Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog Installment 1 | February 20, 2019
Who will we be in a week? What will become of The United Methodist Church at the special called General Conference that begins on Saturday, February 23rd? Elected lay and clergy delegates from across the United States, Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Philippines will gather to decide the future of The United Methodist Church, after nearly 50 years of disagreement and antagonism over the role of LGBTQ persons in the Church, and in the household of God’s creation.
I’ll be flying to St. Louis by the time you read this, preparing to turn a corner as a church between Saturday and Tuesday. Over the weekend friends sent me off with a hymn by Brian Wren that speaks of God’s love of the deeply flawed Church. I share it today—#590 in your United Methodist Hymnal and also available online here on Hymnary—as a blessing for all who watch, wait, witness, and wonder who we will be a week from today. I travel with the promise that our God “outwits us, spinning gold from straw.”
Come, Holy Spirit, come. Make of us something we do not have the power to ask or imagine.
The following is the prepared text of Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s sermon on February 3, 2019 to the congregation of First United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington.
CLICK HERE if you would prefer to listen to her sermon.
People were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them; and when the disciples saw it, they sternly ordered them not to do it. But Jesus called for them and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” Luke 18:15-17 (NRSV)
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Ephesians 4:1-7 (NRSV)
A word to Seattle First UMC
I give thanks for you and your ministry, and for your joyful engagement with your community. For the 16,000 meals served at the Shared Breakfast in 2018; for your advocacy for a social safety net that protects the most vulnerable as you raise a voice for justice on immigration, gun violence, care for creation, and homelessness; for your faithful participation in the United Methodist connection financially and in so many other ways.
And I give thanks for your pastor, Jeremy, his family, the staff of the church, and all of you, who bring this place to life on Sundays and throughout the week. May God bless you and keep you and send you to places of sorrow and pain.
A word about General Conference
Your pastor may have told you about the General Conference coming up at the end of the month, where United Methodists will decide whether to stay United, despite deep divisions over sexual orientation and identity. Well, that’s the context for my message this morning. This conflict, which has wracked the Church for nearly 50 years, sends me back to scripture and leads me into deep prayer. So, I’m going to treat you to more-than-your-average Bible this morning.
Reading the Bible
When it comes to the Bible, people make choices about how they listen to what they find there; which stories they let shape and inform their lives, and which they let fade into the background of timebound inscrutability.
Everybody who engages the Bible does this: brackets and underlines, and highlights, and writes question marks in the margins. Thomas Jefferson even took a scalpel to cut out passages he didn’t think belonged. People are looking for a biblical story to emerge that deserves to be called “good news.” And when they go searching in the Bible, some passages speak to them, and others they set aside. Who, for example, gets upset about wearing clothes made out of blended fabrics anymore? But the Bible says, NO! We just don’t pay attention.
There’s all kinds of stuff in the Bible: invasion, war, and rape. Murder and betrayal. Wickedness, treachery, revenge, enslavement, bigotry, kidnapping, sexism, incest, as well as kindness, justice, healing, hospitality.
God and God’s people have seen it all. And they have told the stories—good and bad—from generation to generation, until they wrote them out and collected them in what became our bible. And it’s so thick and has so many stories, you can find almost any message there.
If you open your Bible looking for a straight and narrow way of life with rewards for good behavior, and punishments for bad behavior, you can find it.
If you are looking to justify your sense that you deserve to possess what is not rightfully yours, you can find that justification in the Bible.
If you are looking for God’s condemnation of a world of “total depravity,” where people are powerless to resist evil and seek good, you can find that there, in the Bible.
And, if you are looking for a way of life that offers, a path of peace and joy, a light in the darkness, you can find that there, too. It’s in the Bible.
The challenge for people like you and me is to find the Good News in the Bible. When we find that, we can let the rest recede into the background—at least for the moment.
When you’re reading your Bible, you’ll notice that when people of faith hear bad news, they keep listening, because the bad news is never the final word. In the Bible, there is no judgment without forgiveness. Even a cold stone tomb cannot contain the life given and tended by a generous God. When people of faith hear bad news, they keep listening—there’s always Good News coming.
So, as I enter February, the special session of the General Conference looms large, when United Methodists will decide whether we will continue as one church or split apart, I’m looking for some Good News to carry us through. And I think I’ve found some. So, I want to share a few nuggets that I think the Holy Spirit made sure were buried in there for us to uncover.
