many urban centers.
Nationalism and racism have found a public voice in America again and anew. “Go back where you came from” is a taunt that comes of un-addressed white privilege and supremacy.
These are not merely partisan political issues. These are signs of spiritual and identity disease in the human family. Jesus never heard of Republicans or Democrats. But he was a careful observer of people and human communities, and an unfailing teacher of what healthy community life looks like.
This week, let’s remember Jesus teaching and example. The Bible offers more than 60 passages about widows, orphans, aliens, the poor and the outcast (you can google that). They remind the reader that God’s love extends especially to people who live under duress, who are overlooked, taken advantage of, kept on the outskirts of civil society.
Jesus calls people like you and me to live in ways that invite people into “beloved community.” People of faith should encourage just public policy that heals the dis-eases that cast shadows on people on the margins.
Pray this Sunday, and during the week ahead, that out of the neglect, abuse, blame and hate that seems to run rampant in our world right now, God will work through us, and in spite of us, to cultivate “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and yes, self-control”(Galatians 5: 22).
Educate yourself and resource others by visiting the websites of our United Methodist general agencies who help us put Jesus principles into practice:
Ask yourself how you are helping God give life to the people around you. Make a plan to intentionally cultivate God’s kin-dom. Keep a list of the actions you take. to build God’s kin-dom.
Read the newspaper, social media or watch TV prayerfully.
Speak kind words to people you encounter day by day.
Write your elected official.
Write a letter to your local newspaper.
Post a good word on social media.
Join (or organize) a public witness.
Initiate or sponsor a public forum to promote deeper understanding and engagement in solutions.
The best remedy I know of to all of this bad news is hope grounded in prayer, discernment and deliberate action with others. When we respond to injustice, especially as we do so in community, we can break free from the shackles of despair and find new life where once there was only fear and death. This, my friends, is the good news!
People fleeing violence in their homelands, meet violence at the border of the United States: rejection, separation, incarceration, neglect and death. It’s easy to feel the revulsion when it’s innocent children. Our faith reminds us that every migrant arriving at the southern border is a beloved child in God’s eyes, equally worthy of the care, dignity, and respect that we would afford to our children or grandchildren.
I am asking each local church and faith community in the Greater Northwest Area to prayerfully join me and the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) in observing a ‘Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children’ on Sunday, June 30.
Below you’ll find UMCOR’s encouragement toward prayer, action, and generosity on behalf of all of God’s Children. Let’s take action to respond with open hearts and minds this week to embody God’s love and make a difference.
Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind. And your neighbor as yourself. Do this and you will live.
Elaine JW Stanovsky Resident Bishop
UMCOR: A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children | Sunday, June 30
In light of the recent news about children in U.S. government holding facilities along the U.S.-Mexico border, the United Methodist Committee on Relief has received numerous requests to respond. We have heard the plea for action from the church. Unfortunately, the facilities in question are managed in such a way that precludes even UMCOR’s assistance. Access to these government facilities is extremely limited.
As the arm of The United Methodist Church mandated to cultivate and promote mission, the General Board of Global Ministries seeks to equip your church with tools to use as you confront the frustration and helplessness that this situation evokes. While this particular case is in the U.S., we recognize that migration is a global issue and the breadth and depth of our Global Migration programming at UMCOR and Global Ministries reflects that fact.
As a church that is united on the need to care for children, we can be in mission together.
This Sunday, June 30, Global Ministries encourages you to take part in A Sunday of Solidarity for Suffering Children in three ways:
PRAY – We encourage you to pray for children. Below, you will find a prayer to use this Sunday. You might choose to dedicate a service to suffering children everywhere or conduct a prayer vigil in your community for the children suffering along the border.
ACT – We encourage you to act on behalf of children. While we cannot take UMCOR hygiene kits to the U.S. government holding centers, we are distributing UMCOR hygiene kits at transitional shelters all along the US-Mexico border. In the last three months, UMCOR delivered 46,128 hygiene kits to six church-run transitional shelters. Instructions on how to make and send these kits are available here.
You can also act by calling your U.S. elected officials. This link to the General Board of Church and Society, our sister United Methodist agency responsible for advocacy, will give you some suggestions on issues to raise with these officials.
GIVE – Finally, we encourage you to give on behalf of children. Through the Global Migration Advance, UMCOR provides grants to organizations along the U.S. border and elsewhere around the world that are working to fill gaps in the needs and rights of migrants.
Jesus implored his disciples to welcome the children. This is our mission: to make sure the children are welcomed. Thank you for your prayers, your actions and your gifts.
