And So it Begins…


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2013 New England Annual Conference & A Call for Accountability

Today,…With a car stuffed with T-shirts, water, traffic cones, and assorted race sundries…, I head off to the New England Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

For those of you outside of the Methodist fold, the Annual Conference is a unique beast.   For those of you who may not have met this beast; each conference represents a geographic division and is composed of equal numbers clergy and lay representatives from the local church.    For Methodists, the Annual Conference is the primary unit of denominational governance and the foundation of our connection with every other Methodist.

The Constitution of the UMC states it this way:

“The annual conference is the basic body in the Church and as such shall have reserved to it the right to vote on all constitutional amendments, on the election of clergy and lay delegates to the General and the jurisdictional or central conferences, on all matters relating to the character and conference relations of its clergy members, (¶ 33. Article II)

But it is so much more than that.

(more…)

A Hope and Sadness (Tempered).


As General Conference of the UMC comes to an end, the best sense of where we are as a church seems best to be described as “hope and sadness – tempered.”   I have seen and heard a large number of fellow UMs possessing such a great passion to be that church that becomes the face of Jesus to our world by practicing radical and transformative inclusionary love, that I know deep down that my children will not inherit the same United Methodist Church that I serve within.    They will one day have that church of radical love.    The example of so many in Tampa goes to attest to that fact. 

(I offer my thanksgiving to them)

At the same time, I also am sad.    A piece of my heart has been broken yet again.    I think of the many friends and fellow faithful who have been hurt and continue to be hurt by many policies of the church.   Although I celebrate the signs and celebration of repentance shared during this conference for the very real hurts the church has caused in the past (with Native Americans, Women, and Race), I cant help but interpret those moments with a hint of irony.

Repentance is a ” an admission of guilt a promise or resolve not to repeat the offense; an attempt to make restitution for the wrong, or in some way to reverse the harmful effects of the wrong where possible.”  Is it truly repentance if we resolve but dont change?    I wonder how old my children will be, when the church has an evening of repentance for the injustice of  we shared under the banner of United Methodism today.   It is sadness that many will erroneously point to us – as leaders of the church – as ask why we were so broken or why we could allow it to happen.

Will the see our indecision as a reason to turn away?   Will they see our unwillingness to talk as yet another reason for leaving our faith?   Will they be scarred by our inaction?   Will they – or their children – feel that there is no place or pew for them?  Although we can celebrate the diversity of views, theology, and biblical understanding, why do we find it so hard to just simply talk?  Why is holy conversation so hard?

In the end, one day my kids will have to justify, explain, or rationalize my action or inaction today.    I hope that my children will know that their father was a proud and strong Christian, a faithful student of Wesleyan theology, and a man who loved his church passionately and with great conviction.   

I also pray that my children will know that my God and my Jesus is one of LOVE (capital LOVE intended!).  They will know that Daddy never looked at another man or woman and saw brokeness first and foremost, but rather saw the face of God staring back.  The will know that Daddy made a practice of embracing whole and full LOVE of his neighbor, as opposed to hiding behind the powers and principalities of politics, nationalism, or silly catch phrases such as “hate the sin, but love the sinner.” 

My girls will know, because I will continue to stand up, stand alongside, stand for, stand with, and stand before those who are hurt or marginalized by society and/or the church.    I do so as my own act of repentance.   I do so because of who I know Jesus to be.    They will know because I will continue to stand with those like Mark.  I will “Stand, because we…And I…can do a lot better.” (emphasis mine).

The following is an article from UM Insight, a General Conference educational project of St. Stephens UMC.

Love Your Neighbor Campaign Urges UMC to “Stand With Mark”

After forty years of the exclusionary policies, the General Conference conducted only one hour of “holy conversation” on the subject of the inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people on first day of the General Conference. Many people reported experiencing hurtful words during these “holy conversations.” Members of the coalition working for full inclusion set the tone for the coming week by speaking out against demeaning words and actions against LGBT people.

During the Thursday evening plenary, Mark Miller, a delegate and openly gay man, brought the concerns of the coalition before the General Conference. As he rose to speak, allied delegates began to gather around as a visible sign of support.

 The following is the text of Miller’s witness:

As an elected, credentialed member of this General Conference, I am offering my voice to say that the attempt at Holy Conversation about Human Sexuality yesterday was incomplete. The process failed because of a lack of leadership and oversight. It failed because there wasn’t any careful preparation that really respects people and takes this work seriously.

So we are standing as gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender delegates. Yesterday the United Methodist Church did us harm. When we are harmed, the church is harmed. We serve at every level of the church though no one will admit it. We were bullied, emotionally, spiritually and physically. And no one did anything. We were harmed by the lack of leadership by the bishops. We abide by Wesley’s rule of Do No Harm and that rule was broken.

We are standing because we’re not going to wait for broken promises to fix themselves. We’ve learned that in this church waiting doesn’t work. So now we’re being proactive. It’s time for this church to live our resurrection faith. And I know that there are others delegates who are GLBT and delegates who have family members and colleagues who are GLBT. We invite you to stand with us at this moment. All means all. Stand. Stand, because we can do a lot better.

At Mark’s invitation, those in the audience stood at their seats. The Presiding Bishop ruled Mark’s witness out of order. His words generated a “Stand with Mark” campaign which quickly went viral on Twitter (#standwithmark). The comments on Twitter supported both Mark, and called for the United Methodist Church to oppose bullying words and actions.

In the closing worship healing service, Bishop Robert Hoshibata preached on “Love Heals.” He reported that he wanted “the church to include all, whomever they love.” Supporters for full inclusion left worship early to stand in silent protest. According to one witness, there were over 200 people standing in silent vigil outside worship. Delegates walked past the demonstration, a visible reminder that LGBT people are still an active part of the church, despite exclusionary policies.