Nugget #1 – All Means All – Luke 18:15-17
Some leaders in our Church are asserting that homosexuality is a sin, and that people who choose a life of sin should not be fully accepted in the Church. Their marriages should not be recognized. Their calling and gifts should not be recognized and put to work in ordination. And people who allow these things should be punished. No, expelled. That’s what’s before us. A proposal not only to ban same-sex wedding in our churches and performed by our clergy, and to ban ordination of LGBTQ people, but a requirement that leaders sign a pledge to obey and a promise to punish people who don’t obey. It is a desperate attempt to define once and for all who is “inside” and who is “out” (no pun intended). They have a few, brief Bible passages to support their position.
But in the Bible, in the “good news” section of the Bible, Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them…” It doesn’t say let the good little children come to me. The well-behaved little children. The little children who do what they are told, who keep quiet, who pay attention, who sit still, who play by the rules. He gives a broad instruction: let them come. Do not stop them. There is no need to say “all” the children.
And what about the birds of the air? Jesus says, that the smallest seed grows to a tree, so large that the birds of the air come to make nests in its branches. The smallest of seeds—not the biggest, not the best, not the most fertile of seed—produces a tree of life, where the birds of the air—not the fastest, or the
birds with the nicest song, or with the most exotic feathers. No, the birds of the air—whatever bird flutters by. Whatever bird is looking for a place to land, to build a nest. A small seed provides shelter to the birds of the air. All of them.
And the Bible doesn’t stop with children and seeds and birds. The Bible makes room for all kinds of people, too. Some Christians read the Bible looking for a purity code that defines who is acceptable and who is not. But the Bible breaks every exclusive barrier. Remember Jesus? He invites tax collectors, a woman with a flow of blood, a lame man, a blind man, raving lunatics, lepers, women of questionable reputation, people on their death beds, Samaritans—back in the day, before Jesus showed us that Samaritans could be good, they were the hated, despised, impure, foreign. A Roman military commander, an Ethiopian Eunuch.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus says, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”
And in the final words of the Bible, we read this:
The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift.
Revelation 22: 17
I guess that’s why I’m a Methodist. We do not teach that creation is utterly depraved. We teach that human beings can be partners with God in sharing a good word. We teach that God reaches out to us in every circumstance and guides us into the way of peace. We teach that there’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea. We teach and believe—and we find it in the Bible—that God has embedded in every child, bird, searching soul the good intention of the Creator, and that Christ reaches out with an open hand, and a warm invitation to each one and everyone, and that the Holy Spirit invites us to look for Christ’s presence in each one we meet, looking for the gift they bring. In this way, God works in us and through us, to guide us toward loving with a perfect love. To be made perfect in love in this life.
Children. Seeds. Birds. All kinds of doubtful people. God in Jesus embraces them all. What’s next? What about creation? In Genesis, we hear of God’s mighty acts of creation out of a void: the heavens, earth, light, dry land, seas. Plants bearing seeds and fruit. Sun and moon to rule the day and the night. “Swarms of living creatures,” sea monsters, winged birds. Land animals: cattle, creeping things, wild animals. Finally, human beings in God’s own image. And after all that creative activity, the Bible reports that God sat back and looked at all of creation, and said, “Now THAT is very good.”
How much did God say was good? Everything. Everyone. Anyone.
All means all.
Nugget #2 – One Means One – Ephesians 4:1-7
How does one baptized Christian say to another baptized Christian, you do not belong? You don’t qualify. Your experience of God’s love doesn’t count, because you are flawed. How does one baptized Christian get the authority to make this judgment against another?
I was taught that baptism makes God’s family our family. That in baptism, we don’t get to choose who our siblings are—God gives them to us. Does that mean we don’t all need to grow in God’s love? Does it mean we don’t sin? No. It just means we are invited and expected to stay in relationship with one another as we take our walk with Jesus. And our privilege, our joy, is to gather around the Communion Table of Grace to discover how God is working in one another’s’ lives, to receive each other as God’s good gifts, and to try to find a way to live together in peace. I was taught that eating at the table is a means of grace. That as we know each other, and care for each other, and challenge each other, it is Christ at work in us, shaping us in the image of our Creator.
In the midst of the controversy in the early church about what was necessary for a person to be a member of the family of Jesus, Paul writes:
But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known… This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith … is God the God of Jews only? Is God not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.
