Friday, May 30, 2008

CWM This Week

This Week at CWM

LOST and Found: Lessons from the Prodigal One and the TV Series LOST
June 1st at 5 PM

CWM Upper Room at College Ave. UMC
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join us as CWM pastor, Tiffany Steinwert, leads us in reflecting on forgiveness and redemption in scripture and popular culture.

Coming Events

Celebration of Rev. Dr. Aida Irizarry Fernandez
Saturday June 7th from 3 PM to 7 PM

St. John’s Korean UMC at 2600 Mass Ave Lexington , MA

Guests are invited to bring cards, photos and other items for a scrap book. Please remember to RSVP no later than May 30 by calling Josephine Sierra at (978) 682-8055 x200 or by sending an e-mail to Josephine at

Somerville Ecumenical Pride Service
Sunday, June 8th at 5 PM
College Avenue UMC Chapel
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join Somerville communities of faith as we kick off Boston Pride week with a special interfaith celebration. CWM will provide a potluck meal for our friends in Somerville.

Boston Pride
Saturday June 14th starting at 10 AM
Old South Church in Boston

Join CWM as we celebrate Pride. We will begin by joining the Pride Interfaith Worship at 10 AM at Old South Church. After the service, CWMers will gather outside the church to line up for the march. We will march as a congregation.

Farewell Service in Celebration of the Ministry of Gary Nettleton
Sunday June 22nd at 5 PM
CWM Upper Room
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join us for a celebration of the ministry of College Ave. pastor, Gary Nettleton, on the occasion of his retirement. Rev. Scott Campbell will be preaching in Gary's honor.

Keep up to date with the happenings at CWM through our facebook calendar.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

CWM This Week

This Week at CWM

Mental Health Sunday
May 25th at 5 PM

CWM Upper Room at College Ave. UMC
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join us as we celebrate Mental Health Sunday. CWM member and UCC Deacon, Beth Yolton will be preaching.

This week CWM we will continue to take a collection for Peace With Justice Sunday. This is one of six Special Sundays in the life of the United Methodist Church designed to raise awareness and support for programs that promote peace and justice in both the church and the world.

Every year United Methodists across the country raise money. Unfortunately, the 8 million church goers only contribute a mere $247,173. That is less than .03 cents per Methodist. Won't you consider bringing an additional donation? Our goal at CWM is to raise $200 on Sunday.

Coming Events

Celebration of Rev. Dr. Aida Irizarry Fernandez
Saturday June 7th from 3 PM to 7 PM

St. John’s Korean UMC at 2600 Mass Ave Lexington , MA

Guests are invited to bring cards, photos and other items for a scrap book. Please remember to RSVP no later than May 30 by calling Josephine Sierra at (978) 682-8055 x200 or by sending an e-mail to Josephine at

Somerville Ecumenical Pride Service
Sunday, June 8th at 5 PM
College Avenue UMC Chapel
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join Somerville communities of faith as we kick off Boston Pride week with a special interfaith celebration. CWM will provide a potluck meal for our friends in Somerville.

Boston Pride
Saturday June 14th starting at 10 AM
Old South Church in Boston

Join CWM as we celebrate Pride. We will begin by joining the Pride Interfaith Worship at 10 AM at Old South Church. After the service, CWMers will gather outside the church to line up for the march. We will march as a congregation.

Farewell Service in Celebration of the Ministry of Gary Nettleton
Sunday June 22nd at 5 PM
CWM Upper Room
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join us for a celebration of the ministry of College Ave. pastor, Gary Nettleton, on the occasion of his retirement. Rev. Scott Campbell will be preaching in Gary's honor.

Keep up to date with the happenings at CWM through our facebook calendar.

Sunday, May 18, 2008


Sorry this is a week late, but here is the testimony I gave last week at our General Conference service at CWM. I re-wrote this three times and I still feel like it wasn't exactly what I wanted to say.. but for better or worse, here it is:

When I sat down to write this testimonial a lot of images came into my head, and a lot of memories, both good and bad. But when I tried to focus on a moment where I felt the Holy Spirit come down on General Conference, my mind kept coming back to the afternoon of Wednesday April 30th. For 3 hours we listened to delegates "perfect" the Majority and Minority reports dealing with Paragraph 161G: Human Sexuality. those were the longest 3 hours I've ever sat through. And the most painful. The deceitfulness and hatred that came through was beyond difficult to listen to; although I felt adequately prepared for deal with that. What I was not prepared for were the emotions following the vote. Pain so intense I literally felt like I couldn't breath. Pain I haven't felt since standing at Rachel's memorial. At first, the pain was all I could focus on. My personal pain, and pain for all who this decision hurt. Eventually, however, I was able to realize that I was not alone in my pain. Not only that, but i was also surrounded by my church.

My church was standing arm in arm to represent the body the larger church had just broken.

My church not only included those of us in rainbow stolls, but delegates on the floor and other visitors in the bleachers who were hurting too.

My church started to sing.

My church drowned out those who were trying to continue 'business as usual'

And although that has been the hardest part for me to try and process - the complete apathy emanating from many on the floor. Although that's been difficult, I keep coming back to those on the floor who do care.
Who did stand
Who sang with us.

That even though "THE United Methodist Church" told me that I am not wanted, that I am not ready to be a disciple of Jesus because I love women, MY church, this one here at CWM and my extended church of RMN, MY church loves me because THE United Methodist Church doesn't (among many other reasons as Marla pointed out to me after service :)).

