I am praying this morning for The United Methodist General Conference, which meets in St. Louis for the next four days to discuss a presenting set of questions about ministry by and with LBGTQ+ people, which represents of course a deeper discernment about the kind of Church we believe God is asking us to be in general in the 21st century.
(I’m not there. This picture is a rare shot of me crying after a restrictive vote at the 2004 General Conference; one GC is enough for me for a lifetime!)
I love the diverse people of The United Methodist Church. Through them, God changed and continues to change my life.
My grandparents, Jean and Louis Hall, introduced my sister and me to church when we were kids, taking us to Sunday school at their beloved St. Luke’s UMC in Memphis, TN, whenever we spent the weekend with them.
In my first year of college, a thriving United Methodist campus ministry in Murfreesboro, TN, led by Bill Campbell, helped me personally and consciously undergo God’s grace for the first time. Because of the theologically very diverse friends I made there, I experienced justification and assurance, and knew myself forgiven and freed by God. That experience of salvation, of meeting the risen Lord, gave me the spiritual power, at 19, to unashamedly come out as a gay man and to receive a different calling for life than the one I’d planned for myself.
A United Methodist seminary (hey, Candler School of Theology – Emory University!) prepared me well for ordained ministry amidst scholars and colleagues who were much more theologically liberal than me (hello, process theology friends!) and much more theologically conservative than me (what up, neo-Calvinists!). I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Three Chicago bishops (Joseph Sprague, Hee-Soo Jung, & Sally Dyck) have commissioned me, ordained me, taught me, and humbly listened to me when I pushed back at their interpretations. Because of them, I have been sent to serve with fabulous people in two established congregations (Glenview United Methodist Church and Holy Covenant Umc), a new congregation (Urban Village Church, Chicago), and now in Britain as a coach and general church staff in evangelism with theMethodist Church.
Life has been an adventure because of the people of The United Methodist Church. There has been joy and pain and doubt and drama and transformation and anger and capital-T Truth. To recall Jesus’s parable, it’s been a mixed field. Welcome to being human in Christ.
And welcome to being an institution. I think the nature of big institutions is that they’re mixed fields. They just are, more complicatedly mixed than even the individual human heart. Which makes them hard to love. And though I don’t know how precisely to say it, I guess I don’t actually *love* the institution. What would that even mean? What would it mean, really, to love a compressed set of political processes and agents called the General Conference? It’s necessary, of course, to have some ostensibly representative decision-making body, and I pray that the Holy Spirit fuels it, but does anyone actually love it?
But everywhere I go, with very, very few exceptions, I love – and like – the United Methodist people that I meet, even the ones I disagree with and who disagree with me.
I desperately want us to change. Since I came out 24 years ago now (!), I’ve been standing on the shoulders of giants and working with so many other sinners and saints for a rGospel-inclusive church, centered in the Good News of God in Jesus Christ and therefore increasingly open to repentance, transformation, santification, and world-changing ministry.
I’m praying for us this weekend. Not just the 800+ delegates, but the 13 million of us around the world – in Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America. That we will speak the truth as we see it in charitable ways, that we’ll ask forgiveness when we have hurt others, and that all of us, somehow together, will be caught up in God’s dream for us and move towards God’s whole will for us.