Rom 3: 21-30, selections
And so we find in Romans and in Ephesians, Paul trying to help Jewish Christians and Gentile/Greek Christians find the common humanity that they share. He is trying to help them reclaim the unity that God gave in creation, when he says, “I beg you . . . to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and [Parent] of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
Paul is trying to call us back to the unity in God that has the power to hold EVERYONE together, despite how fragmented humankind had become. The early Church was searching for the unity that was deeper than their differences. Isn’t that what we are doing today? Only our issues aren’t between Jews and Gentiles; circumcised and uncircumcised. The issues of who belongs in The United Methodist Church in 2019 are about sexual orientation and gender identity.
Well, I’ve sat at table with too many LGBTQ siblings; been shown the love and grace of Jesus Christ in their lives; seen Christ’s face in their faces—your faces—to be able to say it can’t be; it’s unclean; you are unworthy.
One means one. My baptism is no better than yours. My life experience is no better than yours. If I’m in, you are in. We’re stuck with each other. This is God’s gift!
Nugget #3 – Some means None – Hebrews 11
The Book of Hebrews in the Bible gives a long and glorious recitation of the mighty acts of God in the lives of generations of the heroes of the faith. And toward the end, it gets pretty close to ecstatic utterance:
By faith … people passed through the Red Sea … the walls of Jericho fell … Rahab did not perish … And what more should I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, … shut the mouths of lions, quenched raging fire, escaped the edge of the sword, won strength out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received their dead… Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned to death, they were sawn in two, they were killed by the sword; they went about in [animal] skins, destitute, persecuted, tormented—of whom the world was not worthy… Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.
Hebrews 11:29-40, selections
Can you believe it? That God would hold back the rewards of the righteous, warriors and saints of the faith, “so that they would not, apart from us, be made perfect.” Well… I guess we’re in this together. God’s promises can’t be fulfilled for just some. Nobody can enter God’s glory until and unless we all enter together and we’re not ready yet.
If I refuse to sit at the table next to a brother in Christ. If I refuse to receive the bread and the cup from the hands of a sister in Christ, I do violence to the body of Christ. We cannot grow in grace cut off from one another. We need each other to grow. We need each other for wholeness. Some means none. One means all.
That’s why I hope the special session of General Conference will adopt the One Church Plan. Not because it adequately embraces the fullness of God’s mercy as I understand it. But because it creates space for United Methodists who profoundly disagree with each other to stay in the same family, at the same table, and practice ministry as their faith leads them, while we continue our journey of faith together. It allows Seattle First UMC to host weddings between two people of the same sex and for LGBTQ clergy to serve in ministry. But it does not force clergy in the Democratic Republic of Congo to do so. I think God likes creative tension. It’s where the Holy Spirit flutters and broods.
And yet, I know that one person’s creative tension is another’s burden. And so, I want to tell you a story.
A Hopeful Story
In the Council of Bishops, when the bishops from the U.S., Europe, Africa, and the Philippines were sitting around tables trying to have this important difficult conversation among ourselves, at one point an African brother bishop I know well says, our concerns about sexuality in Africa are very different from yours in America and Europe. He continued to explain (paraphrasing): “In our churches, if a man comes to be baptized, and he has several wives, and they each have children, it does great harm if we ask him to renounce all but one wife and leave the others with their children destitute. You don’t have much to teach us about how to cope with this concern. This is a generational issue for us. We must teach the next generation while welcoming this man and his whole family… Maybe we don’t have much to teach you about homosexuality.”
My friends, where else could that conversation occur, except at the table where God has invited us all to gather? In that story is great hope that God’s children can learn from one another and from our very different life experiences. And if we don’t have to tear apart from one another every time we understand God’s will for creation differently, we might learn to leave space for more learning, more growth, more grace.
Please pray for our Church, all its leaders and that a way may open before us upon which we can travel in the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, and the communion of the Holy Spirit. I pray for you.
This is an uncertain time, but on the morning after General Conference, there will still be people who look to the Church to be God’s agents of grace and hospitality. There will still be people who need a good meal and fellowship. People will still languish in hospitals, and under bridges, and in loneliness. And God will still be looking and saying—these are good. They are my good children. There’s work to be done, but it is good work.
And together, the churches of the Greater Northwest will continue to follow God in faithfulness and service. Listen for the Good News. The story’s being written. With God’s help, we will help to write it.
