Thursday, September 20, 2012

LGBTQ and Christian: Churches Really Embodying Radical Hospitality

For those who missed the news, I moved to Chicago to take a job in communications and technology with Reconciling Ministries Network, a non-profit mobilizing United Methodists to create full inclusion of all God’s children regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

Many of you have asked what I do. Basically I get to walk with people in their full range of emotions, helping them to tell their story of what it means to be a Christ follower who happens to also be LGBTQ or an ally. I get to celebrate with churches and communities that have made courageous statements of inclusion and cry with those individuals and groups who are being oppressed by other churches and society. I love my job.

One of the best parts of my jobs is telling the story of new churches or communities who have affirmed their commitment to full inclusion by becoming a Reconciling Community. I share the stories I helped tell this week to show that they are all coming from different places... both blue and red states. For some it was an easy vote, for others it was years of hard conversations. Reading these statements makes me think that there isn't a United Methodist congregation in Florida or elsewhere that couldn't make a similar statement. (Florida only has 3 Reconciling Congregations.) If you are in a church that isn't even willing to have the Reconciling conversation, you can always join RMN as a Sunday School or committee and by doing so, lead your church in what it really means to embody radical hospitality.

More regular articles to follow... I still don't have any furniture.

I challenge you to read these statements of welcome and inclusion below and tell me why your church shouldn't join the Reconciling Movement:

Rayne Memorial United Methodist Church (New Orleans, Louisiana)
For Rev. Carol Winn Crawford and her church, the process of becoming a Reconciling Congregation was a natural culmination. “After years of practicing radical hospitality without regard to gender identity or sexual orientation, a growing sensitivity to the plight of persons who have been scorned and isolated by the faith community, an ever-increasing love for LGBT individuals, couples, and families who are a precious part of our community, and the desire to make our solidarity with them public” becoming Reconciling was the next step. While their vote was unanimous, not everyone in the congregation is on board yet, but together they are committed to a ministry of patience, kindness, and understanding.

We are a community of faith and love representing, celebrating, and embracing all God’s children as persons of sacred worth, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, national origin, culture, tradition, sexual orientation, gender identity, personal and family history, or station in life. In the full expression of the radically transforming and all-inclusive love of God as revealed through Jesus Christ, all are welcome!

Social Concerns Committee of Nashville United Methodist Church (Nashville, Indiana)
Many find themselves in a church that is not ready to become a Reconciling Congregation. That was the case at NUMC, so Gloria Berryman and a committee in her church have taken leadership, writing their own statement and facilitating inclusivity seminars and movie nights.

We are called to share God’s love as we minister with and to all persons in the community and beyond. Our welcome knows no boundaries of age, race, ethnicity, culture, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic condition, or physical or mental ability. We seek to bridge the division in the church on this matter by fostering opportunities for dialogue through education, ministry, advocacy, and witness.

Penns Park United Methodist Church (Penns Park, Pennsylvania)
In 2004, when PPUMC found themselves in need of a fresh vision after 200 years of ministry, they decided to be intentional about becoming an open and affirming church. As for many churches, that journey has not been an easy one—Rev. Ginny Mills and her congregation have been the target of many of the same acts of discrimination and vitriol that many LGBT person face every day. After some very difficult years, the church has begun to grow again. Worshippers are an equal split of LGBT and allies, and they are very present outside the walls of the church, making their presence known in the local pride parade.

We are welcoming and affirming, believing all people are precious children of God, regardless of color, sexual orientation, or status. We are building an active ministry that extends beyond the walls of the church building. We are an old church moving in a new direction that shows God's love, care, and concern for the surrounding community. Though our congregation was established in 1805, we are not bound by stiff traditions; rather, we constantly seek new ways to apply the unchanging Gospel to a rapidly changing world.

Beverley Hills United Methodist Church (Alexandria, Virginia)
Rev. Sara Manner and Lay Leader Karen Beasley are proud to announce their joining with other churches across the country to “live out the teachings of Jesus Christ, who welcomed all people to his love, care, and grace.” On July 1st they voted to become a Reconciling Congregation!

