Ashes of Sorrow and Resistance

To the People of God in The United Methodist Church,

“Spare your people, O LORD, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?'” – Joel 2:17b

This past week, the special session of the General Conference of our church gathered in search of a way forward out of a decades-old conflict over attitudes toward homosexuals and LGBTQIA people. Rather than finding a way forward, the church chose to turn back the clock and to intensify its exclusion.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky offering a blessing during worship at the 2019 General Conference.

The conference did not create space for United Methodists with different perspectives to live together. Rather, the church reaffirmed its assertion that “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching,” (UM Book of Discipline, 2016, ¶ 161.G). It intensified standards and punishments for bishops who ordain and appoint gay clergy, and for clergy who perform marriages for same-sex couples. The outcome was devastating for LGBTQIA people, whose very self-worth was debated, and for all persons in the church who believe Jesus models and invites us to become a radically inclusive community of faith.

To LGBTQIA persons in our churches and other ministry settings, I say, 

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ– Philippians 1:3-6

I appeal to every pastor, member, and attendee, to be tender and merciful as you extend care to LGBTQIA persons in your care, and their families, and to continue to create opportunities to promote understanding and justice within the church and society.

I join many of you who feel abandoned by your Church home. I am ashamed that the Church has turned its back on so many people who Jesus has loved and called. I cannot abide by or enforce the new rules in conscience. My soul cries out to God, “do not make your heritage a mockery. Why should it be said among the people, ‘Where is their God?’” And I know that many of you also find yourselves adrift. I hear questions like, Is our Church redeemable? Or, is it time to leave the church that has left us and form a new expression of Church that opens doors and affirm people, rather than closing doors and denying or punishing them.

Let me offer you some reassurances. First, none of the actions of the General Conference take effect until January 1, 2020. Practices of candidacy, ordination and weddings will continue unchanged for the time being. Challenges to the constitutionality of some of the new provisions are underway that may overturn them. Regardless of how that turns out, as your bishop, I don’t intend to lead us backward. We have come too far together to turn back now.

Pastors and people from large and small churches across the United States are looking for an expression of Church that affirms LGBTQ persons and recognizes them as full members and leaders. Coalitions of individuals and groups who will not submit to the recent actions are forming to develop plans for full inclusion, either inside or outside the existing UMC. We do know that a majority of the North American delegates to the recent General Conference opposed the actions taken. If you are among them, please indicate your interest in being part of this movement at: OneChurch4All.org

At the same time, I strongly believe that the Church should and must be a place where people who love Jesus, but don’t see eye to eye, are in fellowship, prayer, study, and conversation with one another. I don’t want to be in a church that does not welcome and honor people who hold different opinions from mine. I hope that our love of Jesus, and the people Jesus loves and asks us to love, is stronger than our differences of opinion.  I believe we must stay together in charity, if we can. For, as Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus,

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of our calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

With trust in God, who will lead us even if the Church wanders away and loses itself.

Your bishop and friend in Christ,

Elaine JW Stanovsky


If you haven’t already seen it, please watch the Western Jurisdiction College of Bishop’s response to the actions of General Conference that you’ll find below. Please also share it with your congregation on Sunday Morning or whenever you are able.

Download | English Transcript | Version en español

Expect Miracles

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 5 | February 26, 2019

After a discouraging heart-breaking day yesterday when the General Conference chose NOT to move forward rejecting the One Church Plan in favor of the Traditional Plan to cling to the church’s policies of exclusion and marginalization of LGBTQ people.

At 8 pm last night, nearly 200 people gathered at a spontaneous gathering of people from the Western Jurisdiction and friends. It was a battered but joyful multi-colored, multi-languaged, LGBTQ-friendly community that sang the songs of the faith, prayed, shared words of encouragement. The gathering became a reminder and a foretaste of the One Church we strive to become. 

God bless the grass that grows through the cracks…

Today we await the judicial council decision about the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan, and a Minority Report in support of the One Church Plan. By the end of the day all petitions before the body will have been acted on, and delegates will turn toward home as the bishops prepare to meet tomorrow. 

Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ — not even the Church!

No Way Forward in Sight

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 4 | February 25, 2019

By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.
To guide our feet into the way of peace.  Luke 1: 78-79

I’m writing to people who awaken to shadows this morning, after yesterday’s actions at the General Conference. I’ll address the rest of you another time. I care about all of you, and I have worked to ensure that there is space for a wide diversity of people in our United Methodist Church. But today, I suffer with those who suffer. 

We knew yesterday that the prioritizing process would give an indication of the will of the Conference. It did. Wespath proposals for the future of pensions received highest priority, not apparently because we care more about pensions than mission, but because we can all agree that we care about pensions, but not about how we care about mission. Of the various plans put forward, more than half of the delegates indicated that the Traditional Plan is the priority that should be considered first. While it is not determinative, this likely indicates strong support for adoption of some version of the Traditional Plan, which would preserve the statement that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and prohibitions against same-sex weddings and LGBTQ clergy.

The action to consider the Traditional Plan first was deeply harmful to LGBTQ people, and all who support their full inclusion in the Church and its ministries. It suggests that our global church is not ready to extend the recognition and blessing of the Church to LGBTQ people, or to recognize their monogamous, covenantal relationships as holy and blessed by God.  Many LGBTQ clergy and laity feel betrayed by the church’s apparent willingness to use and abuse them as long as they are closeted, but not to embrace and affirm them.  

General Conference will reconvene this morning in a day-long legislative session, beginning by perfecting the Traditional Plan, followed by consideration of all the other petitions that are properly before the body.  Protests and lamentations will undoubtedly erupt. Common wisdom is that, while these are understood and tolerated in a North American democratic context, they are seen as disrespectful and further polarizing to delegates from other parts of the world.

