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Reading Romans 15

Hey there friends. You might not be at the ultimate reading yet but you are at the penultimate reading so hey baby steps be proud of yourself. Today's reading continues on with a common theme of unity in the middle of conflict and then delivers one of the most hope filled lines in all of scripture in verse 13. Today I want to use the blog to share a little more about my reasoning for leaving the church...but why I am not hopeless with the church. Before we get to that though let's take a moment to pause, to breathe, to be open to the movement of the spirit and what it wants to reveal to us today. Then, let us turn to scripture and let God speak.


 

Scripture to Read



 

My Thoughts


So on February 20th it was announced to the church that I would be leaving at the end of June. To further clarify that - I am leaving pastoral ministry in The United Methodist Church but not leaving The United Methodist Church. I will continue to serve as a lay person at a future church and will certainly not be a minister in another denomination or church. My heart will always be with this beautiful, but flawed, denomination. So why leave?


In 2019 the Methodist Church globally met for a special conference to vote on the work of a diverse team of professors, clergy, lay people, and lawyers who created a plan that was called "A Way Forward." This commission spend 3 years in painstaking efforts to find a way for the church universal to respect the theological beliefs of all people. In other words, how can we make it so conservative and traditional Christians can live alongside liberal and progressive Christians while still living into their full belief systems. In essence, clergy could choose whether or not to perform gay marriages and lay people could choose whether or not to attend a church that would. As Methodists, devoted to the extreme middle, this plan seemed like a way for us to live together through this hotly debated issue. But then like a speeding semi truck out of control the plan was derailed when an extremist conservative group called the Wesleyan Covenant Association crashed into us when they created a plan that would lead us to division through what was dubbed "a graceful exit." No one was prepared for this - not the bishops, not the way forward commission, and certainly not the conference. The conference become very heated and hurtful things were said on both sides. We met to vote on whether or not to accept the ONE plan and were faced with voting between TWO in the end.The final vote was taken with minutes to spare and the church elected to uphold the traditional values by a marginal amount.


My world went silent for the rest of the day except a light ringing in my ears. I felt despair, anger, hopelessness, and immeasurable grief as my beloved Methodist Church died before my very eyes.


2019 was a difficult year for my faith journey and the life of the church body collectively as the decision to uphold the traditional language in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBT affirmation (clergy and marriage) barred those that I love from being their full selves in the life of the church body. They are welcome, but they are not affirmed. They can serve, but they must be celibate. This half in approach feels vile at best and emotionally manipulative at worst. While I do not feel comfortable sharing on this public forum who specifically in my life falls on this spectrum it goes without saying that their life is significant enough to me to modify my existing career plans. Some of you know already and I appreciate your concern to keep that private.


I decided that I would not pursue ordination in the Methodist Church until the language changed. To be ordained in the Methodist Church you have to answer a number of questions original posed by Wesley to the first Methodist pastors. A few of them I am simply unable to answer honestly. These include


  1. After full examination, do you believe that our doctrines are in harmony with the Holy Scriptures?

  2. Will you preach and maintain them?

  3. Have you studied our form of Church discipline and polity?

  4. Do you approve our Church government and polity?

  5. Will you support and maintain them?

(The full list can be found here)


No. I do not believe your doctrines are in harmony with Scripture and who Jesus would have said amen to. No, I will not preach and maintain your awful legislation. No, I do not approve of our polity and I will not support them for anything. Not even the 10k pay increase, voting privileges, and influence an Elder status would provide me with. When I realized that I would not pursue ordination in the Methodist church I found myself in a state of limbo for my career. Local pastors don't get paid really well and with a seminary degree I'm really owed more than I get now. To be frank - I need to make more if I'm ever to pay it off and have a family someday. Presently, that hope for McKinsie and I is just unfeasible. Seminary cost me 100k at a 7% interest rate ya'll. My payments are just shy of $800 a month for 30 years. Local pastors do not get appointed to larger churches and local pastors can't even vote on the matters of the church. I feel like I'm living in the shadow of the elder I have always longed to be since 16 years old can't in good conscious. General conference is set to meet again in 2024 to vote on the separation. Currently, there is a 5 year transition period before the language is officially changed in the Book of Discipline. In essence, if I were to stay, I would be stuck in this limbo for another 7-8 years before I could be the pastor that I long to be. That would be over a decade of my career. I cannot wait that long. While my heart breaks and my mind rushes with fear over what happens after July I know that I am following my heart and I trust that God will provide.


However, I want to be clear for all of you. I am NOT bitter at the Methodist Church and I DO NOT advocate for people to leave when I leave or form a bitterness and resentment at this beautiful church body. I am leaving pastoral ministry because I need to separate my income from my faith due to my conscious but I will remain in this conference and I will be a thorn in the side of the faithful as I continue to fight and advocate for change in a way I haven't yet. I'll continue to serve Christ's church faithfully but in a different way. The Methodist Church has one of the best examples of Christ's ministry in our connectionism. We can mobilize millions of dollars of relief funds faster than any other church body because of our complicated and messy but beautiful system. Our social resolutions are incredible, our theology is perfect outside of this one fatal flaw (for me.) My hope is that you remain and fight as well. Fight to see your church stay united. Fight for ways we can live like Romans 15 and live together.


Romans 15 reminds me of the divorce we're going through in the Methodist Church as Jewish and Gentile Christians would reach such frustration with each other that they would want to be separate rather than find a way to peacefully be together in their differences. Paul urges - even begs - with a urgent confidence that they remain together because in their differences they can find their common love. I so wish our church could have done the same those years back.


While I was hopeless and in despair when the vote was officially casted I have not remained there. I follow a risen savior who cast away the forces of death, sin, despair, fear, anger, and the rest of sins forces. I follow a church founder whose heart was set ablaze and revived an aging institution he fought against. Paul writes in Romans 15: "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." I’m a firmly rooted in the truth that our faith is one based on resurrection and redemption. I'm leaning fully into the faith that God will not just provide me and you with hope and peace but that we might abound in hope. I know that God has wonderful plans for this church, for the greater church, and the world at large. So, while this is a sad day in the moment I know as St Julian of Norwich says “All shall be well. All shall be well. All matter of things shall be well.” I hope as you process all of this with me that you can end your prayers with the same conviction. Amen and amen.


 

Praying the Hymns


David Lohman is one of my favorite modern hymn writer. His whole album is incredible and I invite you to check it out here. This following song I think captures how I'm feeling today in response to Romans 15. Let's build this glorious kingdom together, not as pastor and lay - but lay persons alike.


1. We are different, you and I,

yet together, fates entwine.

Now we gather in this space,

joined in spirit, filled with grace;

bring your fullness, I'll bring mine,

and together we will shine.

REFRAIN

Together, we'll build a world

where there's room for all to be;

a world where we'll live our lives

liberated, strong, and free!

This glorious future –

build it now with me.

2. As we labor toward that day,

don't let difference fall away.

Your uniqueness I will see,

and the same, please, see in me.

Thus we're valued, known and named,

honored, cherished, loved and claimed.

REFRAIN

Together, we'll build a world

where there's room for all to be;

a world where we'll live our lives

liberated, strong, and free!

This glorious future –

build it now with me.

3. In this varied universe

all existence so diverse.

Filled with wonder, life so queer,

steeped in mystery, oft unclear.

Yet together, hand in hand,

we'll create that Promised Land.

REFRAIN

Together, we'll build a world

where there's room for all to be;

a world where we'll live our lives

liberated, strong, and free!

This glorious future –

build it now with me.





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