God of All Children Everywhere, Our hearts are bruised when we see children suffering alone Our hearts are torn when we are unable to help. Our hearts are broken when we have some complicity in the matter. For all the times we were too busy and shooed a curious child away, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we failed to get down on their level and look eye to eye with a child, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we did not share when we saw a hungry child somewhere in the world, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we thought about calling elected officials to demand change, but did not, forgive us, oh God. For all the times we thought that caring for the children of this world was someone else’s responsibility, forgive us, oh God. With Your grace, heal our hearts. With Your grace, unite us in action. With Your grace, repair our government. With Your grace, help us to find a way to welcome all children everywhere, That they may know that Jesus loves them, Not just because “the Bible tells them so,” But because they have known Your love in real and tangible ways, And they know that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate them from Your love. Amen.
I just returned from two gatherings that I believe will shape the future of Methodism for years to come. Taken together, they could mark a turn toward LGBTQ+ persons being fully recognized, included and honored in Methodism in the future, whatever form it takes. More than 900 people participated in one or both of the two events, including leaders from the Greater Northwest.
As you know, the actions of General Conference 2019 stirred up deep distress within The United Methodist Church. Many are asking: how do we live in a church that has adopted values and rules that we believe are not Christian? Do we stay and try to change the Church? Or is Jesus, who makes all things new, leading us to create a new expression of Methodism that is more faithful to the gospel? It feels like we are in a great season of sorting out how much diversity can remain united, and what are the limits beyond which some may have to leave.
The first gathering, Our Way FORWARD brought together justice-seeking communities to hear one another, recognize their shared oppression, and speak their call and commitment to a new Methodist movement that will act for justice inside the Church and in the world. As intended, people of color and LGBTQ+ United Methodists organized and led the event, with a deep commitment to creating a Church in “radical solidarity” with oppressed people.
Around 350 persons attended this event, with 19 of our fellow United Methodists present from the Greater Northwest Area. I was the only bishop present. Here’s what I experienced.
This gathering was church. It was church in the way it intentionally included many voices in the planning and leadership, and in the way it made space for people to be present in the fullness of their beings. It was church in the way the host congregation prepared, welcomed, fed, honored and protected participants. It was church in the depth, passion and beauty of worship. It was church in the prophetic proclamation of the liberating love of Jesus Christ, in the midst of misrepresentation, rejection and agony. It was church through shared sorrow and grief, the bold claim of baptism, the celebration of the goodness and fragility of God’s creation and gathering at the table of grace.
Many wore T-shirts bearing the baptismal promise of all United Methodists everywhere to: resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.
In contrast to the fervent voices of some presenters, around tables I heard people saying:
I want to be in the Church my parents attend in their conservative town. I don’t agree with them, but I want to be in the same Church.
Even if I left the UMC, I would not be free of it. It is the community of my people. It made me who I am.
I want gay babies born today to have a church that embraces and nurtures them. If I leave, they are still at risk.
Black Methodists stayed in the Church through segregation, even when they were treated as second-class citizens. There can be strength in resistance.
As I left the gathering, I was deeply grateful for the honesty, urgency, and generosity of the community. And I felt confident that the leaders at this gathering and across our Church are ready and able to lead the Church into the future.
The second gathering, UMC NEXT gathered “centrists,” who were outraged at the actions of General Conference, together with progressives longing for real change. This broad coalition of United Methodists denounced the Traditional Plan and vowed to work toward a Church that stands and strives for justice and full inclusion.
But there was concern held by some leading up to this gathering.
I had my own questions about how participants were selected, and whether it would be a truly participatory process.
Nearly 30 people came from the Greater Northwest. Some are respected leaders. Others are newer and not as widely known. Some attended both events to ensure that UMC NEXT would benefit from the conversations and perspectives from FORWARD.
Together, participants helped craft a vision for a new, hopeful, inclusive, just Methodist movement based on four core commitments:
To be passionate followers of Jesus Christ, committed to a Wesleyan vision of Christianity that is anchored in scripture and informed by tradition, reason and experience as we live a life of personal piety and social holiness.
To resist evil, injustice and oppression in all forms and toward all people, and to build a church which affirms the full participation of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations and abilities.
To reject the Traditional Plan approved at General Conference 2019 as inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus Christ and resist its implementation.
To work to eliminate discriminatory language and the restrictions and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ individuals. We affirm the sacred worth of LGBTQ persons, celebrate their gifts, and commit to being in ministry together.
These commitments are consistent with statements and actions taken by our Greater Northwest annual conferences for many years. I embrace these commitments and find them helpful as I lead United Methodists in the Northwest. I believe that inclusive community is the Jesus way and that it is the future of our Church.
