On Monday night, I was grateful to see the Crossroads Center filled to capacity as our members came together to understand the implications of the recent Judicial Council ruling and our next steps in response. For those of you who were unable to attend, I want to offer a very brief recap of what I presented, and offer you some immediate actions you can take to join us on this journey forward.
We have been very active since the General Conference decision in late February. In the past 60 days, we have hosted one all-church meeting, met twice with members who identify as LGBTQ+, and launched an official campaign in response to the decision. This campaign, titled ‘This is FirstChurch.’, launched on Easter Sunday and reflected our position that we are a church that welcomes ALL.
Read my previous email
to learn the particulars of that campaign, and all the steps we are taking to ensure our community knows our position. Since Easter, our clergy have been included in discussions happening across the North Texas Conference. We are proud to represent FirstChurch as the Conference imagines its next steps.
Now, this brings us to the present moment. We are discerning additional considerations now that the Judicial Council has made their ruling regarding the UMC constitutionality of the Traditional Plan.
One of the most dramatic changes is the removal of the word ‘practicing’ from the phrase ‘self-avowed practicing homosexual’ from the language surrounding this topic in the Book of Discipline. Omitting that one word claims both a new theological and scientific stance. Now, people who identify as LGBTQ+ as are disallowed even further from fully participating in the life of the church. This does not align with the theology and approach to ministry we have here at FirstChurch.
Here is a breakdown of the other parts of the Traditional Plan that were ruled constitutional, and will take effect January 1, 2020. These mainly speak to the function of our bishops, and issues of clergy accountability:
- There is now a ban on electing a bishop who is a member of the LGBTQ+ community;
- If a candidate for ministry is approved by the Board of Ordained Ministry, but is a “self-avowed homosexual,” that conference bishop can overrule the Board’s decision. If the Bishop is aware of this, yet does not overrule the Board’s decision, then that Bishop can be held accountable;
- If a clergy person officiates a same-sex wedding, they will receive a one-year suspension without pay on the first offense, and will be stripped of their credentials on the second offense; and,
- Those churches who wish to make a “Gracious Exit” from the denomination must meet three criteria: two-thirds majority of members must approve the exit in a special conference vote, terms and conditions of departure must be established, and leaving must be ratified by a simple majority at annual conference.
The words of Moses in Exodus 2:22 capture our position perfectly – “I have been a stranger in a strange land.” Friends, no matter your position on this issue, the fact remains our denomination is in a very different place now. Right now, we are all strangers in a strange land. We will not go back to “Egypt” because “Egypt” for us has changed. As we find our way to wherever and whatever comes next, we will have to build the road while walking it — and we will pave that road together.
So, what does that mean for us at FirstChurch? I am not advocating that we leave the denomination. Rather, I am strongly encouraging us to live into and up to our vision of Methodism which starts by (1) recognizing God’s love for the smallest among us as represented in baptism and (2) the gift of grace shared at the Open Table represented in holy communion.
In terms of next steps, our first immediate one is to form a “Church at the Crossroads” Commission. Eight appointed lay leaders and I will explore possibilities of the Judicial Council ruling, disaffiliation, disobedience and apportionments, review FirstChurch’s wedding policy and governance structure, and discuss how we encourage young people to answer a call to ministry. Timely progress reports on this work will be given at our Church Council meetings, as the Church Council will serve as the final arbiter for any recommendations from this commission.
As this commission works, we must continue to live into the ministry of this church. Here are ways you can get directly involved:
- Sign the covenant. There has been a covenant developed by a group of pastors since the 2019 General Conference. The covenant is an invitation to sign on in affirmation of the substance of the One Church Plan as a living reality in our churches and conferences, starting right here in North Texas. Read the covenant and sign if you agree to this affirmation.
- Attend the Bishop’s meeting. Bishop Michael McKee is hosting a meeting with members of the LGBTQ community and allies May 16 at Lovers Lane UMC at 7 p.m.
- Interview with StoryCorps. StoryCorps and the National Institute for Civil Discourse are working in Dallas over the next several weeks to identify Christians who would like to participate in a 40-minute “One Small Step” conversation with another person of faith who holds different political views. Our church supports this effort because it seeks to break down the barriers created by politics and help us all to remember our common humanity. You can indicate you would like to be paired with someone from our church or another faith community for this discussion. Click here to sign up.
- Volunteer at the Block Party. The Nasher Sculpture Center has invited First Church to serve as hospitality hosts during the Pride Block Party June 21, which expects an attendance of approximately 30,000. Hosts are needed from 6-8 p.m. and 8-10 p.m. Email Elizabeth Smith to sign up.
- Engage in upcoming social justice work. Come and work with Project Transformation this summer. Take part in a four-part advocacy series focused on migrants, people of color, the LGBTQ+ community and the homeless community. Participate in an LGBTQ+ ally training. Come to the immigration forum we are planning in October. You will hear more about all these events, but make a decision now to dedicate time to these important opportunities.
During the question and answer period of the meeting, a question was raised about our recent capital campaign. We are not changing our course on the vision that our congregation has affirmed. FirstChurch has seen change before; this particular change will not deter us from responding to God’s call to continue to show and share God’s Love with children and youth for generations to come.
I am continually energized by the love you have for this church, as well as our mission to grow disciples, connect communities and serve the world. While our beloved United Methodist Church may be in turmoil, our church – FirstChurch – remains committed to serving as a beacon of light for all of Dallas while we blaze a new trail together.
Together, we are held…
In God’s Love,
Dr. Andy Stoker