I’ll be offering a few reflections in advance of General Conference 2019. In some, like this one, I will share memories of my own journey alongside LGBTQ siblings in the Church. In others, I’ll work to answer questions that I am hearing in my role as your bishop. I hope each will offer you some insight into my thinking as we walk this road together over the coming months.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. – Ephesians 4:10-6
Let me take you back to 1971, when I was a 17-year-old high school senior at Bellevue High School (go Wolverines!). It was two years after the Stonewall Uprising which protested a police raid at a gay bar in Greenwich Village and marked the beginning of the gay liberation movement in America. But I didn’t know anything about that. It was a year before the General Conference of The United Methodist Church would adopt language stating that it considers the “practice of homosexuality incompatible with Christian teaching.” I would attend that conference as a young adult observer. But that’s a story for another time.
I was just an awkwardly tall, unusually curious, teenager. A member of Methodist Youth Fellowship (MYF), I served on the district youth council. We planned retreats and fun events and studied the issues of the day. As I got to know youth from many backgrounds, life experiences, races and cultures, my horizons expanded quickly, and my faith was tested and stretched in a thousand ways. I never felt far from God during these years. I never felt I was being pulled away from faith. I always turned to my personal faith, and the community of faith to help me understand what I was experiencing, and to respond as a follower of Jesus.
One day I was on the phone – you know (or maybe you don’t), the one-and-only-heavy-black-dial-phone that sat in the living room, where anyone in the family could hear your side of the conversation and speculate about the other side. I was talking to a 16-year-old boy from a neighboring church on youth council business. We were both sexually inexperienced, but through youth ministry, we had become aware of the emerging struggle of lesbian, gay and transgender people to be understood and accepted. Somewhere in the conversation, Michael said, “I think I might be gay. And I don’t know if there is a place for me in the Church.”
Michael didn’t find his gay identity outside the Church. He didn’t come to the church as an invader or a reformer, trying to change the Church. He grew up in the Church. He was baptized in the Church. He was formed and shaped by the Church. And as he began to understand himself as a sexual person, before he had been in a sexual relationship, it was within the church that he searched to find his place in God’s good creation. I didn’t know how to respond, but I knew that in the Church we embrace one another, and we stay in relationship, and we walk together. So, I found Michael some gay Christians to help him find his way. And I knew from that moment on, that I would work in the Church to understand and to welcome, and to learn from brothers and sisters who did not fit the sexual norms I had grown up with, but who loved God, wanted to serve God, exhibited life-giving loving relationships in their lives and were members of the household of the Church.
I hear people claim that the movement for full inclusion of LGBTQ people is a secular movement, driven by outsiders who want to control the Church. I don’t know many secular people who care very much about what the Church thinks or teaches. But I know lots of LGBTQ Christians like Michael, whose sexual identity unfolded right alongside their Christian identity, as they grew into adulthood as members of the Church. Because I know this, when I go to a General Conference, and I see people with anguished faces, mouths taped shut with rainbow duct tape in protest of the Church’s persecution, I see Michael, and other dear sisters and brothers in the family of Christ, weeping and yearning to be heard, understood, embraced, treasured, included.
Michael taught me that the Church’s struggle to understand God’s will regarding human sexuality is not a struggle of US vs THEM. It is a struggle of US with US. It is a family struggle. Baptized children of God talking to other baptized children of God, with Jesus as mediator.
A baby was born who turned the world on its head. Lives are changed by Jesus, who opens our eyes to God’s transforming love and justice. We celebrate his birth extravagantly, because we understand that his life, death and resurrection are awesome in their creative power—maybe even awe-ful in their disruptive power. They show us that life is not in vain, that the most violent powers of sin and death cannot snuff out the hope that burns in our hearts, even at times like a small, flickering flame.
The story of Jesus turns us inside out as we sing, “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” I pray that your very personal hopes and fears are met by Jesus in the New Year.
This week, United Methodists will carry our very public hopes and fears from 2018 into 2019 as the year turns. A special session of General Conference in February will seek a way forward out of decades of strife over whether and how the Church will welcome and include, or reject and exclude, people based upon their sexual identities and orientations.
What are the hopes that delegates will bring to the Conference?
