This morning, Catherine and I have just returned from Kansas City where we attended Leadership Institute (LI). In past years
, LI has offered great worship, plenary sessions with speakers that both challenge and inspire, and workshops on a wide range of topics. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection has been offering this event for twenty years as a way to equip pastors, staff, and other church leaders for more effective ministry. Some of you may know that a large group of Trinity staff went last year to the event and came back with lots of ideas, resources, and encouragement.
This spring, Church of the Rez announced that this year's LI would be different. In response to the passing of the Traditional Plan at the special General Conference in February, Rev. Adam Hamilton, the senior pastor, extended an invitation to every United Methodist Church in the country to send only two persons this year for a much more focused gathering. The goal was to include as many church leaders from as many United Methodist churches as possible who wanted to be part of a conversation about setting a more hopeful and inclusive course for the future of our denomination.
It's been an important few days. More than 2,500 people from 1,300+ United Methodist congregations across the US were in attendance. A poll taken the first evening showed that there were many persons in attendance who identify themselves as progressive and still a number of others who identify as traditionalist. The poll further revealed that more than 90% of all persons in attendance shared a common hope - to remain part of a church together that would more fully reflect the inclusive love of God and embrace the gifts and calling of all persons seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. Identifying that shared hope early on in the event fostered an atmosphere where there was much joy, honesty, and healthy conversation about the possibilities for the future.
For me, this week has been a reminder of the importance of following John Wesley's first general rule for Methodists: "Do no harm." This rule informs my own sense of calling at this particular time in the life of our denomination to press on in pursuing the inclusion of LGBTQ+ persons in the life and leadership of the church. The week has also been a reminder that in following this rule, there is also much work still to be done in embracing the gifts and calling of women, of persons of color, and of other persons far too often marginalized.
Consider this...in 1994, it was through the voice of Bishop Leontine Kelly, an African-American female, that I finally heard and said "yes" to God's call on my life to ordained ministry. Less than 40 years earlier, that could not have happened in our denomination since her race and gender would have prohibited her from preaching in the church. The sobering truth is that in some churches today, it still couldn't happen.
The church that I imagine will no longer place roadblocks in the way of the gifts and calling of persons because of their race or gender or sexual identity. And after worshipping, conversing, and sharing meals for three days with so many others who share that imagination, it seems more possible than ever before.
In eight months, delegates from around the world will gather for General Conference 2020. Between now and then, will you join me in praying for our United Methodist Church? ...that we may lean into a future filled with bright hope and extraordinary promise.