Perhaps you have by now heard the news that the long-awaited General Conference of the United Methodist Church had to be postponed to late summer 2022 once more. You can find the reasons for this postponement HERE in a letter from our Michigan Area Bishop, David Alan Bard.
I am not going to spend time writing about the General Conference postponement in this article. The suggested link above will help you understand the thinking that led to the decision to postpone.
What I want to focus on instead is the question, “what the postponement can mean for the people of the Leland Community UMC, and also what it does not mean for us.”
Let’s talk first about what the GC postponement doesn’t mean:
- We do not need to decide whether Leland Community UMC should or should not permit the use of its sanctuary and church facilities to host same-gender weddings.
- We do not need to decide whether or not Leland Community UMC would be agreeable for its Pastor to conduct same-gender unions.
- We do not need to decide whether the Leland Community Church should remain a vital part of the United Methodist Church, or leave the denomination and affiliate with another yet-to-be-formed alternate Methodist denomination.
“One thing is needful,” Jesus said when asked to settle a dispute between two sisters, Mary and Martha (Luke 10:42). That one thing needful was to simply sit at the feet of Jesus and to listen to what he spoke.
This is not an argument about whether or not someone takes the Bible literally. This is about whether we take the Bible seriously. What is God, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying to the church about being the body of Christ? Do we truly believe that all people created by the one God are welcome to enter a house of worship?
Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors. This has been the slogan of the United Methodist Church since 2001. Is this slogan also true for the Leland Community United Methodist Church?
What is open about our hearts, our minds, our doors? Is everybody welcome here, regardless of ethnic, economic, or educational background, creed, gender, or legal status? Do we tolerate self-appointed gatekeepers who decide whether or not a person desiring to be a part of this worshiping community is acceptable or unacceptable?
In his letter to Michigan United Methodists, Bishop Bard wrote that “While the postponement of General Conference delays important decisions for The United Methodist Church and puts us in a waiting mode in some ways, it does not mean we have simply hit pause in our life and ministry together.”
The one thing needful for us to do NOW is to answer honestly and truthfully these difficult questions of how we define being a welcoming church. We owe this honest and deliberate conversation to those who are already part of this congregation, and (perhaps even more importantly) to those who have not yet affiliated with us but are waiting on the sidelines, wanting to know whether they, their friends or their sons and daughters are welcome to worship in this congregation.
The three questions I raised earlier in this article won’t go away; there will be a time and place to answer them later on. But may we right now commit ourselves to lean into the guidance of the Holy Spirit? May we together discern right now the question of who is welcome in our congregation to worship God, praise God, and receive forgiveness for all that separates us from each other and from complete reconciliation with our Creator?
Pandemics come and, eventually, cease to be a life-shattering and life-interrupting event. There is light at the end of this long tunnel we have been traveling through since March 2020. The days when we will be able to finally open up our church facilities without restrictions are not that far off.
How will we return to whatever the “new normal” will turn out to be? Will we try to get back to business as usual, or will we have taken the time to sort these important matters out and commit ourselves to truly say “welcome” to whosoever might choose to walk through our sanctuary doors?
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Daniel Hofmann