Full Inclusion. The Simple Plan would remove of restrictive language in the Book of Discipline to enact full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life and ministry of the Church. Sexual identity and orientation would not be a standard for ordination. Same sex weddings would be allowed. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation]
Obedience to scripture and discipline. The Traditional Plan reaffirms the traditional teaching that marriage between one man and one woman is the norm. “Self-avowed practicing homosexuals” would be prohibited from ordination and same-sex weddings would be prohibited, with stricter enforcement of each. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation]
A new definition of Connection. The Connectional Conference Plan is the most complicated of the three proposed by the Commission on a Way Forward providing for three overlapping conferences which share some services but have more theological autonomy. Of the major plans, if provides the most space for theological differences but probably has the least support due to the number, and difficulty, of the changes proposed. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation]
Room for contextual adaptation. The One Church Plan offers less legislated uniformity and allows clergy, local churches and annual conferences to set standards and practices appropriate to their ministry context and exercise of conscience. [Learn More|Proposed Legislation] I have publicly joined other bishops and leaders of the Western Jurisdiction in support of the One Church Plan. [Press Release]
Depending on the outcome of the Special General Conference, our United Methodist Church could enter into a season of wrenching schism, with some churches leaving whatever the new form is that emerges, or we could experience a tectonic shift as differing standards are set in conferences and churches across the denomination.
There’s a lot at stake. Feelings run high. Opinions about what scripture says, and how determinative it should be, run deep. At times there is more heat than light in the conversations.
This week we will celebrate Epiphany, which means the manifestation of God to gentiles—people outside the Jewish community of faith. Matthew tells the story of Magi whose astrological faith traditions led them to follow a star to Jesus. It teaches us that people don’t have to think or believe alike to recognize God’s transforming presence in the world. It shines as a bright star in the night sky. It shines on the just and the unjust. It is universally accessible to all.
So, if God’s revelation is visible and accessible to people of many faith perspectives. And United Methodist Christians are led on their journeys with Jesus to very different understandings of human sexuality and standards for participation in the Church, then how are any of us to find our way through the complex and contradictory proposals under consideration?
Here’s what I’m going to do, and what I invite you to do with me.
As a way of searching our own hearts and inviting God to speak to us for what lies ahead. On or around New Year’s Eve, take a quiet time apart to experience John Wesley’s Watch Night Covenant Service. First, prayerfully read through the service (Click here to review and download) and write your reflections and personal commitments and prayers. Then, alone or with others, pray through the service. This is a time-honored new year’s practice of Methodists—a time of reflection, humility, re-dedication. Brian McLaren, author of We Make the Road by Walking, describes it as one of the treasures of the Church.
If you aren’t already participating in the year-long study of We Make the Road by Walking, January 1 is a great time to jump in. Go to greaternw.org/crossover/ to learn how. Especially subscribe to the “CrossOver to Life” blog by following the link on that page.
From now through February, pray for the Special General Conference. Pray that the Holy Spirit would be present to bless and guide our Church for a future of faithfulness and fruitfulness.
Follow the events of the General Conference at http://greaternw.org/gc2019/. As the time grows closer, up to date coverage will be posted here.
What we know for certain is that on February 27, we will have neighbors to love and to welcome, and we must be prepared to carry our ministries forward no matter what.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray; Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us to-day. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell; O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel.
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.
…the heavens and the earth shake.
But the LORD is a refuge for his people, a stronghold for the people.
Joel 3: 16
A 7.0-magnitude earthquake struck Alaska just north of Anchorage Friday morning. We know what a terrifying and destructive force is unleashed when the earth groans and stretches.
I’ve been in touch with Alaska Conference Superintendent Rev. Carlo Rapanut who shares these details:
Initial reports say there is no major damage to any of our churches or parsonages, but power is still down in many locations and there is lot of damage to roads and bridges. We thank God that tsunami warnings in Seward and Homer have been lifted.
Please hold us all in your prayers. We will keep you posted as updates and needs arise.
When disaster strikes, United Methodists respond. While it is too early to know the work that will be needed, be assured that we will be there. Our United Methodist churches in Girdwood, Homer and Wasilla have opened their sanctuaries for who might need to evacuate. St. John is standing by as needed. So, let us be inspired by their good example! Until then, I join Superintendent Carlo in asking you to:
PRAY for the people affected by this earthquake, and for those responding to its impact
And GIVE this Sunday or another Sunday in December through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) to the U.S. Disaster Response fund (#901670). 100% of your gift will be used for relief and recovery work with no administrative overhead. You can give online at www.umcor.org/donate.
Our conference emergency response team coordinators (listed below) have already been in contact with each other as early assessments come in. We’ll continue to benefit from their dedication and expertise as plans form to offer the love of Christ to those in need in the coming days and months. As needs surface, and plans develop, we’ll share them with you.
Let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love.
– 1 John 3:18b (The Message)
CrossOver reflection for Week Zero • Beginning November 25, 2018
by Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
The Church is of God and will be preserved to the end of time. Reception of Members, The Methodist Hymnal, 1935
Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing… Isaiah 43: 18-19
Well, which is it? Is God enduring, unchanging, immovable, like a mountain? Or is God an innovator, creating new, unimaginable things, twisting and turning and even changing course like a river?