So, the walls do not seem likely to come down today, though I am eager to be proven wrong!  

Questions that come to my mind are:

  • Do delegates from around the world understand the cost of adopting the Traditional Plan—how it will weaken the church’s institutions that maintain global mission initiatives, disaster relief, educational, health, economic and agricultural initiatives?How it will weaken the credibility of the Church in America, where more than 70% of people accept homosexuality and homosexual marriage. 
  • How should and will United Methodists around the world who have waited and worked for a step toward full inclusion of LGBTQ people react if the Traditional Plan is adopted? Will they be defeated? Defiant? Will they leave? Will they stay? Will there be more church trials? Fewer trials?
  • Having done its best to find a way forward, how do I, or any of us, live in, and lead the Church if all it can do is double-down on policies that have divided us for decades?  
  • How do we continue TODAY to bear witness to the way we have seen God at work in and through the lives of Christian LGBTQ siblings? How do we stand in solidarity as they are once again told they are unworthy?

Don’t get me wrong. I am not without hope. But I am sobered. And I am keenly aware that it is possible that we will fail to move forward. 

How is today different from all other days?

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 3 | February 24, 2019

By the end of today, the General Conference will have decided which of several plans for “a way forward” it will prioritize for consideration. The day starts with worship, followed by a presentation of the three plans developed by the Commission on a Way Forward (CoWF). Under consideration will be:  

  • The One Church Plan, with the strongest support from the CoWF, the Council of Bishops and a Coalition of Uniting MethodistsMainstream UMC, the Reconciling Ministries Network, and several other groups
  • The Connectional Conferences Plan
  • The Traditionalist Plan
  • The Simple Church Plan
  • And a variety of other related proposals.  

At stake will be whether to split into groups that uniformly embrace or marginalize LGBTQ people, or whether we make space for United Methodists in different cultural contexts and with different theological understandings to adapt in different ways while remaining united.  

The prioritizing process today will give a strong indication of which plan will be perfected and adopted. 

As he convened the opening session, Bishop Christian Alstead (Nordic and Baltic Area) reminded us that the football stadium we are meeting in is Church for these three days. All Greater Northwest delegates are in their seats, ready to speak and vote their faith. Observers, staff, volunteers, and advocates are also here and taking their respective roles. Nothing can undermine the gracious and persistent shared life of the United Methodists of the Greater Northwest Area.

We pray with you for a good future for our Church, on this day that is different from all others. 

A Prayer for St. Louis

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky’s General Conference Blog
Installment 2 | February 21, 2019

St. Louis is more than just the place where United Methodists will gather this week.

We have to talk about genocide of Native Americans…
This country was built on the genocide of Native Americans and slavery.
That’s the foundation of this country.

That’s how genius filmmaker, Spike Lee, summed up the distorted image many Americans have of our nation’s history of discovery, exploration and manifest destiny last week. He was talking about his academy award nominated film, BlacKkKlansman, a documentary about a Black man who joined the Ku Klux Klan in the 1970s. But he also referred to his disturbing 2000 film, Bamboozled, which explores the traditions of minstrel shows and blackface, among other racist practices. United Methodists gather in St. Louis this week at a crossroads of America’s history of racial violence.

Gateway to the West
Last night on the ride downtown from the St. Louis airport, the Gateway Arch shone in the night sky. It was built as a monument to American Progress and westward expansion across the American continent. But the “expansion” of European Americans across the continent depended upon the removal, displacement and genocide of the people whose home it already was. Cherokee people travelled through St. Louis when they were removed from Appalachia to Oklahoma, Indian Territory. And countless European-American migrants passed through St. Louis passed on their way west along the Oregon Trail or the Santa Fe Trail, claiming land that was not theirs. The Gateway Arch is meant to be a proud reminder of American Progress. Progress came at a cost that is still being paid by the suffering of Native Peoples who lost home, land, language, cultural integrity, social structure, independence, self-sufficiency in its wake.

So, here, on the banks of the Mississippi River, I remember the Sand Creek Massacre of 1864 in Colorado, led by Methodist minister, John Chivington. And all the Methodist and other Christian Indian agents who started Indian boarding schools, where children were ripped from their families and stripped of culture and identity. I remember Father Wilbur, Methodist minister turned Indian Agent in 1864, who built the boarding school at White Swan, Washington.

And I learn that just east, across the Mississippi River, eighty Cahokia pyramid mounds mark the largest pre-Columbian Native American city north of Mexico, a reminder of the great cultural heritage of the people who were in this land before Europeans arrived.

Hands Up, Don’t Shoot
St. Louis was a destination city during the Great Migration of African Americans from the South in the early 20th Century. Today it is home to roughly equal numbers of African American and White citizens. I remember Anthony Lamar Smith, a 24-year-old African American, shot and killed in 2011 by a police officer found not guilty. And, I remember unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown, shot and killed in 2014 by police in Ferguson, Missouri, 15 miles from where I sit. I remember Hands Up, Don’t Shoot. And the Black Lives Matter.

The Church is Here for Healing
Wouldn’t it be something if the Church came to this great city for healing, for peace, for restoration? This morning I pray:

Gracious God, lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
Put our hearts at peace so that we can see this city and all its people;
              this nation and all its people; this world and all its peoples.
Heal our divisions so that we might be a healing presence to each other and your world.

Corrupted or Conforming, God Loves the Church

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.

My Walk with Jesus and his LGBTQ Followers

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   

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

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.

Photo by Mike DuBose, UMNS.

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.

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