From the Bishop: Join me in honoring Juneteenth National Independence Day

People of God,

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8: 31-32

June 19, known as Juneteenth, celebrates the freedom of enslaved Black Americans, by recalling the day in 1865 when the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was finally proclaimed in Texas, three years after it was issued.

Yesterday the U.S. Congress established June 19th as a federal holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day. The action awaits President Biden’s signature.

On Saturday, June 19th at 10 a.m., the Coos Bay Museum in Coos Bay, Oregon, will dedicate a memorial to the only confirmed lynching of a Black man in the state of Oregon. Alonzo Tucker was lynched in Coos Bay in 1902 as a crowd of 300 people watched. Sponsors of Saturday’s memorial event hope at least 300 people will attend the online dedication of a memorial to Alonzo Tucker.

The memorial to Alonzo Tucker’s lynching is part of a movement of the National Memorial of Peace and Justice to remember and mark the sites where more than 4,400 Black people died by lynching between 1877 and 1950. Taylor Stewart began the Oregon Remembrance Project after visiting the National Memorial as part of a Civil Rights tour of southern states.

Much of our nation’s violent racial history has been forgotten or suppressed by white Americans or assumed to have occurred only in slave states. This event, on Juneteenth, 2021, is an opportunity for citizens of the Northwest to remember and realize that this region has its own violent past that is ours to reckon with and heal.

I hope you will join me online on Saturday, Juneteenth, 2021, as part of the crowd that stands for truth, justice and reconciliation.  

Thank you,

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater NW Episcopal Area

An update on my retirement plans

Greater Northwest Area clergy and lay members of Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences,

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith…

After deep reflection, conversation with my family and consultation with trusted colleagues, I am withdrawing my request for retirement, effective January 2022, to continue my assignment to the Greater Northwest Area. I hope and pray that postponing retirement will relieve anxiety and contribute to an orderly transition of leadership for all the conferences in the Western Jurisdiction during this extended pandemic interruption of normalcy. I am not naming a new retirement date at this time but hope that it might follow in-person general and jurisdictional conferences in 2022, with the election and assignments of new bishops, for a new quadrennium, beginning January 1, 2023.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

I never intended my retirement to add to the uncertainty of this wilderness passage. I originally named January 1, 2022 as my retirement date so that my retirement would coincide with that of Bishop Hoshibata and possibly, Bishop Hagiya. At the time, we anticipated regular in-person general and jurisdictional conferences in the fall of 2021, when new bishops might be elected to begin serving as the new quadrennium began with the new year.

Since that request, general and jurisdictional conferences have been put off again, further postponing the election and assignment of new bishops. In light of these delays, the timing of my requested retirement is no longer helpful.

I have a renewed sense of focused mission for this extension of my active service and look forward to continuing to work with lay and clergy leadership of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences.

Jesus is nudging and tugging the church to engage people and communities with the faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ in ways that bind up wounds, transform lives and overturn systems of exclusion and inequity. We can’t stop now.

I’m still running the race with Jesus. Won’t you pull up your socks, tie your shoelaces, strengthen your weak knees, and join me for the next leg of the race?

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

GNW Area creates Circle of Indigenous Ministries

As friendships and ministries with Native American and Indigenous peoples grow, the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church is creating the Circle of Indigenous Ministries. Developing mutual, healing, and life-affirming relationships with Native Americans and Indigenous peoples in and outside the church is part of the GNW Area’s ongoing efforts to heal historic trauma and dismantle racism.

Rev. Dr. Allen Buck, pastor of Great Spirit United Methodist Church in Portland and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is being appointed as the director of the Circle of Indigenous Ministries, beginning July 1. Rev. Buck will also continue as part-time pastor at Great Spirit.

The Circle will support Native American and Indigenous churches, fellowships, and ministry partners through resourcing, coaching, consultation, and friendship in the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences.

Rev. Dr. Allen Buck at the Wallowa land return ceremony in April

“The goal is to do what we have been doing, but do it more intentionally,” said Buck. 

Since Buck was appointed to Great Spirit UMC in Portland in 2017, he has assisted the Oregon-Idaho Conference, as well as his colleagues in the Pacific Northwest Conference and Alaska Conference, in acts of repentance, land return and healing with Native American communities across the area.