At the same time, I intend to continue to honor all lay and clergy members and churches in the area I serve, whether they support or reject the actions of the recent General Conference. Over 23 years in Conference leadership, I have never discriminated against clergy or laity, based upon their theology. To the best of their ability, my cabinets have placed clergy in settings where their gifts and graces, as well as their theological perspectives, serve the needs of the community and congregation. I pledge to continue to lead in this way. I will also continue to try to keep you informed of possibilities and plans as they develop.
How will these gatherings affect you? Us? Participants from the Greater Northwest met yesterday before leaving Kansas City, to begin to plan together. There are no concrete plans at this time but these gatherings, and the coalitions that are being built, will help us in shaping what comes next. Before and during annual conferences we are considering conducting surveys or polls to get a “sense” of how United Methodists in Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest view the future of Methodism. Policies to guide processes of disaffiliation are being developed for churches that feel they must leave the denomination. In the next few weeks, the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conference sessions will give us a chance to learn more, and to think and pray together about our future in the Northwest.
In this CrossOver year, we are finding our way, and making the road, by walking. Almighty God continues to find the goodness in each created being. Companion, Christ, walks with us, as guide and savior. The Holy Spirit continues to breathe life into each one of us moment by moment, with grace in every breath.
I’m grateful for each of you who has participated in Table Talks, held information sessions in your church, sought out and read information about all the many conversations that are unfolding across the church. I hope you are talking with people in your families, your home church, in nearby churches, and outside the church, about the critical challenge we face. I hope you are talking to people whose life experience is different from yours. Where two or three are gathered, God is present.
“I pray that… Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” – Matthew 18:20 NRSV
I ask for your prayers for those of us from the Greater NW Area who will attend two significant conversations on the future of The United Methodist Church in the aftermath of the 2019 Special Session of General Conference.
The first event, UM Forward, will take place in Minneapolis, Minnesota May 17-18. Organizers have designed the gathering to center voices too often marginalized including people of color, and persons from the LGBTQI+ community. As they prepare for this event, some persons from the GNW Area expressed these thoughts:
The spirit before us, our creator behind us, and Jesus alongside us we continue a march toward liberation. The justice of God will continue to set us free to be church we are meant to be! – Esteban Galan, lay, Boise ID
Our way forward must empower those who are most impacted by the harm the church and world have caused. Only then, can we be the church. – Joseph Lopez, lay, Seattle WA
Wherever the church ends up I am sure of one thing, if it does not fully embrace LGBTQIA+ people it will not stand. – Ryan Scott, clergy, Toledo OR
I’m hoping to make connections and learn from other people who are passionate about the future of our denomination and our movement towards full inclusion. – Emily Wright, lay, Seattle WA
A second event, UMC Next, is being held at the Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City on May 20-22. This gathering will bring together over 600 United Methodists with groups of 10 from each Annual Conference in the United States. Of this event, some who will attend from our area have offered these hopes:
We must move beyond old prejudices and entrenched patterns and be as committed to the life and well-being of others as we are to ourselves and our own preferences. – Mary Huycke, clergy, Yakima WA
My hope is we name the reality—including what is at stake, what we lose in remaining/exiting—then tell the story that enlivens our movement. – Jeremy Smith, clergy from Oregon-Idaho Conference, Seattle WA
My hope for the UMC Next gathering is that progressives, centrists and conservative compatibilists would be able to find enough common ground on which to raise a new expression of Methodism, built on the foundation of faith, mission, grace, inclusion, equality, justice, and mercy. – Carlo Rapanut, clergy, Anchorage, AK
Business as usual is over; now we are given the opportunity to step into our call toward radical love. I hope we can be brave. – Nica Sy, lay, Seattle, WA
In this trying time, we need to follow Christ’s example and prove that Christians can show love to the world as well as to each other. – Teri Watanabe, lay, Monroe OR
As United Methodists striving to live faithfully and serve missionally in the Greater Northwest, we are a diverse group of lay and clergy who expect to listen and speak from our context. And we expect the Holy Spirit to be among us as promised. Please keep us, and all who gather, in prayer during this time.
We’ll do our best to bring you into the conversation after we return.
Elaine JW Stanovsky | Resident Bishop, Greater Northwest Area
Click here for a list of persons attending from the GNW Area. Let us know if we have missed anyone!
This week the Council of Bishops met and issued a public statement that aspired to be pastoral and prophetic. Thank you for your prayers as we met. Here are some of the reasons I am hopeful after the meeting.
bishops are keenly aware that United Methodism is in crisis. The
backlash in Europe, parts of the United States and other places around the
world to the recent General Conference, makes a unified future for the UMC appear
impossible. Some people hold out hope for a change at the 2020 General
Conference. Others anticipate schism. No-one seems to believe that United
Methodists around the world will simply implement policies that exclude and
punish LGBTQ+ people.
The bishops kept the main thing the main thing. Placing the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, at its center, we devoted 11 hours over 4 days focused on the deep fractures in our Church. We felt deeply the despair of LGBTQ+ persons, their families, and of a new generation of leaders in the United States. We also awoke to the increased risk to poor and vulnerable people caused by funds being withheld or re-directed from apportionments, The Advance, UMCOR, Africa University and other United Methodist causes.
bishops recognize that this crisis offers a rare opportunity. United
Methodism is overdue for a spiritual and practical revival to address systemic
racism, sexism, colonialism, heteronormativity, irrelevance to young people,
and a governance system that is not designed or capable of addressing our
global complexity. How can the Church use this crisis to help God give rise to
a new movement of Methodism? Don’t waste a good crisis!
The bishops see that division keeps
us distracted from mission. We’ve
had split decisions on sexuality for 45 years as a denomination. In February we
took our best shot at adopting legislation that could hold us together and
failed. Our established legislative and judicial processes are not able to heal
the breach. United Methodist spiritual practices and resources are weak. We
find ourselves adrift in turbulent waters.
The bishops began to tell the truth:
maybe not the
whole truth, but a lot of new truth. We spoke more frankly about our ministry
contexts and the conflicting demands within our areas. We challenged each other
honestly about ways our leadership may contribute to division and distrust. Some
challenged participation by bishops in caucuses and reform groups on both sides
of the divide. Some reported conservatives being blamed for the actions of the
General Conference. I recalled that the Western Jurisdiction has been fully
inclusive since before the Church prohibited ordination of LGBTQ+ people and
blessing of their relationships.
The bishops acknowledged that worldly powers and principalities are at work, intending to divide the Church and silence its prophetic voice.
In some places, bishops report that disruption in their areas was amplified by outside groups spreading accusations of influence peddling, delegate voter fraud and defamatory rumors about individuals and regions of the Church. We asked ourselves, are we just too nice to investigate and expose these actions? Should bishops identify ourselves with these groups? Should there be a standard of disclosure and transparency for any group that wants to be considered a trustworthy partner? You may have seen the photo of bishops meeting with the Reform and Renewal Coalition comprised of Good News, the Confessing Movement, the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) and The Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA), during the Council meeting. Bishops who were not there asked the other, “Why did you go to the meeting?” Bishops who attended raised strong objections to unethical and dishonest tactics of some affiliated with the coalition.
African American bishops testified to their survival in an unjust system. In a wrenching witness, African American bishops described decades of racial segregation within the Church in the United States and the faithfulness of African Americans who stayed and supported the Church, despite being marginalized. The church has never healed those wounds, and black voices are still not heard in the Church today. Some resent the outcry in support of LGBTQ+ people, when there has never been acknowledgement and advocacy for full racial inclusion. Through their pain, these colleagues offered another oppressed group encouragement to survive in structures that deny your humanity. I heard them saying – don’t leave. You can stay, despite the pain inflicted on you, because God loves you and makes you strong. The Church needs you to be whole.
The bishops began to see that human sexuality cannot be considered as an either/or proposition to be settled by an up or down vote. If there is one new thing I am learning from the LGBTQ+ community, it is that binary options are not adequate. Either/or choices don’t take account of how fearfully and wonderfully God has made us. Making sense of LGBTQ+ requires and deserves deep conversation, biblical scholarship, ethical consideration and prayer-filled spiritual maturity. It requires the wisdom of scripture, tradition, reason and experience. People are not simply male or female, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, biblical literalists or biblical critical thinkers, rule-follower or people-lover. Binary choices cannot reveal the whole truth, because you have to ignore part of the truth to answer a complex question with a simple answer.
In the midst of the messiness of the struggle I find hopeful
signs that the Church is alive, and at work, humble, and learning. The Council
of Bishops did not propose a top-down 5-year plan. It’s not time to have a plan
yet. Most of us are so rooted within our side of the divided question, we don’t
know how complicated the questions are for someone stuck on the other side. We
have to keep listening, and searching for the whole truth that has room for
each of our particular truths.
Later this month I’ll travel to Minneapolis to participate
in the UM Forward Conference, inviting voices of Young, Queer and people of
Color to speak at the center of the conversation. From there I will travel to
Church of the Resurrection near Kansas City, where some 600 people will gather
at the invitation of Pastor Adam Hamilton, to pray and think together about the
future of the Church. I hope there will be lots of listening and truth-sharing in
both groups. I’ll check in with you after I return, as we prepare for Annual
In the meantime, by every prayer, every step, every sermon, every Bible study, every act of generosity, we are crossing over, and making the road by walking.