Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I have been trying to figure out what to write to you all this day. I know that by the time you get this letter, you will probably already have seen online or in the newspaper the actions taken by the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis this week. Essentially the conference narrowly defeated plans that would have removed restrictive language and allowed annual (regional) conferences, local churches, and pastors more discretion in ministry to and with LGBTQIA+ persons, including allowing ordination and marriage for LGBTQIA+ persons. After two days of debate and discussion, a narrow majority voted in favor of the so-called “Traditional Plan” (438 to 384), which maintains current restrictions in church law and strengthens enforcement against pastors and churches who violate church law. Despite these actions, there is still much we don’t know. A portion of the passed legislation is known to be in conflict with the church’s constitution and will be overturned by the Judicial Council (the top church court). All passed legislation was referred to the Judicial Council for review. The Judicial Council will address the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25. The Rev. Gary Graves, secretary of General Conference, said any piece of legislation that the Judicial Council declares unconstitutional will not be included in church law.
We, St. Paul UMC, have been praying for this conference for some time now. We have met, discussed, prayed, hoped and dreamed. This is not the outcome we had hoped for. This is not the United Methodist Church we have known and loved. The United Methodist Church I know is fiercely open, loving, and on the path of justice. I was born and baptized into the United Methodist Church, raised in the church, mentored by my fiercely United Methodist Grandmother, married in the United Methodist church, and I made a solemn covenant at my United Methodist ordination to “take thou authority to preach the Word of God and to administer the holy sacraments in the congregation.” I am a United Methodist because I love our theology, our passion for social justice, and most importantly, our belief in personal and social transformation. And I believe that these are all aspects that you love about the church as well, as this is foundational to our life at St. Paul UMC.
I would be lying if I said that I wasn’t grieving with the outcome of the Special General Conference. I would be lying if I said that my hope stayed perfectly intact these last four days. There has been great sorrow and remorse, and if you have been following the proceedings, I know you are feeling that as well. But I still believe in God’s love and promise for me and you, for all of us and for everyone born. I still believe in God’s love. I still believe in our baptismal understanding and covenant as an offering of grace and a call to life lived in God’s purpose: “to renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin; to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” I still believe that God creates light out of darkness, and resurrection out of death.
And as the dust settles there is still much to discern. Because despite the Traditional Plan passing, we are closer than we have been in 47 years to full-inclusion. And while almost five decades is still too long a time, while there is still weeping, and screams of anger, and disappointment and fear, there is also hope. Hope that this will be the turning point. Hope that we are on the edge of change. The work of reconciliation happens in the broken places.
And so we will continue to stand by our LGBTQIA+ brothers and sisters and assure them that they will ALWAYS have a place in our church. That nothing can separate them from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, nor conference or traditional plan, or any other thing that is created (Rom 8+). Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Later today I am going to change the sign in front of the church to say “In THIS United Methodist Church, all are welcome. We are here for every one born, and we have love to offer.” (depending on how many sign letters I can find that is). And then tonight I’m going to eat pancakes with this beloved congregation at our Good Neighbor Wednesday. And on Sunday I will be at church, to pray, and sing, and to celebrate Communion together, to grieve and mourn, and to hope. We will come together to worship the God who loves us and doesn’t label us. We will worship the God that makes a way when it feels like there is no way. We will continue to ask God to guide us as we strive to be spiritual seekers, who love, serve, grow and worship Christ in an inclusive community of faith.
I love you all, and I am so grateful for the witness of St. Paul UMC. I don’t give up easily. I won’t give up on you. Come, Lord Jesus. Come.
Rev. Cassie Rapko