“The Christian Church has done deep and lasting harm to Indigenous peoples and cultures around the world for centuries,” Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky said.  “Rev. Buck is helping us learn our history, repent of our sins and form healing partnerships based on humility and mutual respect. ” 

“The Circle of Indigenous Ministries will amplify Indigenous voices and their wisdom while also empowering more authentic leadership of Native American and Indigenous peoples within the church,” said Oregon-Idaho Conference Director of Connectional Ministry Laurie Day, who also serves assistant to Bishop Stanovsky.

For years, the Oregon-Idaho Conference has supported Huckleberry Camp for Native American youth at Camp Magruder in the summers as well as a Nez Perce culture camp at Wallowa Lake Camp in northeastern Oregon. In 2016, the unofficial spiritual home of Native American United Methodists in Oregon-Idaho Conference, Wilshire United Methodist Church in Portland, was on the verge of closing. Former Columbia District Superintendent, Rev. Erin Martin, recruited Buck, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, to serve Wilshire UMC and help grow its ministry into what is now Great Spirit UMC.

The Greater Northwest Area has moved recently into larger acts of repentance and healing, including returning a portion of Wallowa Lake Camp to The Nez Perce Tribe in 2018. In April, the Conference returned the former Wallowa UMC property to the Nimiipuu as well.

Day said Buck has also helped leadership across the Greater Northwest Area begin acts of land recognition, repentance and building more friendships with local tribes and native organizations.

In addition to its work with the Nez Perce Tribe, Great Spirit UMC took ownership of the Chiloquin United Methodist Church building in southern Oregon, when the congregation was officially closed in 2020.  Great Spirit UMC has since turned building use over to The Stronghold, a Native-led organization which partners with the Klamath Tribe to provide culturally responsive peer support services to Native people in transition – be it homelessness due to natural disasters, domestic abuse, drug addiction or more.

Buck said there were no conditions placed upon The Stronghold’s use of the building, because as the church works to decolonize white spaces, it is important to listen to what the Native and Indigenous communities want or need.

“It’s all about relationships,” Buck said. “You can’t do Indigenous ministries without relationships.”

Buck said he is excited to mentor and walk with emerging Native and Indigenous leaders who could serve churches in Native communities. He is eager to partner with the GNW Innovation and Vitality Team to help identify and train culturally responsive leaders in the church.

Day said financial support for The Circle of Indigenous Ministries is coming from across the GNW Area and beyond. This work of recognizing and partnering with Native American, Alaska Native and other populations often marginalized by the church is ongoing.

Nez Perce tribal leaders and Oregon-Idaho Conference leaders exchange words and greetings during the Wallowa UMC land return ceremony in April.

“All of these opportunities are growing, which is why we’re creating the Circle of Indigenous Ministries and we believe Allen Buck is the right leader to continue developing these strong friendships and healing bonds,” Day said. “The need and ministry have grown so much that we cannot wait any longer.”

Grant funding and conferences support will not be enough to develop and sustain the project long-term, which is why the Greater Northwest Area has established a Circle of Indigenous Ministries fund so that individuals may contribute to this growing ministry in the life of the church.

As the incoming director of the new Circle of Indigenous Ministries, Buck said he could use everyone’s prayers as he embarks on this exciting new journey in ministry.

“Pray for us and help us make sure this becomes the priority it needs to be,” he said.

Stepping forward safely in love and trust

Clergy Siblings in Christ,

Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, 
so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. 
Help each other out. And run for it!–Hebrews 12:12, The Message

Friends, we have been running to care, serve and survive COVID-19 for more than 14 months and the end is not yet in sight. You have been our essential workers in ministry for many months as our buildings have been largely closed and activities severely restricted.

We have not crossed the finished line, though we have learned a lot, adapted incredibly, and experienced the presence of God in ways we never expected. From my heart, thank you for your endurance, your courage and fortitude, your vulnerability, your compassion, your faithfulness in the valley of the shadow of death.

Attached is new guidance for churches as they Stepping forward safely in love and trust, that builds upon, but replaces Reimagining Life Together.& It acknowledges the continuing risk of disease, advances in science, and the increasing capacity of our local church leaders to manage the risk in their contexts. New responsibility falls to local leaders to understand and guide their ministry settings wisely and safely with fewer mandated guidelines.

Some of you will welcome the shift of responsibility to local leaders. Others may dread managing intense differences of opinion within your congregation as you make difficult decisions locally. I want to call your attention to two provisions from the document that may help you lead with strength.

1. “…please remember Saint Paul’s admonition that what is “permissible” is not always “beneficial” to the common good. (I Corinthians 10:23). While some churches may act quickly to adopt new, less restrictive practices, it is always OK for a church or ministry to choose to remain more cautious for any reason.”

2. “A local church is not permitted to hold in-person worship without the approval of the pastor. For local churches, decisions about the use of church property for worship or other gatherings belong to the pastor without interference from the Board of Trustees (Book of Discipline, ¶ 2533).”

Your trusted lay leaders and clergy colleagues, district superintendents and directors of connectional ministry are your partners in ministry as you lead one more challenge in the fight against this deadly disease.

And most of all, GOD IS WITH US.

May God bless and keep you all in your circles of care — members, friends, family, neighbors, strangers — so no one will trip and fall!

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater Northwest Area
The United Methodist Church

A pastoral update on our COVID-19 response

Dear Siblings in Christ, 

We are making progress, but we are not quite there yet. It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life as we knew it. We continue to persevere, exhausted at times, yet anticipating the day when we can gather, greet each other, share communion and other precious rhythms of life and spiritual practice in person without risking harm to one another. Hopeful also that we now carry with us new learnings and practices, hard lessons of necessity that will continue to connect us in new ways in life and ministry.  

The rapid vaccine rollout gives us hope that we can enjoy more freedom to gather as families and faith communities soon. Vaccinations coupled with continuous strict adherence to safety protocols are expected to lower infection rates, hospitalizations and COVID-19 related deaths. Overall, we have seen the number of cases decline since the winter peak in many places, but progress has been stalled by premature re-openings, the easing of restrictions in some places, resistance by some to being vaccinated and observing simple safety practices: washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask. I hope that each of us is continuing to follow these practices, as well as being vaccinated, consistent with medical advice, as soon as we are eligible.  

I was surprised by the deep joy that welled up in me when those shots went in my arm, protecting not only me but also everyone I encounter from the dangers of this virus. I’m grateful to every person who is able and willing to join this movement toward health and safety.   

As Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reminded us in a briefing earlier this year,  

“We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give in to a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us – not now; not when mass vaccination is so very close.” 

Permissible not Necessarily Beneficial 

In an article for The Atlantic, Dr. James Hamblin of the Yale School of Public Health points out,  

“Our social lives can resume, but only when the whole community is ready. The turning point does not arrive for individuals, one by one, as soon as they’ve been vaccinated; it comes for all of us at once, when a population becomes immune.” 

With this understanding, we are advised that the number of coronavirus cases needs to decrease further before we resume regular activities, especially in light of the arrival of new fast-spreading variants of the virus. A premature reopening, even if allowed by the state, may run the risk of not just stalling but even reversing the recent progress we have already achieved.  

I am reminded of Saint Paul’s admonition that things that are “permissible” are not necessarily things that are “beneficial” to the common good. (I Corinthians 10:23).  

While we should celebrate the good news of vaccines providing a layer of protection already for a significant number of members in some of our congregations, the church does not belong solely to those who are vaccinated. Especially as we have just now reached a time when all adults are eligible to receive a vaccine, we must continue to be patient to allow them the privilege of receiving this gift of security before we consider letting our guard down. At the same time, we will need to find ways to protect and include children in church life while continuing to wait for vaccination eligibility to be extended to them. 

As the church, God calls us always to do things that are beneficial because we bear responsibility towards the well-being of others, especially the most vulnerable among us.  

A Posture of Hopeful Caution 

The progress we see in vaccinations, tempered by the potential threat of variants we race, leads me toward a posture of hopeful caution; we are almost there but not quite there yet. Even as our hope is renewed with the increasing percentage of those vaccinated, our decisions and actions must continue to manifest the utmost concern for one another as an act of love in response to Jesus’ command for us to love one another as he had loved us (John 13:34).  

Accordingly, I am asking churches to remain vigilant in their planning and decision-making processes. The COVID-19 Response Team, made up of lay and clergy members from across the area, is continuing to review and amend its guidance to local churches. By May 5th, we will release updated guidelines for Phase 3, shifting more responsibility to local leaders to guide their congregation’s, camp’s or other ministry setting’s COVID-19 response.  

