Letter to the North Georgia Delegation for General Conference 2019

St. Paul United Methodist Church
501 Grant Street, SE
Atlanta, Georgia 30312
404-688-7501

 

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Greetings from St. Paul United Methodist Church in Grant Park, a church of the ADOX District!

Please know first and foremost that we are praying for you and with you as you face the difficult decisions that await at the called General Conference 2019.  As you seek to hear and carry out God’s will for the United Methodist Church, you can be assured that you are being lifted in prayer, as we believe that you undertake this responsibility in earnest and with a sincere desire to carry out the highest and truest mission of the church.  May God bless you in this undertaking.

St. Paul has been a pillar in the Grant Park neighborhood of Atlanta for more than 110 years.  Consistent with our United Methodist practice of “Open Communion,” St. Paul today welcomes all who love God and the teachings of Jesus Christ and seek to live in peace with one another. In line with our understanding of United Methodist theology and doctrine – particularly our understanding of grace – our congregation aspires to be a nurturing community, supporting one another in our journeys of faith.  Like the Apostle Paul, for whom our church is named, we recognize that we now see only dimly as in a mirror, and we continually seek to understand God’s wisdom and direction for our lives.

In that spirit of seeking, in 2013, St. Paul UMC prayerfully decided to become a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network within the United Methodist Church, a movement committed to a witness of reconciliation and inclusiveness for all persons, regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, marital status, faith history, nationality, political affiliation or economic status.  We pray and work that we will be a people reconciled in God’s love.

As a reconciling congregation, we go through our church year with the same milestones – liturgical seasons – as every other church in the denomination. Our sermons and worship services are biblically inspired and oriented and strongly reflect the Wesleyan tradition. Our children are told the same old, old stories that we all love to hear.  We offer missional outreach to the community around us.  We pray together over the triumphs and challenges faced by our members, from births to deaths, to new jobs and job losses, to financial successes and challenges, to personal happiness and emotional distress.  Our congregants carry out busy lives, and we covet those moments of sanctuary that are centered around the church and from which we gain the faith to go forward into our everyday lives.

As a reconciling congregation, it is our painful conviction that we simply cannot find God in the language regarding human sexuality currently contained in our United Methodist Discipline.  Our pain over the years has too often turned into agony as this language has caused persons we love and respect to separate from the church, to experience deep self-loathing, and even to turn to the tragic and ultimate option of suicide.  We know that in congregations throughout the denomination, young people are finding themselves unable to seek the wisdom of their elders for fear of shaming, dismissal, belittlement, and of becoming outcast, even from the families into which many of them were born.  We know that seekers and laypersons whom God has blessed with many talents and gifts are being blocked or discouraged from ministry that would strengthen our churches and spread the Gospel of Good News.

As a reconciling congregation, we know that we cannot in good conscience condemn or abandon any who seek earnestly to find God’s will in their lives.  We also know how the church, when it accepts our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, provides a bedrock place of sanctuary, a place where individuals can see themselves as loving and loved children of God, as supportive spouses and partners within relationships grounded in love, and as productive, contributing members of the community.

We are witnesses to how the many talents of those who are currently excluded from ordination could be harnessed to fulfill the mission of the church to bring the Gospel to all people.  We have seen how persons of all sexual orientations can contribute substantially and meaningfully to every aspect of church life, and how our church life is so much richer because of it.  And, perhaps most importantly, we have seen how a Christ-centered haven of love and trust establishes a bulwark against destructive behaviors toward oneself and others.

We recognize that many within the denomination do not share our view of the sanctity of human sexuality as it manifests itself in loving, Christ-filled relationships that do not fit within the heterosexual paradigm.  But we know from experience that we can – and often do – work shoulder-to-shoulder with all of our brothers and sisters (regardless of their  views) in bringing food to the poor, shelter to the homeless, safety and comfort to the orphaned, love to the abused, justice to the injured, solace to the widowed, healing to the sick, security to our retired clergy who have served long and faithfully, and Christ’s love to every living soul whom we, as a church, encounter.

It hurts sometimes to be in mission with persons who believe our understanding of God’s grace and love is incompatible with Christian teaching, but we, as a church, are exponentially stronger when those differences of understanding do not deter us from our common mission together.  We are called upon to pray for and bless each other.  We pray that we will be a people reconciled in God’s love.

As a reconciling congregation, we affirm the Reconciling Ministries Network commitment to policy change and the creation of long-term solutions and practices that create full inclusion in the United Methodist Church and our broader society.  We also affirm that reconciliation is necessary for the healing and transformation of animosity into a loving relationship amongst all God’s children, and that authentic reconciliation requires peace with justice.  That applies not just to the church’s relationship with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, but also to the body of the church as a whole.

As you approach this moment in our church’s history, we hope you will share our vision of all that the church can be for every person it encounters everywhere in every condition.  We hope that you will exercise your duties as our delegation to support a way forward that will enable the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in all aspects of the church to the fullest extent.

We pray for you, for our church, for those who stand in agreement with us, and for those who disagree with us. May the peace and understanding of God be with you.

Sincerely,

Your Brothers and Sisters at St. Paul UMC