They open their doors wider to me.

They open their hearts and minds to me.

They care.

There's a great song by Savage Garden called 'Crash and Burn' When I turned on my music to shuffle when I got on the plane coming home, it was the first song that played and I couldn't help but feel how appropriate it was. I won't sing it, but there's a part that I feel sums up my experience in Texas.

When hopes and dreams are far away
And you feel you can't face the day...
If you need to fall apart, I can mend a broken heart
If you need to crash, then crash and burn
You're not alone.
Cause there has always been heartache and pain
And when it's over, you'll breathe again.
We'll breathe again.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Going to the Chapel....

CWM celebrates the historic decision of the California Supreme Court to overturn the same-sex marriage ban in their state.

Asserting that the current ban is discriminatory, the Court ruled today that same-sex couples should have equal rights to marriage.

Today we witness once more the movement of justice in our time, as same-sex couples in California are granted the same rights as their heterosexual peers.

Here another United Methodist celebrates at the Supreme Court. Rev. Janet McKeithen sports her General Conference stole and buttons in this AP photo. Another UM for justice!

Read more about the decision, here.

CWM Happenings

This Week at CWM

Peace With Justice Sunday
May 18th at 5 PM
CWM Upper Room at College Ave. UMC
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

This week at CWM we will be celebrating Peace With Justice Sunday. This is one of six Special Sundays in the life of the United Methodist Church designed to raise awareness and support for programs that promote peace and justice in both the church and the world.

Every year United Methodists across the country raise money. Unfortunately, the 8 million church goers only contribute a mere $247,173. That is less than .03 cents per Methodist.

Won't you consider bringing an additional donation? Our goal at CWM is to raise $200 on Sunday.

Join us as we celebrate God's call to justice! Pastor Tiffany Steinwert will be preaching.

Coming Events

Mental Health Sunday
May 25th at 5 PM

CWM Upper Room at College Ave. UMC
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join us as we celebrate Mental Health Sunday. CWM member and UCC Deacon, Beth Yolton will be preaching.

Somerville Interfaith Pride Service
Sunday, June 8th at 5 PM
College Avenue UMC Chapel
14 Chapel St.
Somerville, MA

Join Somerville communities of faith as we kick off Boston Pride week with a special interfaith celebration.

Boston Pride
Saturday June 14th starting at 10 AM
Old South Church in Boston

Join CWM as we celebrate Pride. We will begin by joining the Pride Interfaith Worship at 10 AM at Old South Church. After the service, CWMers will gather outside the church to line up for the march. We will march as a congregation.

Keep up to date with the happenings at CWM through our facebook calendar.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Service in Remembrance and Celebration of General Conference

This week at CWM we will remember and celebrate General Conference through a service of testimony given by those in our community who travelled to Fort Worth as missionaries for our congregation. The liturgy moves from testimony to proclamation to song as it narrates the events of General Conference and proclaims the hope that comes with the birth of the Church on this day of Pentecost.

While the liturgy below shows the testimonies, scripture and proclamation read as a whole, in the actual service they were divided into seven parts alternating testimony, proclamation, song and scripture. The service below may be copied for congregational use. Please note the following sources:
  • The Call to Worship was written by T.L. Steinwert (2008).
  • The Proclamation was written by the Witness Team of Reconciling Ministries Network, Rev. David W. Meredith, Convener (2008).

Moment of Meditation
A video testimony from General Conference

Call to Worship

Were you there?

We were there. We who are the Church were there. Some of us in person, others of us in prayer. We were there.

Were you there when they crucified our God?

We were there when they silenced the voices of those who sought justice and inclusion through parliamentary pranks and the denial of debate.

Were you there when they nailed Christ to the tree?

We were there when they voted to dis-member the Body of Christ, refusing by a mere 12 votes to make membership open to all persons.

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

We were there when the Church refused to tell the truth, voting 51% to 49% that we were of one mind.

Were you there?

We were there!

Opening Hymn
TFWS 2217 By The Babylonian Rivers

Sacred Lessons
Jeremiah 29: 1-11
I Sought and I Found by Carlo Carretto
Acts 2: 2-4a



We have heard Jesus say – to all persons without exception – “follow me.”
We are part of God’s living body in today’s world, but our United Methodist Church
refuses to accept what God has done,
refuses to keep covenant with its own words in the baptismal promise,
refuses to honor God’s call to professional ministry,
refuses to do no harm,
refuses to open its hearts, minds, and doors.

The unchurched notice. They notice the church
cruelly scapegoating lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people
on the altar of so-called unity

The young notice. They notice the church
denying, refusing, threatening, removing, closeting
the lgbt people who faithfully serve the church.

The world notices.
We notice.
God notices.

The United Methodist baptismal liturgy calls all of us to
accept the freedom and power God gives us
to resist evil, injustice, and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves.

It is our duty – our baptismal covenant – to stand against the sin of the church,
to stand for God’s freedom and power,
to affirm God’s entire body of Christ that is the church.

We are God's children,
here … now.

Today we boldly declare by standing here
that our church’s doors and our ministries will radically obey the Gospel
that we defy bigotry and ignorance,
that the anti-gay policies and practices of The United Methodist Church are wrong.

By human means we cannot stand but by the grace of God we can.