Does God call us to hold fast, dig in, preserve what we have inherited from the past? Or does God call us to engage the changes that surprise us, peer into an uncertain future, and then move beyond what we thought we knew, stretching, evolving, adapting?
Is God bound by these conflicting opinions? Or, might both be true in their own way?
What if God holds some eternal, immutable values that are true in every time and place, AND what if God expects us to recognize that these values may look very differently as they come to life in the changing circumstances we encounter in the real lives of people? What if, throughout our lives, God continues to call us to explore what is not familiar – what is strange or foreign, and to bring the eternal values of God’s love and justice, to situations that are new and challenging?
Clint and I met Robert when I was a seminary student. He was a hard-living, damaged soul in middle age. He drifted in and out of the reality I knew. Heard voices I couldn’t hear. Muttered under his breath to people I couldn’t see. Old West Church had become a safe place for him. On a sunny afternoon, you might find Robert sitting in the parlor emptying the tobacco into a pie pan from butts foraged in gutters and rolling it into fresh cigarette papers. Or, he might be setting the loose tobacco on fire right in the pan. Cigarettes were life to him. He lived from smoke to smoke. Bummed them off people on the street. When it came time to say good-bye after three years, I wanted Robert to understand that I really knew him and cared for him. So, on my last day at Old West, I walked to the corner store and did something I had never done before or since. I bought a carton of Kool menthol cigarettes – Robert’s favorites. Love came wrapped as a carton of cigarettes that one day in the spring of 1981.
Love is constant, like a mountain. Our neighbors change from time to time, necessitating that we keep fluid, like a river.
Our challenge is to know what is constant, and what is changing; to hold tight to God’s eternal values, and also to open our hands to put them to work in every situation we encounter in the world, and in the lives of the people around us. If we greet every change with a fist grasping the past, we’ll never even notice, let alone embrace, the new things God is doing.
Brian McLaren says, “You are ‘in the making.’ You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow. You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, constrict, and lose your way. Which road will you take?”
As we are Crossing Over to Life, I’ll meet you on the road, where “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:22-23)
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.
When we watch the news coverage of Hurricane Florence on the Atlantic coast of the United States and Typhoon Mangkhut ravaging the Philippines and Northern Mariana Islands, we feel the hurt, and we see what it takes for healing to begin. In every natural disaster lives unravel in ways that take months or years to put back together.
We have neighbors in North Carolina and in the Philippines, who need our love to put their lives back together. And we have United Methodist partners who can carry our love to heal what was broken in these storms.
On Sunday, September 23 or 30, please give what you can to put your love to work by giving to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). You can give through your local church by marking a donation to the U.S. Disaster Response fund (#901670) or the International Disaster Response Fund (#982450). 100% of your gift will be used for response work relief with no administrative overhead.
Or you can give online at www.umcor.org/donate. You can include your church name when you give so it will be recognized.
And as you give, pray for the people whose lives are disrupted and for those who are responding. Also say thanks for the United Methodist connections that give us confidence that our gifts are used wisely, for the purpose given, to benefit all God’s people.
In a couple of weeks I’ll invite United Methodists and friends in the Greater Northwest Area to join a year-long devotional study beginning with Advent 2018. I hope many of you will form small groups to engage in this study together, but individuals can do it on their own. I hope that together we can renew our faith for the challenges we face in our lives, the Church, the nation and the world.
In We Make the Road by Walking, Brian McLaren introduces us afresh to the principles of Christian faith and bible teachings. Each week, in 3-4 pages, he invites us to revisit biblical principles and our lives of faith. We’ll create a blog to go alongside the study, with reflections and prayers by leaders of our Conferences, and a place for comments and conversation.
Some of you may already have your plans for Advent and beyond. If you can, I hope this Christian practice will fit into your other plans — especially since it will carry through this entire CrossOver Year. The CrossOver Year begins December 2, 2018 and ends November 24, 2019, with the special General Conference in February. I hope this notice is coming early enough that you can start encouraging participation now.
Watch for more information in the roll-out of the CrossOver Year — coming soon!
Look, I’m sending you as sheep among wolves. Therefore, be wise as snakes and innocent as doves.
– Matthew 10:16
It’s hard to be a human these days.