***

For more information on the history of this discussion within the UMC, the following link is a great primer.  http://um-insight.net/articles/will-the-umc-say-%27i-do%27/  This is also the same source of the article above.   The chalice is the one broken (to symbolize broken communion) at the Pittsburg General Conference, and reassembled as a sign of the desire for healing and one of the greatest artifacts of the contemporary UMC.  (Mark DuBose of the UM News Service)

An Open Letter to General Conference Delegates…


April 23, 2012

Dear Brother or Sister in Christ,

Today, I post this message for two purposes.   First and foremost I want to acknowledge the great task you are undertaking.   As a clergyperson, I too know how difficult it is to interrupt your life for these types of events.   I appreciate the level of logistics required to take time away from parish and family and I celebrate your willingness to do so.  

As you do head to Tampa, I recall those times I have spent at Annual Conference in that seemingly endless cycle of bickering and debate, and I pray for the patience and holy discernment which has to be such a great part of this upcoming General Conference.  I know that this task that United Methodists are called to undertake is not easy, and I ask that you please know that you, your families, your churches, and your endeavors are in my prayers.

The second reason for this letter is a plea.    I ask that you please remember me and those like me.

I serve a rural church as a bi-vocational, licensed local pastor.   I am sure you have no need of my reminder that the United Methodist Church has a long history of utilizing this model of ministry and of its growing importance with each passing decade.  As churches struggle to find the financial mechanisms to survive in an era of declining membership, the local pastor has become an affordable and at times church saving alternative to traditional models.  

Along with the challenges of more and more ordained clergy retiring and smaller numbers of seminary graduates pursuing small church and rural ministries, there are currently over 7200 full and part time local pastors and over 2000 associate members serving in appointments similar to mine.  For many churches, this is one of only a handful of alternatives availableto closing doors. 

Our ministries are not easy, and these are not second careers for us. 

In my setting, I work a full time job that affords me the health insurance and income stability that the congregation I serve could likely never support.   I struggle, as do so many in the church I serve, to find the right balance between faith, mortgage payments, bosses, and 401Ks.    Some weeks the ability to juggle a 8-5 job, an appointment at times requiring more hours than are in present in any given day, schooling, and a family is difficult and strains all aspects of my life.  

This is a reality of the environment I serve within, and by no means a complaint.   I see my appointment as a blessing.    I am blessed to be able to serve Jesus and my community, while making a difference where I live.  I celebrate that the United Methodist Church has a model of ministry such as this.   I point to my LLP and Associate Member colleagues and see how frequently this is becoming of a successful model of ministry for a new generation.

Yet, for many in the UMC this model of ministry is a challenging one.  Sadly, the LLP/Associate member model is often not seen as a viable tool for ministry but as a threat to our current understanding of it.    Many LLP’s/Associate Members feel not only left out of the discussion but as if they are second class clergy.  It is, at times, a heartbreaking reality.

At times it seems as if we are missing in the discussion surrounding the future of the United Methodist Church.   That absence has led to miscommunications, missteps, and mistakes.   As an example, The 2008 Ministry Study Report recommendations  published in the Feb/Mar/Apr 2012 Circuit Rider magazine that called for only “ordained elders” to be allowed the right to administer the sacraments, created a firestorm across many online clergy and UMC discussion groups.   

In the discussion that followed, it became clear that for many the understanding of this model of ministry is incomplete and inaccurate. In some discussions a few had gone as far as to label or suggest the LLP model as “lazy” or “ineffective.”  Misunderstandings as to how this ministry model is structured or the extensive requirements of those within it were rampant.  Heartbreakingly, there were also calls for this model to be removed from the ministerial options of the UMC.

This collective misunderstanding within the church at times seems normative.  In my years of license I have repeatedly been asked “why I would want to be only a LLP” or “why don’t I become an elder instead?”   My response has always been the same, I am called to ministry as a bi-vocational, tent making, licensed local pastor.  It is a struggle to remind that this is not a short cut or an easy way out.

In writing this letter, I hope to remind you as a delegate, that as Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members (with limited voice and vote at the annual conference level), we are not a group of second class clergy.   In the wee hours of the morning a parishioner calls, when I sprinkle water on the head of an infant in Baptism, when I make vigil at the deathbed of a neighbor, or when I pray that God heals the broken hearted, those that I do so with do not see a second class minister.   They see a pastor.  

Although the are many voices dedicated to and supportive of this model of ministry in Tampa,  I urge you to remember that within the United Methodist Church there are many models of ministry, encompassing a wide spectrum of clergy and laity.    We are most successful when we exploit the full strengths of all within a framework of partnership and common mission.  Please take care that your decisions do not in avertedly make our task more difficult.

As I acknowledge those others voices within the church that at times speak as our own (such as the National Fellowship of Licensed Local Pastors and Associate Members or the United Methodist Rural Fellowship), I ask that you remember that as you address the many solutions for change currently debated within the church, that behind you in deed, spirit and prayer stands a group of pastors willing and committed to being a part of this future.   We pray that you remember us.

May God bless and protect you while on this wonderful journey,

Pastor Scott Masters, LLP

Asbury United Methodist Church

Chesterfield, New Hampshire

 

(If you are interested in learning more about this model of ministry, feel free to contact me, or visit the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church, the National Fellowship of Local Pastors and Associate Members or via our Facebook Discussion and Resource Group.  If you are interested in the online edition of the above mentioned Circuit Rider Magazine it can be accessed here.)

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