Saturday, April 18, 2009

A Reconciling Conversation

On Sunday following worship with the congregation of Chestnut UMC, we're gathering for a "Reconciling Conversation" -- the first step in a process as we consider a proposal to join the Reconciling Ministries Network and declare ourselves a fully inclusive church, particularly in welcoming the gay and lesbian community.

This process was initiated by a conversation at a visioning gathering that we held last month. At that time, with unanimous approval and enthusiastic support from everyone in the room, one of the goals we set was to pursue becoming a Reconciling Congregation. I'm looking forward to this first conversation with a widened circle, and whatever the outcome, I'm praying the process will be prayerful, respectful, and Spirit-led.

A couple of weeks ago, Sara and I had an opportunity to participate in an event at Portland High School sponsored by a student group called the Gay-Straight Alliance, affiliated with the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network. The event, called "Claiming our Sexuality and our Spirituality," brought together students, adults, and leaders of faith communities for sacred conversation. Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire (a truly amazing person!) was the keynote speaker, and then each of us spoke briefly about our faith traditions, extending a welcome to the students in the room, whatever their sexual identities. Then students were invited to circulate among the room to talk, ask questions, and make connections. Sara and I felt honored to be there. (See Sara's post, "A Sacred Night.")

When the advisor for the sponsoring group called, she said, "The most commonly asked question when I'm alone with a student is, 'Does God hate me?'" She said, "It breaks my heart every time I hear a student ask that."

I think it breaks God's heart, too.

So please, dear readers, join me if you will, in praying for the church -- the church I serve in particular as we engage in this process, if you'd like, but more specifically for the church universal, that we might more faithfully communicate the all-embracing, all-inclusive, full-of-grace and longing-for-relationship, reconciling love of God to those who feel like God must hate them because of who they are. They are everywhere, and they are beloved children of God, our brothers and sisters.


MumPastor said...

Amen, Allen - our church here in Ohio went through this process some years ago and we are proud members of RMN. All the best as you guide your congregation through this process.

Kelly said...

Three weeks ago, I was told my a member of our congregation that "if you don't believe in the Bible, you don't belong here". This came in the midst of a 10 minute in-my-face lecture on the evils of homosexuality. My position on gay rights has never been in question, or hidden from our congregation. But apparently my use of Harvey Milk as a sermon illustration of encouragement was over the line. The really ironic part is that only one person in attendance that night (and not the person who spoke to me) knew who Harvey Milk was. Over the last three weeks, my husband (who's our pastor) has had more than a few people ask him about the reference, as they didn't understand what all the fuss what about. The illustration was about Harvey Milk as an encourager, including his line in the end of the movie Milk, "you've gotta give 'em hope", and how the movement he was part of is still going strong today. I made no reference to his sexual identity at all.

In these last three weeks, which coincide with the vote in our legislature on gay marriage rights, there has been a lot of private discussion. Some of our congregation has refused to attend worship, which saddens me. We have to be able to have the conversation. We have to be able, as a church family, to love each other as a church family, and to agree to disagree, if we must. How else can we grow? The discussion has been painful, but good for us.

Last night, the person who originally spoke to me was in attendance at our Saturday evening service. It was the first time I had seen him since the conversation three weeks ago. I went up to him and hugged him. He hugged me back. I told him that it was okay, and that we were fine. I know he has not changed his position, and neither have I. But I am hopeful that now we can move forward, and not let our personal feelings keep us from experiencing the love of Christ together, which is what's important.

We cannot exclude anyone from Christ's love, His house, or His table. Ever. For whatever reason. We all belong to Him.

Thank you both for the work that you do.