I am grateful for each of you and your faithfulness and commitment, especially during this long time of physical separation due to this pandemic. May the hard lessons learned as we have persevered, and new skills developed as you have adapted, empower our work together and witness to God’s love which never fails us. 

“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31) 

With love and grace, 

Elaine JW Stanovsky 
Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area 

Offered in consultation with the COVID-19 Response Team, as currently composed: 

  • Rev. Alyssa Baker, pastor, Open Door Churches of Salem-Keizer, OR-ID Conference 
  • Laurie Day, OR-ID Conference Director of Connectional Ministries 
  • Rev. Jim Doepken, pastor, Moose Pass & Seward Memorial UMCs, Alaska Conference 
  • Rev. Mark Galang, Puget Sound District Superintendent, PNW Conference 
  • Rhondalei Gabuat, Executive Assistant for Bishop Stanovsky Greater Northwest Episcopal Area  
  • Rev. Karen Hernandez, Sage District Superintendent, OR-ID Conference 
  • Rev. Pat Longstroth, pastor, Bremerton UMC, PNW Conference 
  • Becky Platt, lay member, Boise (ID): Whitney UMC, OR-ID Conference 
  • Patrick Scriven, PNW Conference Director of Communications 
  • Jim Truitt, lay member, Renton (WA): Fairwood Community UMC, PNW Conference 

Standing in solidarity against anti-Asian hate

Friends in ministry in the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area,  

Where does love live, if not in our hearts and in our relationships with God and our neighbors?

My heart is heavy with this week’s news of a young white man’s racial hatred targeting Asian and Asian American women for murder in Atlanta. Is there no limit to the depths of hatred and inhumanity?

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

What insanity blames innocent fellow citizens for a virus that spreads silently, putting people of every nation and race at risk? No-one is safe. No-one is to blame. If one suffers, we all suffer together.

My heart overflows with love for the women who lost their lives, for elders attacked on sidewalks, for passers-by spit at. Love lives where people lay their lives down for their neighbors, not where people violate the dignity, safety and very lives of their neighbors out of irrational fear and hatred.

Listen with me to the reflections of my friend and colleague, Bishop Bob Hoshibata of the Desert Southwest Conference, who said this week: “We must confront the ways that harm presents itself: whether it be ‘innocent’ re-telling of jokes, to perpetuating racist rhetoric related to COVID-19, or violent actions to innocent people, we must acknowledge that these are things that fuel bias and prejudice against those of Asian heritage.”

I affirm the words from Asian and Asian American Bishops of the United Methodist Church, the New Federation of Asian American United Methodists, the Asian American Language Ministry Plan, along with other Asian American leaders and academics of the United Methodist Church, including some from the Greater NW Area: “We ask that all United Methodists read again and live out our own Charter for Racial Justice which states that all persons are of equal value in the sight of God and that racism is a rejection of the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

I encourage you to participate in this webinar, March 24 at 4 p.m. PDT, hosted by Asian-American friends and colleagues in the California-Nevada Conference.

May the LOVE of God continue to light our path in these dark days, 

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky 

Bishop Stanovsky announces new dates for online annual conferences

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky asks today that clergy and lay members of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences hold the dates of June 20-24, 2021 open for online Annual Conference sessions.

The three conferences will gather for opening and closing worship experiences, but they will meet separately to conduct the respective business of each conference. This is a change from the previously announced dates of June 9-12, 2021.

The new dates were set in response to unfolding plans at the global and jurisdictional levels, amid a global pandemic. Today, the Commission on General Conference announced that General Conference will be moved, again, to Aug. 29 – Sep. 6, 2022.

The Council of Bishops also called today for a special online General Conference session on May 8, for the sole purpose of allowing the use of paper ballots for delegates to act upon 12 amendments to the Book of Discipline that would enable the church to effectively continue its work until the postponed 2020 General Conference is held in 2022.

“The COVID-19 pandemic forced a pause in a process of separating one United Methodist Church into two or more church bodies, based on theology and human sexuality. We cannot wait forever to release the tension that currently distracts our attention and compromises our effectiveness,” Stanovsky said. “With the shifts in denominational decision-making timelines, it’s crucial that Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences meet this summer to listen to God and to each other as we carry out the important work of our mission and ministry.”

