Pastor's Message about General Conference

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.

Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.                                                                                                      Phil 4:6-9

 
As you might recall from our series of conversations last fall, the last couple weeks of preaching, and our ongoing mentions of it in email, this past weekend was a specially-called United Methodist General Conference. Delegates from around the world hoped to put to bed our global denomination's ongoing discernment around human sexuality. That didn't exactly happen.
 
Northfield UMC has a history of engagement on this matter. Over a decade ago this congregation began a Reconciling process which concluded with this statement: "Jesus Christ calls us to offer welcome, hospitality and God's gracious love to all." More recently this congregation endorsed the "One Church Plan" for this 2019 General Conference. That plan would have allowed, but not required, annual conferences to ordain same-sex clergy and allowed, but not required, clergy to perform same-sex marriages. Nothing that happened this week changes your congregation's decision that we best fulfill God's command to love our Lord and our neighbor by explicitly making room for LGBTQI+ clergy and weddings in United Methodism, as that plan would have done
 
In the special General Conference in St. Louis, the "One Church Plan" didn't pass. Instead the "Traditionalist Plan" did. This plan would more strictly enforce prohibitions against clergy being in self-avowed practicing homosexual relationships, and more strictly penalize clergy for performing same-sex weddings.
 
Pastor Jerad was a delegate to the 2012 General Conference, where he advocated for full inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in the life of the global church. Your Pastors mourn the pain that this special General Conference has caused to our friends, our family, and our congregation. We have both already heard from dozens of you in your pain and frustration. We have faith that God loves you no matter what, that nothing you do separates you from God's love, and that when you love another person the Holy Spirit's presence is magnified in you. Our faith has not changed. 
 
At the same time, we recognize that for some in our congregation this may feel like a positive outcome. Ours is a big-tent church and includes many people with diverse views and different ways of interpreting the Bible. We should become neither too mournful nor too relieved as we continue to love each other and our community in Christ. The actual impact of this legislation is uncertain.
 
Being passed does not mean the Traditionalist plan will take effect. Many observers aren't exactly sure what lasting change will occur. Many supporters of the Traditionalist plan are planning to leave the UMC and form an alternative denomination anyway, in which case this may be reversed come 2020. Some observers believe the plan may be proven unconstitutional at a judicial council gathering in April. If it passes that council it may not ever be enforced in Minnesota: Our Bishop has already started talking about how we may be part of the "birth of something new." Our church will have the option to bear witness to Christ's love by participating in movements of joyful inclusiveness and creating alternate structures.
 
Please join your lay leaders at an adult forum this Sunday, March 3, between services. They will share what they know and you will be able to share what questions, concerns and hopes you have for the response of Northfield UMC.
 
Bishop Bruce Ough shared this video message at the end of General Conference: https://vimeo.com/320066203. Pastor Rachel plans to attend a Minnesota UM clergy gathering with our Bishop on March 11. At this event we will debrief the experience of General Conference, share how our churches are doing and what questions we have, and learn what decisions may lie ahead. She will report back at an adult forum on Sunday, March 24
 
God is still making LGBTQI+ people. Some of them will be in our church nursery. We are planning to love them their whole lives through.