The images. The stories of children being taken from their parents. They have been burned into our collective consciousness. I want to look away, but I can’t. Love doesn’t let me.
I want to do something, but I feel powerless. Does my voice matter? Has the church’s witness eroded so much that it makes very little difference? What are we left with? Only love.
The suffering of little children and their parents tugs on my heart and leads me to search for ways to put my love to work. Public policy isn’t all made in Washington D.C. or Salem, Olympia, Boise or Juneau. It is also made when the private love of many spills over into the collective compassion and outrage of a nation and its people. Public safety and national security are not only the responsibility of law enforcement and Homeland Security. They are also our responsibility when systems of authority and power fail. Infants taken from their parents is a matter of public safety.
Love has no magic to shake away depraved policy or fix cruel laws. But it is so very powerful. Love is our lifeline to humanity.
As your Bishop, I implore you to not look away. Love needs our help.
SEE the pain of those at the border, in tents in the desert, behind chain link, and huddled under space blankets. But don’t stop there. If you SEE something SAY something – on Facebook, to a friend or family member. Share what you see and how it looks to you. Ask yourself, WHAT CAN I DO TODAY? Don’t get trapped in believing it has to be something big or that your action needs a certain number of Likes or Re-Tweets to have meaning. Speak to neighbors. Talk about what you see. The collective actions of individuals have drawn attention to this crisis and changed public policy already.
Remember that God is with you. Act and speak (and text and Tweet) with confidence, knowing that love is never the wrong answer. Life is complicated and so are the many laws that define how we relate to each other. Be clear about what you know, but also be humble about what you don’t.
When I first heard that undocumented immigrants are held at a prison in my neighborhood, I was outraged – 174 women, some who have been separated from their children. I wanted to have my own private protest: make a sign, and go walk up and down the sidewalk. I wanted to write them all letters, saying I’m here, I know you are in there, I’m your neighbor and I care.
Earlier this week I attended a community meeting in my neighborhood, where 206 undocumented immigrants are housed in a Federal “Detention” Center 2 ½ miles from my home and from my office. Approximately 300 people turned out. We heard from high school students who live in terror of their parents being deporting leaving them to care for younger siblings. Of one mom arrested by ICE when she responded to a request for an interview, leaving her 3 children without a parent. We listened with love and pledged our love and support to stop family separations.
Last night on my way home from the grocery store, I drove to the SeaTac Detention Center. As I came near, I looked at the many levels of narrow windows rising into the blue sky and prayed for the people, whose faces I could not see through those windows. Then I turned into the parking lot, passing signs warning that anyone entering the property could be subject to search. I followed the signs for visitor parking, and drove past three large white buses, with U.S. Government license plates. Later on TV I saw similar buses transporting separated children to detention facilities in Texas.
Why did I go there? What difference did it make? I went to SEE the place where my neighbors are living. To IMAGINE their lives. To WONDER if there are separated children in that facility as well as adults. To ASK God what it means to love with my whole heart, soul, strength and mind?
And now I’m asking you to engage.
LOOK at the children. PRAY for all who flee violence in their homeland, desiring a better life. Look at the facilities where they are being held. If you are flying, NOTICE if there are unaccompanied minors traveling with escorts. LOCATE the nearest detention facility. Notice if buses are coming and going. FIND OUT who is organizing concerned people for public witness and policy advocacy. READ the attached resource from our Board of Church and Society. And WATCH for how to put love into action.
I don’t know what my next step is. I’ll talk with others who are already involved.
Finally, pace yourselves. While yesterday’s executive order may reverse the most egregious policies, it does not resolve the separations, or the crisis on the border, or the terror people across America live in.
We will need the love that never ends. We need to be committed for the long haul.
May we be the real, living presence of Christ in the world as we SEE, PRAY, READ, SPEAK and ACT.
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky | Greater NW Area
Our witness cannot stop now
Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe,June 20, 2018
In response to President Trump’s executive order, the general secretary calls on United Methodists for further action on immigration.
Because of persistent public pressure, President Trump signed an executive order Wednesday reversing the administration’s practice of forcibly separating children from their parents. I thank God for the faithful witness of thousands of United Methodists reflecting Christ’s love and compassion into this broken world.
This action does not, however, solve the problem.
While this executive order ends the practice of family separation, it continues what the administration calls a “zero tolerance” policy. This now means that families seeking refuge in the United States can be held together, in detention, indefinitely.
Policies that jail families — whether separately or together — fail to reflect our shared values of compassion, dignity, justice and love. Our options are not limited to jailing families together or jailing parents and children separately.
