General Conference 2019: Notes from the Front

 

Remember Who You Are...

Posted by Rev. Dr. Mark A. Fowler on

“Remember who you are…”

I am now home from General Conference. The road to Madison from St. Louis seemed far longer than when I went the other way. I yearned to be home and surrounded by the people and ministry of First Church (and primarily, of course, Susan)!

In the coming days I will write more commentary and reflections on the 2019 General Conference, but today I wanted to communicate some simple messages.

--At 4:45 on Tuesday afternoon I sensed The United Methodist Church break and divide when the “Traditionalist Plan” was adopted. That plan hardened the prohibitions against LGBTQIA+ persons and those pastors, churches and Annual Conferences that sought to include them with all of God’s children in the full ministry of the church. The backers of the traditionalist plan were well organized and the campaign seemed to be out to harm, punish and divide. Although the plan adopted may not ultimately be sustained by the Judicial Council (if it is found to be unconstitutional), the spiritual harm has been done. Although the next steps are unclear due to the need for a finding of the Judicial Council, the spiritual division and rending of the church has taken place.

--Hundreds of us in the stadium stood and wept with the deepest and most profound grief that our denomination had done such damage to itself and to so many cherished LGBTQIA+ friends and family that may be irreparable. What was done was not an expression of The United Methodist Church I know and to which I have given my life and my ministry. I was heartbroken and filled with grief. Something most precious had died, more specifically, been put to death by callous calculation.

--Yet, those hundreds who stood and cried and sang out of the range of the live streamed broadcast were my church; they were our church. I had known them and worked with them and worshipped with them in a common ministry and commitment. One who was there had been in grade school Sunday School with me and we were taught by my grandmother. Others from across the globe had intersected to form the strong connections of ministry and common mission. We were friends in the faith. This was my church. These friends are our church!

--Following the close of the business of the General Conference there was no way to join in common worship. That bond had been intentionally broken. However, although we had experienced a profound loss, although we had been put on the traditionalist target and been removed from their understanding of the scope of God’s love, there is no containing the embrace of the Holy Spirit. In the midst of this death of something so very dear, there was a gathering over the waters of baptism. Although the hall had been locked down for fear of what might occur, there was the offering of a reminder of who we were in Christ through the waters of baptism. “Remember who you are…”

--As your pastor, I repudiate the majority actions of the General Conference and the narrow and toxic ideology that informed it. I embrace the mission and ministry of our congregation to express grace and hospitality to all people after the manner of Jesus. I dedicate myself to the transformation of the world in love and justice. I trust in the unlimited and expanding grace and love of God. As one of the duties of my office and the charges of my ordination, I dismissed the temptation to run from the challenges that lie ahead and simply retire and withdraw. I claim the authority as shepherd to defend the flock in their your and ministry together.

--Many colleagues and friends left the session knowing that the next day there would be a monster truck exhibition in the space we had occupied for four days. Truckloads of dirt would cover the floor where our business had been done. Perhaps it is appropriate. The dirt will metaphorically cover what has died and passed. I will weep in the darkening night of this moment. The tears come from the deepest deep. Then, I will be exhausted for some time.

--Yet, I trust in the resurrection of the third day. Our mission is an inheritance of the Jesus who modelled it. Our fellowship is a bond of love that is stronger than death. Our vision of justice and love is ever expanding, ever corrected, ever challenged and ever before us to live into because we struggle to seek it as the work of God in the world.

--Like Dr. King before me and countless others around me, I have chosen to love. Hate is too big a burden. I hope tonight that I can sing “Love Divine, All Love’s Excelling” without my voice breaking in grief. Join me in the bonds that gather us as a church in love and mission. Jesus thou art all compassion, pure, unbounded love thou art; visit us with thy salvation; enter every trembling heart… Breathe, O breathe thy loving Spirit into every troubled breast….changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before thee, lost in wonder, love and praise.

With deepest gratitude,

Mark

Tags: all means all, general conference, umc

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