We welcome all people. By this we mean that people of any race, ethnicity, national origin, age, religious background, sexual orientation, gender identity, marital status, physical or mental ability, economic status, or educational background are welcome. We affirm that all people are created in the image of God and all are worthy of God's love and grace. We fully include all people in the life and ministry of Beverley Hills Church. We recognize that there are differences among us, but believe we can love each other and work together even though we may not think alike. To all who have known the pain of exclusion or discrimination in the church or in society we proclaim this statement of welcome. We invite all people to join us in our faith journey toward greater love, understanding and mutual respect as we seek to follow in the way of Jesus Christ.

First United Methodist Church (Watsonville, California)
160 years after her birth, FUMC of Watsonville voted as a church to be recognized as a Reconciling Congregation. Rev. Robin Mathews-Johnson shared their welcome statement which was based on a statement written by Capitol Hill UMC:

We are called to the ministry of reconciliation. We embrace as a gift the diversity of our neighborhood and the world. We celebrate our human family’s diversity of sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, age, faith history, economic status, marital status, physical and mental ability, and education. We affirm that all people are created in the image of God and as beloved children of God, all are worthy of God’s love and grace. We welcome the full inclusion of all people in the life and ministries as we journey toward reconciliation through Christ. We recognize that there are differences among us, but believe that we can love alike even though we may not think alike. We proclaim this statement of welcome to all who have known the pain of exclusion or discrimination in the church and society. We invite all people to join us in our faith journey toward greater love, understanding, and mutual respect.

Broadway United Methodist Church (Indianapolis, Indiana)
Many inclusive churches wonder why it is important to join an organization and become a Reconciling Congregation. After witnessing continued discrimination against the LGBT community, BUMC voted to become one after 20 years of discussion. “We have come to realize that our voice against these injustices must be heard across the country,” said Board Chair Marc McAleavey. In addition to their statement of welcome, the church marches in the Pride Parade and hosts different LGBT arts and support groups.

We believe that the Spirit of God is alive in all people. We welcome persons of all age race, ethnicity, gender identity, and sexual orientation. We seek to acknowledge and honor this Spirit in all people by having conversations and listening for opportunities to connect and invest in the passions, interests, and gifts they have to share with the world.

Dunean United Methodist Church (Greenville, South Carolina)
When DUMC was continually experiencing difficulties with visitors who said they struggled with the church’s inclusive spirit (over one-third of the congregation identifies as LGBT), the congregation decided to adopt a new mission statement and become a Reconciling Congregation. “We wanted the community to know that we are inclusive, loving and accepting of all persons,” said Rev. Andria Cantrell, “so that visitors will know immediately who we are as a church.”

We are called by God to embrace all people, regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, family or socioeconomic status, physical or mental ability, or faith history. All persons are of sacred worth and dignity. Together, we are guided by our Lord's grace to worship, study, pray, and fellowship in servant ministry to the world by the power of God's Holy Spirit.

The Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church
The WJ Conference adopted a resolution in 2008 and just recently affirmed their identity as a Reconciling Jurisdiction as an act of biblical obedience. Here is an excerpt from the resolution:

We stand with our LGBT brothers and sisters, both lay and clergy, who have been shunned by the UMC in polity and in deed. We stand with our leaders who must hide an essential part of who they are in order to serve the church. We stand with hope, not for the future, but for our ministry in this time, in our places where people long to be welcomed and included in our communities of faith, long to be recognized in their relationships, and long to be a part of the church at large. We name and claim our ministries as welcoming and reconciling throughout the jurisdiction. We open our doors to all persons regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, we open our hearts to those who have been shunned, we open our minds to radical obedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even when at odds with The Book of Discipline, in order to further the work of God's justice and the creation of the beloved community. As a Welcoming and Reconciling Jurisdiction we will take steps of inclusion in the sacred trust of marriage, ordination, and leadership roles for all. Knowing that we are not all alike, but that we do intend to love alike, we recognize that this statement is made of courage, not agreement; this statement is made on faith, not law; and this action is taken to further the witness of The UMC, not to disregard its importance.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11: My Story Eleven Years Later (by: 9/11 Survivor Artie Van Why)

On this day of remembrance, I am honored to welcome back a friend, Artie Van Why, who witnessed 9/11 from his office across the street from the World Trade Center. Artie began writing about his experience on 9/11 and the weeks that followed, and authored an amazing book That Day in September. Today he reflects back on that day, he remembers the day Bin Laden was killed, and dwells in the grief he still feels. You can also read Artie's last article on this site about why he is leaving the United Methodist Church. 

