Greater NW Pride: Being Church


Being Church

Since the specially called General Conference meeting of February 2019, with the decision to go with the Traditional plan, there’s a lot of activity within the United Methodist Church as our members are trying to figure out the way forward on this pilgrimage of faith. 
For example, as I write this, the Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction came out with the aspirational vision of the “Safe Harbor” declaration, welcoming out and closeted LGBTQ+ clergy and families to find a resource of hope when the new Traditional plan goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.  To quote Bishop Stanovsky: I’ve decided not to process those complaints so that (LGBTQ+ clergy) can be engaged in their ministries and their lives with joy and without the threat of damage.” And Bishop Hoshibata: “I cannot abide living my life of faith participating in that injustice and evil.” Strong words, and even stronger stance of holy defiance.
At the same time that the Bishops were meeting in Junaluska, North Carolina, the Wesley Covenant Association was holding a meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma, declaring their plans to possibly separate from the United Methodist Church, as a new denomination, because they understood that the movement forward to include LGBTQ+ people in the denomination is unstoppable.
Finally, the Rev. Anna Blaedel, an out queer clergy person (they, them, their), was tried in UMC church court system, for the third time, and their most recent charge and trial resulted in a “just resolution” this week. The resolution is that they will continue to work a few hours a week at the Wesley Center at the Univ. of Iowa, while spending more time on sabbatical leave. What courage Rev. Blaedel is showing to the world, to stay in the struggle for liberation and love for all. 
As an out gay man, who is also a Presbyterian pastor, working for the United Methodist Church, that was a lot to process this week. On the one hand, I could “feel the love” of the Bishops of the Western Jurisdiction, as could my siblings in Christ who are out LGBTQ+ clergy in the Western Jurisdiction. On the other hand, I could also feel the sting of theological bigotry of the Wesley Covenant Association in the game of “who is holier or more Wesleyan than thou?” And I can completely empathize with the Rev. Anna Blaedel, having been denied tenure for being gay, and facing charges in the Presbyterian Church (USA) until we changed our Book of Orderand made such charges moot. My mind, body, and spirit felt the weight of all that was going on in the United Methodist Church, as did other LGBTQ+ siblings in the UMC and outside of the UMC, along with our straight allies and friends.
And yet, I also experienced the best parts of the UMC and PCUSA when I preached at Wesley UMC and Grace PCUSA in Milton-Freewater, Oregon. This past Sunday, I made my second trip to this lovely area of Oregon, wine country, with the Rev. Tillie Make Peace and her husband Jack as my hosts. I was given that wonderful honor of preaching in the pulpits of both churches, which Rev. Tillie serves. As Rev. Tillie told me afterwards, not only was the sermon pretty darn good, but perhaps one of the most powerful points of “witnessing the work of God in our midst” was an out gay man, called by God to be a pastor, preaching in the pulpit of both church, a first for many in both congregations. By being church with one another, things happen. This is exactly how women and people of color, people with disabilities and people who are deaf were finally freed up to respond to the call of God to be a pastor: by seeing a woman, a person of color, a person with a visible disability, or a person who is deaf and using American Sign Language, in the pulpit. By being church with one another, change in the UMC is going to take place one person at a time, one church at a time, one pulpit at a time, one conversation at a potluck or fellowship hour at a time. It is going to be through personal, 1-1 relationships that change will finally take hold in our local congregations, in our districts, in our annual conferences, in our jurisdictions, and in our global United Methodist Church. I just smiled, broadly, on the four-hour drive back to Portland on Sunday afternoon, as I reflected upon the work of God’s grace in both congregations, by being church with one another, honored to be part of the change forward.
Yes, it was a heck of a week! And may there be more weeks like this ahead of me in my work as the LGBTQ+ Advocacy Coordinator of the Or-Id Annual UMC Conference, being church with one another.

Brett Webb-Mitchell
Rev. Dr. Brett Webb-Mitchell is an openly gay Presbyterian pastor in the Portland area serving as the part-time LGBTQ+ advocacy coordinator for The Oregon-Idaho Conference of the UMC. He can be reached at brett@umoi.org. Become a subscriber to the Greater NW Pride blog to get Greater NW Pride in your email box!