While Bishop Stanovsky has set the dates for online annual conferences, the timing of each conference’s session during the week is still being discussed. Members can expect to see sessions extend beyond the essentials-only structure held last fall, but there will still be limitations on how robust each session can be, given the constraints of online conferences.

Registration information, a more thorough schedule of sessions (including plans for clergy and laity sessions ahead of June 20), deadlines and procedures for submitting legislation and reports in each conference will be announced in early March.

###

Two important announcements for the Greater Northwest Area

Beloved in Christ, 

I write to you today with two announcements that will impact the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church this year.

On Epiphany, I requested voluntary retirement as a bishop in The United Methodist Church, effective December 31, 2021. Today, I share this news with you.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

It seems too early to announce my retirement long before it arrives, but the many steps that proceed the assignment of a new bishop demand it. This is truer this year, with denominational strife, the ongoing pandemic, and the financial consequences of each creating additional uncertainty for our United Methodist connection.

While I regret that my retirement may add to the burden of others, I am convinced that this is the right time and the right action for me personally. I will continue to work diligently with conference leaders through the year to prepare for whatever and whoever comes next. And I trust that God continues to move in the hearts of the faithful to raise up leaders for the next stage of the journey.

The other news I share is less personal but will impact us all the same.

Given the continuing presence of COVID-19 in our communities, we now expect to hold Annual Conference 2021, once again, remotely online.

While a date change is possible, please continue to hold the announced dates, June 9-12, 2021, as we explore alternative possibilities — including multiple virtual sessions. We expect to know more soon as decisions are made about plans for delayed general and jurisdictional conferences.

We’ll let members of each Annual Conference know more information as it becomes available.

Despite the many challenges and transitions life brings, in faith, we know that love lives on. Please know that I continue to hold the people and ministries of the Greater Northwest Area in my prayers as we witness this truth together, though still apart from one another.

With gratitude and hope,

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

Church as Beloved Community

Church as Beloved Community


A Pastoral Letter from Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky • January 2021

To the majority white United Methodists in the Greater Northwest Area, with an invitation to others to listen in and join the conversation.

But now, thanks to Christ Jesus, you who once were so far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ…. He broke down the barrier of hatred that divided us…. So now you are no longer strangers and aliens. Christ is building you into a place where God lives through the Spirit.

Ephesians 2, Selections

Beloved in Christ, I have carried you in my heart and prayers every waking moment through these seasons of pandemic, racial reckoning, civic unrest and violent attack on the U.S. Capitol. As we lament the image of a flag of the Confederacy waved brazenly in the Capitol, and brace for more extremist violence there and in state capitols across the country, the burden is heavy on people of conscience, who live in faith, hope and love through such demanding events.

I pray for the outgoing president, Mr. Trump, and for the incoming president, Mr. Biden, for elected and appointed government servants in every place and role. May the good in each prevail, and their sin be quenched. 

A word to People and Pastors of Color in The United Methodist Church

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way…into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Ephesians 4:15-16

We have a long journey ahead. It is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit that you know and offer your gifts to the whole body of the church. It is not your responsibility to endure disrespect in the church, or to teach me and my white siblings how our words and actions harm and exclude. And yet, out of your love of God and in undying hope of a new day, you generously continue in relationship as the Church strives to grow in faith, service and witness. May God build the church up by showing us how our parts can work properly together in love.

I pray for our nation and its people. May values of respect, freedom, equity and fairness lead the way through our present distress and danger. I pray for people whose anger has spilled out in violence, anger over things both righteous and evil.

I want to bring a hopeful message to the Church. But the hope of this season is only visible through thick clouds. May we walk by the light of faith, in service to love until hope rises again, unobstructed.

As we celebrate the life and leadership of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I bring you a message that I know will be hard. It is rooted and grounded in my love for our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, and my love of all God’s people.

NOW IS THE TIME. THIS IS THE PLACE. WE ARE THE PEOPLE to overturn white privilege and supremacy in our hearts, our minds and in our communities and to build a beloved community of racial justice and equity.
NOW IS THE TIME to dismantle oppressive systems of institutional racism, which
  • violate the dignity and sanctity of God’s creation
  • divide communities
  • deform the body of Christ
  • isolate local churches from their neighbors and
  • silence the prophetic witness of Christians to God’s justice and equity.

White racism arrived in the New World with Christopher Columbus in 1492, long before the Pilgrims or the Declaration of Independence elevated the value of freedom. It took root and has not been rooted out. It is alive and well in America. Now, cell phone videos of police violence against unarmed Black people expose persistent racism for all to see. Race is on the public agenda in a new and urgent way. Protests, demands, personal testimonies, documentaries and webinars have opened a window into how pervasive racism is in the life of our nation.

Compared to people of color, white people enjoy the “good life” disproportionately by nearly every measure: education, health care, environmental health, criminal justice and incarceration, voting rights, business ownership, employment, income, housing, and life expectancy, to name some. This is the privilege white people enjoy in America. The patterns of privilege and poverty in America are embedded in institutions, norms, practices and systems that do not depend upon individual bias, hatred or mistreatment. They have a life of their own.

THE CHURCH IS THE PLACE… to wake up and courageously face the sin of racism and to create beloved community. 

God gives people of faith a vision of diverse human beings living together in right relationship with one another. But through history, the Christian Church has often created and maintained systems of racial inequity in America and around the world. Today, the church is called to recognize and dismantle its own racism and join a movement of racial reckoning and reconciliation in every place.

When the communities where the church is located experience transition especially identified as economic and/or ethnic, the local church shall engage in deliberate analysis of the community change and alter its program to meet the needs and cultural patterns of the new residents.  The local church shall make every effort to remain in the community and develop effective ministries to those who are newcomers, whether of a cultural, economic, or ethnic group different from the original or present members.

¶ 212, Book of Discipline

By the year 2045, white people will be a minority of the U.S. population. In the states of Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington, nearly every town and city is rapidly becoming more racially and ethnically diverse, but our United Methodist Churches in the region are predominantly white, middle class, aging and declining. For the most part, our churches are not adapting to the changing population by welcoming or engaging the growing number of their neighbors who come from different national, racial or ethnic heritages.

The UMC recognizes that the sin of racism has been destructive to its unity throughout its history.  Racism continues to cause painful division and marginalization.  the UMC shall confront and seek to eliminate racism, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large.  The UMC shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten the cause of racial justice at all times and in all places. 

¶ 5, Book of Discipline

The executive staff team of the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church recognizes inclusion as an essential practice of a vital church. We are building this practice into our own leadership teams and agendas. At every meeting, we participate in intercultural competency training and applying what we learn to our team and its work. We are intentional about inviting people of color into pastoral leadership of our churches to recognize and engage with the variety of people in their neighborhoods.

Racism persists in our churches.

Racism can exist without racial hatred. In many places, our churches are passive participants in racist systems that we have inherited and may not even be aware of. If we, the white majority, simply continue to do what we have always done – as the community changes and becomes more diverse – we will, silently, and without even recognizing it, perpetuate white privilege and supremacy.

This is why in my episcopal address to Annual Conference in September, I charged every local church to examine the images in your buildings, the priorities in your budgets and the people making decisions for the church, to see whether a rich variety of cultures and voices are present. Decisions are different if different perspectives are included in decision-making. In response to this charge, district superintendents initiated conversations about racism in every local church as part of its charge or church conference.

Sadly, we have begun to notice a pattern of overt racism within several congregations. This pattern is present in all three conferences and all four states. Some expressions of it include:

  • criticizing pastors for preaching about racial justice
  • denying the authority of the pastor over worship
  • withholding respect, deference and trust that are usually extended to pastors
  • criticizing the pastor’s grammar or pronunciation, especially in the case of a pastor for whom English is a second or third language
  • expecting a pastor of color to adopt the cultural norms of the congregation without curiosity, question or discussion
  • refusing to include a variety of cultural expressions within the worship life of the congregation

Sometimes congregations have even refused to accept a pastor I have appointed, due either to overt or more often subtle reasons of race.

As I hear these stories and discuss them within my cabinet, I am sorry to report that these attitudes are present, though often not predominant, in almost all of our churches. Any pastor of color who is appointed to any mostly white congregation can expect to encounter overt or implicit racist resistance, both personally and professionally.