By standing
we reject the idea that homosexuality is a sin
By standing
we affirm that sexuality is a good gift of God

By standing
we affirm our intent to spread God’s love and grace
By standing
we bless and celebrate families, all families.

We do not stand alone.
We stand in solidarity with all those
who are not here,
who are not in our congregations.
We stand with those who’ve been forced out and who’ve never come in,
who already affirm one another as beloved children of God,
regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

We stand with holy boldness
to welcome LGBT laity and clergy into our churches and pulpits, NOW;
to keep baptismal promises for all, NOW;
to affirm calls to ministries for all people, NOW;
to bless covenant relationships in our churches by our clergy, NOW;
to assure membership for all, NOW;
to provide hospitality for all, NOW.

Join us. Stand now. Build our future with hope and trust in God.

Hymn of Hope
UMH 533 We Shall Overcome

Prayers of the People

Offering Ourselves and Our Gifts

Holy Communion

Closing Hymn

Benediction and Grace

Monday, May 05, 2008

Plane Processing

I am currently on the plane back to Boston. I wanted to try and write down some of my thoughts while they were still fresh. First of all, I can’t believe I’m on my way home already. It seems like I just got to Fort Worth, and then again, at the same time, it feels like I’ve been there forever. What a rollercoaster of a week. There were so many bright spots, and a looming period of darkness. But we came out better for it. And today’s wedding was a celebration of that inspiration and hope.

The theme for this year’s General Conference was “A Future of Hope” or something similar. And today, after two days of feeling completely disheartened, I saw hope. Hope of a future where one day we don’t have to be outside the conference celebrating. Hope of a future where one day we will be invited in. Hope for a future where instead of mourning outside the convention doors, holding hands in solidarity in our black, we are in all our rainbow brilliance and applauding the delegates as they reenter. Applauding the final welcoming our people. Applauding the re-membering of Christ’s body. Applauding, and celebrating with ALL God’s children. Hope for that one day where all finally means ALL.

I pray that this applause occurs in my lifetime. I pray that this applause happens sooner rather than later. But prayer isn’t enough, as I learned this week. And on this blog for the very few times I have posted. Prayer isn’t enough. We have to tell our stories. It’s only when we are seen as human beings, and not freaks of nature, or unnatural, or other hurtful words that came up this past week at General Conference that we will be welcomed with open arms to God’s banquet. So this is my story.

I grew up Catholic. My dad’s parents and my mom’s grandparents came to this country from Ireland. I feel truly blessed in the fact that my parents ensured I grew up in a loving Catholic church, unlike the cold Catholic church of their collective childhoods. Since my dad was in the Navy, I’m sure it wasn’t easy for my parents to find the liberal Catholic Church wherever we went, but some how they did. When I was in third grade we moved to Gaithersburg MD and started attending St Rose of Lima Parish. This was my home for many years.

When I was in sixth grade I started being a part of the youth group there. I fought for a junior high youth group, since the high school students didn’t want us in their youth group. I went to Religious Ed every Monday night. And starting in high school, I was at church from 11 in the morning until about 10 in the evening. I was there for mass, then a quick lunch break and change of clothes to come back for music/drama rehearsal, planning meetings, and youth group. I was very aware of people who were on the outskirts of the group and always welcomed them in. I sat with them, and learned their stories and ensured that no one would feel unwelcome as long as I was there. I always felt like the outcast: being the new kid in school whenever we moved, not being one of the popular kids in school, being ridiculed several times in elementary and middle school, not being wanted by the high schoolers when I was younger. I knew what it was like to feel unwanted, and was determined to never make someone feel that way because of my actions.

By the time I was a sophomore, I was running the drama program at my church. I was writing and directing, and often times acting in, skits that we would do for various activities. Being at St Rose was the only time I felt like I fit in. Everyone knew me there. Not only members of the youth group, but adult members of the church knew me too. I finally felt like I belonged. But there was something missing. I didn’t know what at the time, and I went through a lot of dark periods trying to figure it out, and grappling with something that I couldn’t ever quite figure out. I surrounded myself with my friends, and the girls that I formed a deep bond with are still my closest friends, and are by far the largest group of friends I maintain contact with from my high school years.

By the time I got to college, I was fairly exhausted. After being on 2 volleyball teams and the dance squad, and doing drama at school as well as all my church activities, I was ready for a break. So in college I just did volleyball. For a time. Until I got antsy. I missed being busy all the time and being involved. So naturally, I tried to find a Catholic community to call my own. Going to school in Lynchburg, VA was not easy, and finding a liberal Catholic church was impossible. This was not the church I grew up with. This was a cold environment that did not look kindly on outsiders joining. This was not a place where you hugged at the sign of peace, but rather, you simply nodded your head. For the first time, I saw Catholicism outside of St Rose and I was dismayed.

So I thought I would try to find another faith community. One that was more welcoming. I went ‘church shopping’ to try and find a place where I felt safe and welcomed. I never really found one while at college, and that was hard for me. Church was a huge part of who I was, and where I came from. The fact that I couldn’t continue that was painful. And another thing happened in college. I finally figured out that missing piece. That something that I was constantly grappling with but could never put my finger on. My sophomore year of college I made the self discovery I was gay. And this sent me into a year and a half struggle.

I couldn’t come out at St Rose because the Catholic Church sees my loving a woman a sin. My parents were brought up Catholic, so I was terrified of what they would think. My friends were all Catholic, and all straight. I was alone. And confused. And hurt. And trying to make sense of how a place that felt like home for close to eleven years now felt foreign to me. That year and a half was probably the darkest time in my life. I felt no one would understand, and I would be the outcast again. Only permanently this time.

