I’m writing to you about a few different topics that have common bonds … the tension within our global denomination, resisting harm, and the ongoing ministry of our local church here in Avondale. If you’re not interested in the global things going on, I hope you’ll skip to the good things happening here in Avondale, especially what I have planned for worship tomorrow (01/05/2020). As always, feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions.
The Tension within Our Global Denomination
You may have seen some national headlines yesterday (01/03/2020) that implied that The United Methodist Church (UMC) had reached a decision to split as a denomination. The one thing I want to be clear about is that a final decision on separation has not been made. Only the General Conference* of the UMC can vote to do that. The next General Conference gathering is coming up May 5-15, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. While I do believe that some sort of separation or divorce is inevitable, I don’t know exactly what that will look like.
The truth of what made headlines yesterday is that a faithful, committed group of denominational leaders (calling themselves the Mediation Team) released a legislative option that, if adopted by The UMC’s General Conference, would allow for caucuses within our denomination to amicably separate and create their own new expression of Methodism that they believe better aligns with their values. The Mediation Team is comprised of bishops and key leaders from caucuses who represent all ends of the spectrum with regards to the controversy surrounding human sexuality and the rights of the LGBTQIA community within the UMC.
There are several other legislative proposals that have been submitted to the General Conference that could also come into play. In addition, legislation can, and likely will, be amended by the General Conference. I do believe, however, that the legislation released yesterday is the first promising plan I and many others have seen coming before the General Conference. In addition, the group who worked together to create this is comprised of people who have a lot of institutional influence on the caucuses whom they represent. There are helpful links at the end of this email if you want to read more about the legislation and how it came to be.**
Ultimately, only time will tell how this will all play out. In the meantime, you’ll be seeing communication from me regarding a movement of faithful, inclusive Methodists called Resist Harm.
The Resist Harm Movement is a United Methodist movement of faithful resistance to the Traditional Plan*** which came into effect January 1, 2020. The goals of the Resist Harm Movement are three fold: (1) stand in solidarity against the implementation of the harmful Traditional Plan, (2) grow visibility of United Methodists who long for a church connection that affirms the full participation of people of all ages, nations, races, classes, cultures, gender identities, sexual orientations, and abilities, and (3) offer support to those who directly experience harm because of the Traditional Plan.
The Resist Harm website offers direct actions that individuals, churches, and communities can make in order to stand in solidarity, raise visibility, and support persons harmed. Each month Resist Harm will offer resources to help fulfill these goals by rallying around monthly themes. The themes are as follows:
JANUARY – RESIST | FEBRUARY – LOVE | MARCH – LAMENT
APRIL – LIGHT | MAY – WITNESS
JANUARY’S THEME IS RESIST
Send a letter to our Bishop calling for a moratorium on church trials against LGBTQ+ clergy or for clergy who perform same-gender weddings. We encourage those who feel led to send your own letter to Bishop Wallace-Padgett telling her of the valuable ministry that is happening here at Avondale UMC. This could include how all people are fully welcomed, included, and affirmed in ministry from leading Sunday School to mission activities to serving in worship to key leadership roles. You can read a sample letter from the Resist Harm website.
You send your letter by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by mail at:
Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett
United Methodist Conference Center
898 Arkadelphia Road, Birmingham, AL 35204
If you are on social media you are invited take a picture of yourself, your small group, or your congregation holding Resist Harm signs. You can make your own sign using the hashtag #ResistHarm, or you can download a template from their website. Post your pictures on any social media platform along with #ResistHarm.
Ministry of Avondale UMC
Phew!!! All that’s going on at a national and global level of the denomination is a lot to take in and process. I know I struggle with trying to find balance and equilibrium during these uncertain times. But the one thing that continually grounds me is our work and ministry on the local level. This is where I feel like I can make a difference … and this is where I know God will use me if I keep my heart and mind open to that. We have so many great ministries and volunteer opportunities that I plan to highlight throughout the coming year. Hopefully you can find your place in ministry if you don’t feel like you already have one.
Tomorrow in worship we will celebrate Epiphany … this is the time we recognize when the wise men first visited Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. Last year on Epiphany Sunday, I introduced the concept of Star Gifts in worship. Each star had a different word printed on it, and each person was invited to take a star with them for the coming year, not knowing what word they would select. I’ve heard from several of you that you kept your Star Gift in a visible location, myself included, so you could reflect on what God would say to you through that word. For some, it has been a meaningful experience. For others, it’s been a challenge, and you’re ready to say, “Good riddance,” in favor of something new.
I will have a new selection of Star Gifts tomorrow for 2020. Feel free to bring your 2019 word to lay on the altar as you prepare to receive a new word. If your word from 2019 has been meaningful to you, you’re welcome to hang onto it as a keepsake. I pray you’ll join me in the wonder and mystery of what God will do through us in the coming year. See you tomorrow!!
Rev. Malinda Weaver
* The General Conference is comprised of delegates that are elected from Annual Conferences around the world to represent them. The North Alabama Conference, which is where Avondale UMC is located, elected eight delegates (four clergy, four lay) to represent us at the General Conference.
** Click here for an article from the United Methodist Council of Bishops
Click here to read the proposed legislation from the Mediation Team
Click here for a FAQ sheet to help better understand the legislation, the people involved, and the history behind it.
*** The Traditional Plan is the legislation that narrowly passed at the 2019 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. This legislation mandates that clergy found guilty by church trial of performing one same-gender wedding, regardless of circumstances, are suspended for a minimum of one year without pay. The second time, they are stripped of their credentials. The plan also prohibits bishops from ordaining “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” and places additional punitive measures in the UMC’s Book of Discipline which is the Church’s book of doctrine and law.