Responsibilities and Duties of Elders and Licensed Pastors – To lead the congregation in racial and ethnic inclusiveness. 

¶ 340.2.c)(4)


Racism has no place in the Church.

The Church is the body of Christ. We cannot allow racism to infect the body by tolerating these behaviors because they are inhospitable and dangerous for the beloved of our Savior. None of us can rest as long as our churches participate actively or passively in the sin of racism.

At Christian baptism, we pledge to resist evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves. Whether hot and hateful or gentle and well-intentioned, these comments and attitudes are harmful and they reinforce the narrow, fixed and insular scope of our congregations. Whatever good our churches do, it is necessarily compromised by the shadow cast by attitudes and habits that spring from normative white cultural assumptions.

Open itineracy means appointments [of clergy] are made without regard to race, ethnic origin, gender, color, disability, marital status, or age. 

¶ 425.1

Throughout our lives, Jesus introduces us to new experiences, new people, fresh ideas. When our life paths cross with people from different parts of the world, with different life experiences, different cultural experiences, different aspirations that do not match our own, and may make us uncomfortable, our discomfort is often God at work, stretching and strengthening our love. Jesus invites us to set aside judgment and proceed to curiosity, asking: how is Jesus working through a new relationship to deepen our faith and strengthen the church or community?

The church must not value the familiar, traditional or comfortable over what is right, nourishing, emerging, and hopeful. God says “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it? (Isaiah 42:19a. Embracing the new people and things God sends our way is a spiritual practice that breathes life into the church and through the church, into the world.

 Your bishop watches over you in love.

My charge, as your bishop, is to oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of the church. I name what I see and encourage the leaders and congregations under my care to grow in faith and witness for the kingdom/kin-dom of God. I see our spirits are not strong enough to follow Jesus into the beloved community he invites us to, nor do we have the courage to speak truth to a world that is awash in lies.

The United Methodist Church can and must become a movement that is awakening, learning, growing and moving toward racial awareness, intercultural competency and inclusive community.

In faithfulness to our baptismal vows, my cabinet and I are committed to working with pastors and laity to re-form our churches to recognize and acknowledge our sin and enter into a journey toward racial equity, justice and inclusion. Just as the members of the cabinet have a monthly discipline of intercultural competency training, the cabinet will develop a process for working with congregations to assess and recognize attitudes and behaviors that give preference to white culture within the church, and to take steps to become more aware and competent in inter-cultural and cross-racial relationships.

Cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments are made as a creative response to increasing racial and ethnic diversity in the church in its leadership.  Cross-racial and cross-cultural appointments are appointments of clergy persons to congregations in which the majority of their constituencies are different from the clergyperson’s own racial/ethnic cultural background.  

¶ 425.4

The goal of the cabinet is to assist every church to become an outpost of God’s inclusive love in each place and for all the people. Underlying this goal, we firmly resolve not to allow racially offensive or exclusive comments and behavior within our congregations , to go unchallenged and untransformed.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Wesley inform our anti-racism work.

In 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote a letter in response to eight white religious leaders who criticized him for leading demonstrations and sit-ins protesting racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. In the letter, King reflects on his disappointment in religious leaders during the civil rights struggle, saying,

I have watched white churches stand on the sideline and merely mouth pious irrelevances and sanctimonious trivialities….

I have found myself asking: What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?  Where are their voices?….

In deep disappointment, I have wept over the laxity of the church….Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and fear of being nonconformists.

Nearly 60 years later, the face of racism has shifted, but the church is no less lax today than it was in the 1963. We must journey together from being “almost Christian,” as John Wesley describes in his famous sermon, to becoming “altogether Christian,” living in ways that not only avoid sin, but that cultivate and promote virtue and justice. 

In the weeks ahead, I’ll invite clergy to a conversation about how we can journey together on the road toward beloved community – freed from the heritage of deep, systemic racism. 

As you live in the maelstrom of the week ahead and those to come, I thank God for your faithfulness, through times of peril and doubt and I pray God’s sustaining grace in your life, your family, and your ministries. Bad news never has the final word.  Keep listening. There’s good news on the way!

 

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area

Chargeable Offenses Against a Church Member – A professing member of a local church may be charged with the following offenses, . . .  harassment, including, but not limited to racial and/or sexual harassment; racial or gender discrimination . . .

¶ 2702.3

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