Somehow, by the grace of God, I slowly started the coming out process. I came out to my best friend; then another friend; and eventually to my mom. Who told me that she would always love me, and nothing would ever change that, and she was sorry that I felt I couldn’t tell her. And although I finally felt safe with my friends and my parents, I still didn’t feel safe or wanted at church. I constantly felt that if people knew, they would kick me to the curb. So I stopped going to church. For about four years the only time I went to church was when I was home visiting my parents. And I was always anxious when I went. I started looking at going to St Rose as a social event, to see who of my friends would be there, rather than gaining any spiritual nourishment. This was still really hard for me.

It wasn’t until I moved to Boston that I started going to church again. And even then it was a struggle. I had a co-worker who kept talking to me about the church that he attended, Cambridge Welcoming Ministries. He would talk to me every Monday about the service Sundays, and how dinner was served afterwards, and how welcoming and affirming they are there. Eventually he mentioned the pastor by name and I realized the pastor was female. So I started to pay more attention. I’ve always been drawn to churches that allow women to be ordained, so I started to listen more attentively to Mark’s stories. Eventually he wore me down and I agreed to go to service with him.

Before I went to college, St Rose adopted a new church motto. It was ‘All are Welcome.’ Every time I heard it, however, I felt that there was no feeling or emotion behind the sentiment. It felt like an empty statement to me. Because I witnessed time after time the Catholic Church being exclusive to some, sometimes most of the members of its church. My first service at Cambridge Welcoming Ministries, the first thing Tiffany said was, “All are welcome here.” And I immediately started to cry. Because I knew that Tiffany meant it. All are truly welcome at Cambridge Welcoming. And we start every service stating so. “Whether you are gay, lesbian, straight, transgender, bisexual, questioning; whether you’re here for the first time, or the 50th time, whether you’re 5, 25, 85 or somewhere in-between you are welcome here.” I finally found a place where I belong. Where people aren’t going to judge me, for any reason. Where I can truly be myself and I am loved. A place that I don’t have to worry about being an outsider. A feeling I have never had in my life.

So when The United Methodist church this past week told me I wasn’t welcome in their church; I wasn’t prepared for how awful that would feel. I wasn’t prepared for how devastated I would be to hear that God’s grace does not extend to me, according to The United Methodist church (and specifically, one particular delegate). I wasn’t prepared to deal with the apathy I felt from so many delegates towards how broken and hurting we were. I am used to feeling like an outcast. I am used to feeling unwanted. I was, and am not, used to knowing why I am an outcast. I am also not used to others standing in solidarity with me, also being called outcasts. And that is my church. My church stands with me. My church welcomes me. My church does not ignore me. It saddens me that the greater church does not stand with me until it is too late. It disheartens and devastates me that the greater church not only doesn’t welcome me, but specifically denies me membership because of who I love. It broke my heart to be ignored by the greater church. For a church whose old motto was Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors and is now Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World, these are empty statements to not only me, but other LGBT people. To us, we hear Open Hearts Open Minds Open Doors except YOU. We hear that you make disciples of people who are straight, but LGBT people need to take a number and we’ll get back to you once you realize that being LGBT is a choice. Once you accept your hetero-ness you will be welcomed by us.

I did not choose to be a lesbian. Anymore than my best friends chose to be straight. My lesbianism is my gift from God. I pray one day The United Methodist church, and other denominations around the world, will accept this and welcome me with open arms. Until then, I take comfort in Cambridge Welcoming, and yearn for the day CWM is no longer the exception, but the rule.

Broken Hearts. Closed Doors. We Mind.

A Future With Hope

This year's General Conference theme was "A Future With Hope." According to some on the theme committee, there had been considerable debate during the process as to how to punctuate that sentence...

"A Future with Hope."
"A Future With Hope!"
"A Future With Hope?"

Many of us in the denomination share that ambivalence. Increasingly the future of our denomination looks less and less hopeful...not just for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons who have struggled through 36 years of discrimination, but also for the institutional church that bears the growing burden of financial instability, membership decline, and pressure from outside political action groups like the IRD.

The posts on this blog last week reflected the dismay and despair at certain points in this General Conference as the denomination, by a narrow majority (in some cases just a handful of votes), voted once again to ignore the theological diversity of our denomination and instead proclaimed a false unity based on institutional uniformity. The drastic revisions to 161G and the refusal to declare our membership open to all persons fostered a sense of loss for many in our Church.

Yet, despite these set backs in our struggle for justice for all people, the General Conference did take some very powerful and prophetic actions that will indeed lead us into a more hopeful future. Here are just a few of these acts of hope:
  • Dismissed all anti-transgender legislation by wide margins.
  • Passed a Constitutional amendment that declares "all persons" eligible for membership.
  • Weakened the funding ban against homosexual caucuses to allow for financial support for activities that would help the Church not "to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends."
  • Passed a resolution against heterosexism and homophobia.
  • Voted in a new definition of family that recognizes "two parents" instead of "mother and father."
  • Created an ethics committee to monitor the action of lobbyists and delegates during General Conferences in the future.
  • Installed a new Judicial Council comprised of members committed to fairness and integrity.
  • Created a study commission for the worldwide restructuring of the Church that gives the committee freedom to explore all options.
In addition to the activities of the institutional Church, the Reconciling Church that gathered also gave witness to a Future With Hope in varied ways:
  • Anointed and blessed conference members and visitors as they entered the convention center.
  • Distributed "leaves for the healing of the nations."
  • Honored the faithful witness of parents in leading the Church to compassion and justice.
  • Decried discrimination against transgender persons.
  • Illustrated the connections between racism and heterosexism.
  • Drummed for justice.
  • Highlighted the voice of youth and young adults who already embody a fully inclusive Church.
  • Honored OUT activists and allies with Affirmation.
  • Witnessed to the death of the Church when it cuts off members from the Body of Christ.
  • Celebrated in worship God's love for our One Family Tree.
  • Proclaimed a commitment to being Church in the world despite institutionalized discrimination.
  • Celebrated God's love made visible in the marriage of Sue Laurie and Julie Bruno.
This is just a brief list of all the ways in which the Holy Spirit moved in and among the General Conference to witness to God's love breaking down walls of exclusion, injustice and oppression.

While there were moments of deep pain and despair, I do believe that the people of the United Methodist Church are moving toward a Future With Hope!

For a more complete account of the activities at General Conference and to see these actions of hope for yourself, please check out the RMN blog and photos.

Is it too soon? Too late?

Is it too soon?

The Reconciling Committee of the Board of Church and Society of the New England Conference sponsors an annual essay contest for young people ages 16-21. The winning essay is awarded a modest scholarship and is invited to read the essay at a session of Annual Conference. I want to celebrate that this year, the committee received two very good entries, although we were not of one mind concerning the "winner". Our disagreement was due primarily to concerns that many expressed over how one of the essays would be received by the body. The arguments go something like this:
It's too soon for some of our supporters to hear something so forceful. This sounds angry, and anger is divisive. We will lose support...

It is never too soon!

It is never too soon to tell the truth, to open our hearts to the grief of members of the body of Christ, to demand that the whole body at least become aware that others are suffering because we have failed to be the church for all of God's children.

Sometimes the truth hurts...
and when voices are silenced, the truth tends to hurt some more than others.

What a privilege many of us have to be able to decide when we will hear the truth and experience the pain it represents! Queer people in churches everywhere will tell you that as soon as the church harms them publicly or they begin to voice their pain, people flock to them full of sorrow and guilt. When this happens, queer people – the ones who are MOST hurt by the exclusion of LGBTQ people in the United Methodist Church – end up providing pastoral care to their allies, their pseudo allies, the fence-sitters, and even the unrepentant persecutors of queer people.

Pain is pain, and I do not wish to minimize the pain of any person, but is it possible for non-queer people who experience grief over this almost ritual abuse of queer people in the church find another way to express their grief? Must queer people continue to serve the body as both scapegoat and pastor?

General Conference is over. The policies of the church are settled for another four years. It is easy to conclude that it's too late to do anything now...

Is it too late?

Steven Dry, a young man from the New England Conference who is finishing his Freshman year at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia as I type this post, wrote the "controversial" essay that I mentioned above. When you read it, you may be surprised to know that he wrote it at least a month before General Conference began. When I arrived at General Conference on April 23rd, I emailed Steven to thank him for his powerful offering to the New England Reconciling Committee (and as the incoming co-chair of the committee for the next quadrennium, to apologize for our collective fearfulness and continued willingness to play by the unspoken rules of hollow civility that mistake the absence of conflict for the well-being of the entire body).

I also asked Steven if I could post his essay on the General Conference blog. He graciously agreed to offer this powerful witness to a much larger audience than he had in mind when he wrote the essay.

I was so busy with the work of the Common Witness coalition at General Conference that I never posted Steven's essay. When I got home, I wondered if it was too late.

It is never too late!

It is never too late to enter into the work of reconciliation in the church and the world. The Spirit constantly calls us back to this work – calls us to begin again – to rebuild the church from the ashes of its own making. The essay that will be delivered at Annual Conference is an excellent essay on the assigned topic: "My vision of a fully inclusive United Methodist Church". The winning essay is also a blessing and a gift. It too will create some space for a new beginning following a General Conference in which some strides were made toward full inclusion, some positions were held, and some ground was lost.

And it is never too late for us to heed the call of one who has opened himself to us with an offering of grief and joy, regret and hope.

Now a note for those who are always calling us back to strategy – who worry that we will alienate somebody who isn't quite sure if queer people should be accepted:
Don't worry... I hear you. I have been hearing you for many years now. While I appreciate your commitment to follow the Spirit as you experience Her leading you, more often than I would like to admit, I have heeded your counsel. You are not invisible to me, and I do not disregard your convictions. You've argued that it's too soon to ask "ordinary people" to listen to an essay that unmasks the pain of so many and calls the church to live up to its promises and potential.

Today I say to you that it is never too soon to take people's pain seriously - yours, mine, and others'. Nor is it ever too late to acknowledge publicly those who have been rendered invisible, who have been hurt and excluded and ejected by the policies and practices of this church and its people, who embody such compassion and joy and grace that they have continued to minister to and love and serve the rest of us anyway.

While the New England Annual Conference will not hear him in 2008, maybe you could try to hear Steven Dry by reading his essay. I encourage you to read it as it was meant to be read: It is a verbal address, not a static piece of writing on a page. It is a sermon and an offering of great love, deep pain, and fervent hope.

Steven will be reading your comments. While we have no other honor to offer him for this gift, it is never too soon – or too late – to express our gratitude.

Our Manifesto
an essay by Steven Dry, New England Conference

Christians, we are the children of whispered centuries, of fearful times and worried minds. Our minds have been molded in the womb of Christian authority. We were born into a rigid architecture, baptized by unquestioned lies and confirmed by poisonous precedents, all teaching us the consequences of being different. Restrictive doctrines have shattered our love with shame and have taken our pride with pleasure. The worst part is, the church has done so with no mercy and not a touch of regret within its airy buildings, buildings that are no longer places to worship, but places to worry. Light saturates the pews with fearful luminescence and stabbing shadows, while parishioners quiver behind a silent tradition, afraid that they might be the next to go. And so those mute mouths, once able to speak, have become a second Tower of Babel, collapsing to build borders, not made of language, but of fear.

White steeples loom high with condemnation as they seeks out difference and paint over it with white, using an amalgam of scriptural texts and a particular religious understanding of those texts in order to create an artificial unity, or, more appropriately, uniformity. These scriptures became a means of maintaining purity and absoluteness, a purity that heretics threaten to undermine. This tradition began with early Christian leaders who fought against the Marcions and Gnostics as a means of maintaining order in the church. Even today, despite all the supposed tolerance and liberalism in the United Methodist Church, influential leaders continue to read the Bible strictly. Rather than using it as a narrative of Christ enacting Christian compassion, leaders handle the Bible as if it were a book of answers and a means of condemning those who fall outside of the status quo. Ironically, it is within the very texts that Christian leaders use to condemn the marginalized that Jesus sought out the social outcasts, the lepers, prostitutes, tax collectors, and foreigners, and showed them compassion.

In order to return to Jesus’ calling, we must transform Christianity from a condemning, absolute orthodoxy into a welcoming, compassionate orthopraxi. Only then can the marginalized find room in its rigid infrastructure. The Bible must become a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. It must be valued as a repository of wisdom and an aid to living a Christian life, rather than simply a moral answer book. Instead of venerating the texts of Christ and using them to degrade others, we must use those texts as guides for showing Christian compassion to the entire World. By doing this, the concrete walls of the Church loosen, opening a space for all Christians, not just those who fit into the mold. Only then, can the sun can break through the foggy windows and shine a new, accepting light into the shadows where the marginalized hide. This reconciling glow will travel mystically throughout the sanctuary, seeking out the least and the lost, finally arriving at the altar. There, as the bread and the cup collide, sweet, reassuring drops of future will touch mouths once burdened with the bitter taste of tradition.

Unfortunately, this is but a distant vision. Nevertheless, in a world where hate has fettered hope and love has gone into hiding, we must arise from the shadows of this oppressive church and shine our own colorful reflections, staining the silence of this sterile, oppressive church and showing it our beautiful palette of diversity. This is the first step, and we must not be afraid. We can bear this crown of silence and cross of injustice no longer. We must have our own Easter Sunday.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Post-GC Devotional: Faithful Protest

On the last day of GC, Karen Oliveto nudged me towards this poem by Italian writer Carlo Carretto. I hope it means as much to you as it does to me! ~Jeremy

How much I criticize you, my church,
and yet how much I love you!
You have made me suffer more than anyone,
and yet I owe more to you than to anyone.
I should like to see you destroyed,
and yet I need your presence.

You have given me much scandal,
and yet you alone have made me understand holiness.
Never in this world have I seen anything,
more compromised, more false,
yet never have I touched anything more pure,
more generous or more beautiful.

Countless times I have felt like
slamming the door of my soul in your face—
and yet, every night, I have prayed that I might die in your arms!
No, I cannot be free of you, for I am one with you,
even if not completely you.

Then too, where would I go?
To build another church?
But I could not build one without the same defects,
for they are my defects.
And again, if I were to build another church,
it would be my church, not Christ’s church.

No. I am old enough. I know better.

(cross-posted at Hacking Christianity)

Friday, May 02, 2008

Good Friday Witness... on a Thursday

Our progressive caucus breakfast for delegates and legislative staff this morning was about 1/4 of it's normal size. I think people needed time to process yesterday in whatever way was right for them. We shared signs of hope and talked a little about all that is still before our coalition. I will never stop being amazed at the love and strength I know through the people in this movement, we've quite a church.
But when I went over to the convention center I witnessed one of the saddest demonstrations I've ever seen. Members of our coalition had staged a die-in at the main entrance. About twenty of my friends were laid out on the sidewalk as if they had been struck lifeless. It was devastating to behold. These people who have taught me so much about Jesus were laying out on the sidewalk and had to be stepped over by the delegates. Of course, this is part of what it means to learn about Jesus also. Some people stopped to hug or cry or just watch.
Inside the convention center, the morning started as it always does, with music and worship. Bishop Jong of Chicago preached and I think it was the best sermon I've heard yet and there have been some amazing sermons. At the conclusion of worship we moved into the legislative portion of the day and starting looking at the several petitions that make constitutional changes to our structure outside of the U.S.A. All of this work was presented by the chairperson of the legislative committee, who interestingly enough, is a young adult. I think he's a college student. For only being 5% of the delegates, young adults have a major influence on the feel of things. Several of us were officers in committees (like the person who presented today and did a truly excellent job in my opinion) and others of us have become regular voices from the floor. In total, I'm very proud of the work and presence of our youngest delegates.
At 10:32, Bishop McClensky interrupted the proceedings and told us that he would be calling a fifteen minute recess to coincide with a witness that GLBT people wanted to take into the hall. I was shocked that although the Bishop dismissed us, to me it didn't seem like anyone left. But just as soon as he told us what was going to happen, our faithful witnesses proceeding from the rear of the hall and entered down the center aisle. Almost everybody was in black and they lined the centre aisle and surrounded the communion table. I'd guess it was over two-hundred people, but I've never been good at estimating this sort of thing. They then started singing "Were you there when they crucified my Lord?" and draped the communion table in black. A statement was read that said that the participants in this witness were going to continue being the church and performing the ministry to which they were called. It was read by the Prophet Audrey who as she so often does, seemed to speak with the full power of God in her voice. Many of the bishops moved throughout the hall to be in prayer in different places, some wore stoles, some never moved from their seats. This was one of those rare times were I got the feeling that as a council they were trying to minister to the whole church. And I don't just mean that they were supportive of us, it felt to me like they were really trying to minister to everyone.
Delegates were then invited to drop additional pieces of cloth onto the table. While this was happening, Bishop Melvin Talbot found his way to the microphone and shared some thoughts comparing the church's relationship with GLBT people and the former official racial segregation of the church.
Then, the protesters left the floor and we went to brake.
When we returned, boom, we went right back into considering petitions. But for me, the spirit felt very different after the witness. Personally, I was able to grieve in a way that centered me. I have no doubt that some people were profoundly unsettled by the witness. The people who brought that witness to the church did a wonderful job of working with spiritual power. Typing at 2:30 in the morning, I wonder how the spirit felt to people who were grieving the church from a different location. I hope the witness ministered to their grieving as well, I have no doubt it did.
In the afternoon we dove back in to amending the constitution to prepare for a name change of geographic bodies outside of the United States. In some ways, this process was as deathly as anything we've done over the last few weeks. I suppose the problem was how things were being done, as opposed to what was being done. Once again (and I know this is getting old by now) instead of having substantive debate or conversation, we picked and needled and chipped away at one word at a time and used the same arguments over and over and over and over. It was among the more tedious experiences I've ever had.
Finally in the very late afternoon, a young adult delegate (again) who I think is somewhat of a hero of mine and many, many others, said something like, "I'm a first time delegate and I'm not confused at all. I find it curious that some of our most venerable church leaders are really this confused. Maybe if they stopped trying to confused others and just faced up to the work we have to do this would be a lot easier for everyone." It might have been the speech of the conference. I heard a voice saying, "We're not going to play your games. We're not stupid. Get out of the way because we've got a world that needs God and we have just the church to do it." I suppose the beauty and power of what he said was only magnified by the buffoonery of what he has addressing. Compare for yourself that speech with the endless points of order and information about what the consequence of changing the word "may" to "shall" would be. It's enough to make one blush. A few friends who have been delegates for years told me that it has never been this bad.
In the afternoon we also heard a letter from Bishop Palmer who said that a group of bishops met with leaders of the witness and are starting a conversation about the inclusive nature of the church. I believe more word will come regarding progress tomorrow.
The evening was spent with a few hours of strategic posturing about whether or not local pastors (not ordained people who serve churches) should be allowed to vote for clergy delegates to General Conference. It had to be 2 1/2 hours long. We decided yes. (though that has to be ratified by Annual Conferences because we're dealing with the constitution)
Also throughout the day today what seems like countless people have introduced themselves to me. Some are gay, some are straight, some are grandparents of gay people, some just deeply believe in equality, some are anxious to tell me they "disagree with me on issues", some are bishops, some are kids... most are old. Being honest and getting to know people is a real gift from God. I wonder what would happen if more people had the chance to speak a little like I got to on Wednesday. It makes me sad that the church wasn't allowed to talk about any of this but I have no doubt that we'll go day by day and continue to get better.
Yesterday I ran into a church leader after the vote came down and he rather quickly said, "Stay at the table", which is a church clique. I told him to be sure that I wasn't going anyway and it's my honor to be part of the United Methodist Church. As true as that is, I am so excited for the church to work on it's homophobia. For now, we have RMN and I guess some bishops to lead us in this. It would be nice to take advantage of the fact that we're at General Conference and won't have a chance like this for an other four years. That's a long time to wait, especially given that this time we didn't even get to present our beautiful petition.
One last thing, we're going to have a wedding at General Conference tomorrow! Invitations we're handed out to everyone at GC for a service of two women tomorrow afternoon. We'll have something to celebrate after all.

mournful - updated

For those of you who are unaware of the language that was passed yesterday, I wanted to post it. The original petition was this:

