A UM-centric post by Stephanie Molnar Mowen
A Methodist pastor I respect deeply named Trey Hall—he took over my Chicago church shortly after I relocated to Austin—has made what initially seemed like a simple plea via Facebook:
If I could personally lobby each delegate and every UMC member, I think my one ask would be for us all to spend 30 minutes a day in silent, contemplative prayer from now through the Conference. A half hour a day where we resist telling God what to do, or what we want, or what we know is right — but instead let our thoughts and ideas and hopes go, surrendering them into the Great Ocean of Mercy who is God in Jesus Christ, and trusting God to do God’s work in us while we, you know, shut the hell up for a just a little while.
I suppose you can tell by his judicious use of the word “hell” that Pastor Trey would be right at home hanging out with Pastor Sid. And if Trey and his husband ever make it to Austin—they live “across The Pond”—you can bet I’ll invite them to worship. I find Pastor Trey’s commitment to his faith and the UMC in the face of adversity both inspiring and challenging. Plus, he’s just a darn nice guy.
But I digress. As for me, a lifelong United Methodist who happens to be cisgender, straight, and tending towards more than a little despair at the state of our church, country and world, I find Pastor Trey’s plea problematic. My chest tightens and my mind snaps shut like a threatened clam when I imagine General Conference. How can anything good possibly come from it if the Simple Plan isn’t officially on the table? How can I continue on in a church that maintains any semblance of discrimination—as it would if any one of the three “official” plans passes Conference later this month?
As I admit this snapped-shutness to myself, Trey’s words tap on my shell. It’s like he’s read my mind.
In part, I suppose the closing-off I lean towards is self-protective. Historically, I have usually found conflict terrifying (helloooo therapy) and I know full well there will be factions at General Conference arguing to continue excluding LGBTQIA+ persons from ministry and marriage, which means they will continue espousing rhetoric that harms my friends. Frankly, this enrages me. Which in turn terrifies me. (Go to therapy. Rinse and repeat.)
I wish I could say I’m superbly skilled at containing my anger and putting it to healthy use. However, while I’m better than I used to be, my MO is still to get judge-y and scared when faced with opposition, real or imagined. What that means on a good day is that, not without a hefty dose of irony, I tend to go “one up” and pity these poor, misguided folks who seem to enjoy stewing in their own hatred. On a really bad one I can imagine taking up arms and committing violence in defense of my Q-community brothers, sisters, and non-binary folk.
(Don’t worry—battle axes, my imaginary weapon of choice, really aren’t my speed. Plus, violence doesn’t work! But I am a mammal after all, and one need only take a quick look around to understand how our genetic lines have survived for billions of years. No wonder people like Jesus, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. command our fascination and respect! To maintain a non-violent or even open and inclusive stance when threatened goes against coding and requires a strength that it seems many of us—myself included—don’t naturally come by without a LOT of self-awareness and practice. And therapy.)
What gets me so angry? In one word, fear.
– I fear that General Conference won’t fix anything.
– I fear I’ll be too angry to maintain my UMC membership. (And I’ll what. Offend my ancestors?)
– I fear that my friends will be hurt by yet another discussion about them that has only marginally included them.
– I fear the comfort of a prejudiced majority will win yet again against the rights of the minority—and that this will continue to hurt not only my friends but also LGBTQIA+ children being born today and in the future into so-called “conservative” UMC congregations.
– I fear, in effect, I won’t get the acceptance and understanding I want out of General Conference. And this fear, if I’m not paying attention,starts to make me want to isolate and shut down.
I think that this constant rumination is what the reverend is arguing we need to quell in the days leading up to this unique church-governance session. As I struggle with his suggestion, I must admit that at the moment I can’t go as far as to say “God’s will be done.” Mostly because I have a few issues with the way God’s will, if that’s what it indeed is, plays out in our world. Just in case anyone’s asking.
However, as an old Chinese proverb notes, in my limited understanding I cannot truly know the difference between a blessing and a curse. So at this precise second known as now, I will concede that I don’t know how General Conference is going to turn out. I’ll even concede that maybe I don’t know the right way to move forward. This admission makes it easier to breathe and puts the very human structure of General Conference and even the UMC into a little bit of perspective for me.
I will also work to remember that as individuals and as a congregation, the power of choice is ours. We may have choices to make after Conference—but we will only know what choices we have to make after Conference. And maybe, if we have slowed down, taken some time, searched our hearts, and listened for the voice and vibrations of Holy One/Universe/Spirit, we will be more confident in the choices we make when we actually know what we face as a community committed to justice for all.
So for now, absent that crystal ball or the superb, unfailing omnipotence ascribed to God, here’s my plan:
– Sit for a while each day.
– Remain open.
In so doing, I will quiet my mind and gather my strength for whatever lies ahead. I’ll probably be a much nicer person to be around. And I will work to remain secure in the knowledge that I am beloved by the God of my understanding—and so are you “by just your being you,” as the Rev. Fred (aka Mister) Rogers used to say.
At the suggestion of my friend Trey, I invite you to do the same.
The Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church will take place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri.