When I was in seminary, back in the late seventies, one of my classmates who was a Methodist, was openly gay. We'll call him Pietro. Pietro was one of the most loving, caring, pastoral people I have ever met. He was a decent preacher, and had a real sensitivity to the beautiful. He would have made an excellent pastor. But his denomination refused to ordain him, and so eventually, he went into nursing. A field where I am sure his gifts were appreciated. Medicine's gain, I suppose--but a real loss to the church. That was almost forty years ago, and still he would be unordainable in the United Methodist Church.
I am not a Methodist, but still, I am feeling real sorrow this week. The decision made by the United Methodist Church in St. Louis this past week, has left many folks reeling, unsure where to go, what to do. I have friends, colleagues in the ministry, who are saddened, angered, frustrated. For them it is not only a crisis of faith, but also a professional crisis. How can I lead the people I serve when I am in such major disagreement with this policy, the Traditional Plan, which excludes people loved by God? People like Pietro.
My wife's parents, now both deceased. were very active Methodists. Especially my father-in-law, Cyril. They would bring home the various pages of the church newsletter, and in their living room assemble them and prepare them for mailing. Cyril represented the church of the board of the Boy Scout Troop sponsored by their congregation. And he was a loyal usher in a day when even working-class folks like Cyril, who made a living chauffeuring and doing factory work, would dress up in a suit and tie to help folks feel welcome at church services.
When my daughter Elizabeth was in college, she came out. It didn't really surprise us, and Linda and I were pleased that she had the courage to reveal her orientation to us, and have supported her all along the way. We weren't sure, though, how her grandparents would respond. But when we told Hazel and Cyril, they made sure the next time they saw her they made her feel as welcome as always--with hugs, and kisses and "I love yous." I shouldn't have been surprised by that either. Weren't they just being good Methodists? After all, the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, once asked and answered a question about the faith he and my in-laws shared. "What religion do I preach?
The religion of love."
I am not a Methodist, but still, I am indeed feeling sorrow this week and pray for all my brothers and sisters in the UMC.
(Image: John Wesley)