I’ve been watching an HBO series called “The Newsroom”; a show centered on a fictional cable network and its flagship news show.  Each episode’s fictitious storylines revolve around a factual, significant news story of a specific day in the past few years.

On a recent episode, entitled “5/1”, the show’s continuous plotlines revolved around the major news story of May 1, 2011; the death of Osama bin Laden.

From the prospective of just a TV-viewer, it was riveting to watch what it must have been like in newsrooms across the country that day as the story we had all been waiting for had finally become a reality. But as someone who had witnessed, and survived, the 9/11 attack in New York City, it was difficult to watch.

The night bin Laden’s death was announced I was alone in my apartment in Lancaster, PA; far from the city that had been my home for 26 years. I can still remember feeling so isolated in the moments that followed the President’s address confirming bin Laden’s death. Watching the aerial shots on TV of people in New York gathering at Ground Zero made me long to be there with them. I had mourned with my fellow New Yorkers in the weeks and months following 9/11; experiencing a sense of connection unlike ever before. I imagined that the people of the city assembling where the twin towers had once stood were sensing a connection once again; hopefully of solace perhaps and a semblance of comfort.

I had nowhere to go in this city of Lancaster that was now my new home. People wouldn’t be gathering anywhere. And if I were to leave my apartment and walk the streets I would pass very few people; Lancaster not being an active city at night. And the people I would walk by would have no idea of just how significant this night was for me; as a 9/11 survivor. And though I had family and friends I could have phoned, I didn’t because I was unable to put together words that could remotely describe the emptiness of not knowing what I should be feeling.

But now it was 2012 and as I watched “The Newsroom” episode my thoughts quickly went from the night of 5/1/2011 to the morning of 9/11/2001. The images, memories, helplessness, pain and sorrow of that day when everything changed are always with me. Most of the time they are just in the recesses of my thoughts; no longer inhibiting me from my daily routines. Yet there is always an underlying anticipation that all those things can rush to the forefront of my thoughts as I relive that day. Sometimes they are triggered by something specific; other times by nothing at all. This time it was a television show.

And it’s not just the images I recall. It is also the emotions still so closely associated with those images; the terror and fear; the feeling of utter helplessness; the anguish; the sorrow.

I became aware that I was biting down on my knuckle while watching the TV; hoping that would prevent the tears falling down my face breaking into outright sobs. My partner was sitting in another chair, watching with me. If he was aware of what was going on with me he didn’t say anything. That’s not to fault him. He has held me many other times as I’ve cried over 9/11. But I’ve become all too aware of the awkwardness of others when I begin to talk of 9/11. I can sense a person’s unease of not knowing what to say or how to respond. Most people, I’ve found, are uncomfortable with someone else’s expressed grief. I understand that. So at times I’m more concerned about others’ than I am about myself. I say nothing.

Every 9/11 survivor I’ve communicated with shares the fact that there are people who think we should be “over it” by now; unable to understand why we haven’t “moved on.” I think I can say on behalf of many survivors that we will never be “over” it.  The memories of 9/11 are with us daily; some days just unobtrusively in the background, some days occupying every conscious thought.

And even though it has been eleven years now, as each anniversary approaches I am acutely aware of it. I feel on edge, easily irritated by the smallest insignificant things. The memories seem fresher; as if 9/11 had happened only yesterday. I cry more than usual. As if the anniversary of a family member’s death was near, the grief over the lost lives of people I didn’t even know is no less.

I have made progress in this mourning process. I may not have “moved on” but I am moving forward. I’ve only recently allowed myself to reenter living my life; accepting happiness when it comes my way. I’ve learned how to once again laugh. I’m able to feel hopeful about my life.

But I will never forget that day in September, back in 2001. And I will do what small part I can in assuring the generations to come will learn to always remember.

Reflection video recorded a year ago.