Alternatives to family detention, such as the Family Case Management Program, have been shown to be compassionate and effective. The administration terminated this program last year and instituted “zero tolerance” policies in its place this year.
We must continue the outpouring of compassion and action that ended the administration’s immoral and unjust practice of family separation. We must continue to work for a world in which:
Children who are detained are compassionately cared for.
Families who are separated are reunited.
Families will not be held indefinitely.
Workers should no longer fear workplace raids disrupting family and community.
Survivors of domestic abuse and gang violence have asylum protections reinstated.
DACA recipients are cared for through a legislative solution that leads to a pathway to citizenship.
The current state of our immigration policies is anything but compassionate and effective.
The U.S. House of Representatives is voting today on immigration legislation. Call your member at 202.224.3121 and make sure your voice is heard. You can share that The United Methodist Church calls for “the United States government to immediately cease all arrests, detainment, and deportations of undocumented immigrants, including children, solely based on their immigration status until a fair and comprehensive immigration reform is passed.“
Our Church calls us to welcome the migrant, and we must do that in our churches, communities and governmental systems.
Tomorrow, my husband Clint and I fly to Alaska for the Alaska Annual Conference in Seward, the first of three in the Greater Northwest in the next few weeks. I invited members at all three Conferences to read The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict. The book was recommended by the Commission on A Way Forward and the Council of Bishops, as a tool to help people know each other at a deeper level, so that they might discover a way to live together peacefully, despite deep difference. As a church, we are seeking a unity that is deeper than our differences.
Last summer, during worship at a training event when the leader asked us to “turn to your neighbor” and share, I met United Methodist pastor, coach and trainer, Brian Brown. Brian said he wished that every clergy person was introduced to The Anatomy of Peaceat the beginning of their ministry. I learned that he was a passionate evangelist, and certified teacher of The Anatomy of Peace. I bought the book that day, read it immediately, and later invited Rev. Dr. Brian Brown to teach and lead us into the practices of The Anatomy of Peacefor our annual conference sessions in Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest. Rev. Donna Pritchard will be leading a condensed workshop in Alaska.
Last week a controversy erupted over the book, when Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner blogged a provocative critique of The Anatomy of Peace, unmasking issues about its sources that are hidden in shadows. Why is the author listed as the “Arbinger Institute?” Why aren’t they transparent about the authors? Why is it written as if the people and situations are real, when they are fictional? Are a group of mostly white men competent to give advice about how to resolve conflict among people of diverse ethnicities and cultures, some of whom are oppressed by systems of injustice?
I asked similar questions in the early 2000s when I first read Leadership and Self Deception, also authored by the Arbinger Institute. I liked the book, but I felt queasy, so I did a little online fishing and discovered that the Arbinger Institute was founded by Terry Warner, a scholar and member of the Church of Latter Day Saints. I used the insights of the book personally, but was reluctant to share it with others, not so much because of its source as the lack of transparency. If there’s nothing to hide – no deception – why not reveal? I’m not going to presume to know the answer, and I’m not going to make excuses for the people who made these decisions.
In her blog, Hannah seems to imply that there are original sins of deception and racism that disqualify the book for our use. So, do we reject The Anatomy of Peace? Or, with awareness of its limitations and flaws, is it still a useful tool? Can we use it to invite newer, deeper understandings between people? Does it offer a way for conflicted United Methodists to venture beneath the surface of our set positions, seek a deeper understanding of one another, and explore how we might live together as we continue to journey together toward the fullness of God’s mission?
I find the book’s approach useful. Written in a narrative style, The Anatomy of Peace is an easy read and helps me see how, acting from a “heart at war,” I sometimes shut down relationships, or put others in a limiting “box” of my own creation. Instead, it helps me see that I can learn to act with a “heart at peace” to go deeper with a spouse, an undocumented immigrant, a transgender co-worker, or a United Methodist who likes a different style of music, to listen and understand. This kind of curious, humble, respectful conversation is at the core of Christ’s teaching that we should love neighbor as self. And I trust Brian Brown and a host of others who have practiced what The Anatomy of Peace offers and found it to be helpful for individuals who are stuck in conflicted relationships. It’s one way of striving to better love God, and neighbor as self.
Frankly, I can’t wait to see United Methodists leaning into a small circle of colleagues, listening, clarifying, and seeking new understanding. We don’t have to love the way the tool was produced, or apply it where it might do harm. But, where two or three are gathered . . . peace can break out.