¶161 G) Human Sexuality. We recognize that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We believe persons may be fully human only when that gift is acknowledged and affirmed by themselves, the church, and society. We call all persons to the disciplined, responsible fulfillment of themselves, others, and society in the stewardship of this gift. We also recognize our limited understanding of this complex gift and encourage the medical, theological, and social science disciplines to combine in a determined effort to understand human sexuality more completely. United Methodists, along with other Christians, have struggled to find principles for applying traditional teachings to contemporary understandings of human sexuality.We recognize that sexuality is part of the larger human mystery, to be received and acknowledged in grateful responsibility. We reject all sexual expressions that damage or destroy the humanity God has given us. We deplore all forms of the commercialization and exploitation of sexual relations, with their consequent cheapening and degradation of human personality. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation or use of children by adults and encourage efforts to hold perpetrators legally and financially responsible. We call for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for children thus abused. We believe that the Church family should support all families in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth, and adults. We challenge all members of our community of faith to commitment, integrity and fidelity in their sexual relationships.We know that all are God’s children and of sacred worth; , yet we have been, and remain, divided regarding homosexual expressions of human sexuality. Faithful, thoughtful people who have grappled with this issue deeply disagree with one another; yet all seek a faithful witness. We continue to reason and pray together with faith and hope that the Holy Spirit will soon bring reconciliation to our community of faith. The fire in our disagreements points to a deeper human mystery than we knew. We believe that the Spirit has brought our collective conscience to acknowledge this mystery more honestly, and to make our claims with greater humility before God and our neighbors. We therefore ask the Church, United Methodist and others, and the world, to refrain from judgment regarding homosexual persons and practices until the Spirit leads us to new insight. In the meantime, let us seek to welcome, know, forgive, and love one another as Christ has accepted us, that God may be glorified through everything in our lives.

The petition that was passed as follows: G) Human Sexuality-We affirm that sexuality is God’s good gift to all persons. We call everyone to , responsible stewardship of this sacred gift.
Although all persons are sexual beings whether or not they are married, sexual relations are affirmed only within the covenant of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. We deplore all forms of the commercialization, abuse, and exploitation of sex. We call for strict global enforcement of laws prohibiting the sexual exploitation of children and for adequate protection, guidance, and counseling for abused children. All persons, regardless of age, gender, marital status, or sexual orientation, are entitled to have their human and civil rights ensured and to be protected against violence. The Church should support the family in providing age-appropriate education regarding sexuality to children, youth and adults. We affirm that all persons are individuals of sacred worth, created in the image of God. All need the ministry of the church in our struggles for human fulfillment, as well as the spiritual and emotional care of a fellowship that enables reconciling relationships with God, with others, and with self. The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching. We affirm that God’s grace is available to all. We will live together in Christian community, welcoming, forgiving, and loving one another, as Christ has loved and accepted us. . We implore families and churches not to reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. We commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons.

So this is the wording that is now in our social principles. If you notice, the UMC now condones marital rape, and does not support sexual education through the church or schools, only through the family. This is oppressive to ALL God’s children, not just the LGBT community. The only ‘good’ thing about this is that the last sentence was reinstated. So, the UMC does implore families and churches to not reject or condemn lesbian and gay members and friends. This statement does not jive with the rest of this petition. It is hypocritical and contradictory. Families and friends can accept their family members and friends, but the church doesn’t?? WHAT?? What message is this sending? To me, it’s a conflicting, hurtful, fearful message. The original petition was beautiful. You did not have to agree with homosexuality to support that statement. By passing this minority report as a principle, the UMC has kicked the LGBT community to the curb and beaten us while we’re there. A more beautifully worded response was posted by Sue Laurie on the RMN website at:
I am hurting. We all are hurting. I had to read symbolism into the cloudy skies that greeted us this morning. I have to hope for a brighter future. We were supposed to be building a future of hope at this General Conference. Instead, the plenary attempted to block this hope with fear, and hatred. We will prevail. And we will be back in 2012.

I also want to lift up the joys of this week in the despair: the worship service Sunday, the anti-homophobia and heterosexism petition passed, the Judiciary Council members, the defeat of anti-trans petitions, and the wedding tomorrow. We are the church. And we are here to stay.

Weeping May Come...

Weeping may come, but joy comes in the morning...

This morning as I awoke, these words from Scripture ran through my mind as I wondered if that dawn of joy would ever come. Yesterday our United Methodist Church passed legislation that further strengthened the discriminatory policies of the Church against gay and lesbian persons through both a revision of our statement on human sexuality and a vote on membership.

Rejecting a petition that sought to acknowledge our differences concerning the issue of homosexuality, the Church chose to ignore the very real and pressing divisions within the denomination and instead revised our statement on human sexuality to both strengthen the condemnatory language toward gay and lesbian persons and remove significant statements on the complexity of sexuality, sexual abuse in marriage, and age appropriate sex education for children and teens. In addition, the General Conference reaffirmed controversial Judicial Council Decision 1032 which supported the right of a pastor to deny membership to a man on the basis of his sexuality by refusing to pass legislation which would have clarified the role of the pastor in accepting members.

At the end of the votes, advocates for full inclusion stood, singing "Jesus Loves Me," in affirmation of God's love for all despite the actions of the Church. The sobs and moans of those in pain echoed in the halls as people grieved the brokenness of of Church body. In the midst of the pain, it all seemed overwhelming. How could our episcopal leadership allow such grievous breach of the rules that silenced debate and manipulated the votes? How could our Church turn the clock 50 years back on our statement of human sexuality? How could our Church vote us out so callously?

Gay and lesbian people were not the only people who loss this day. Rather, it was the Church that loss as it was broken by the tactics of fear and division. As Don Messer has said,

“The exclusion of homosexual persons from the life, leadership, and rites of the Church threatens the very nature of the Church itself. It not only causes irreparable harm to the children of God but also to the Body of Christ itself. Each time a person is rejected or ejected from the koinoniafellowship of United Methodism, a new wound is inflicted and the Body of Christ is broken once again.”

This morning the brokenness of the Body was incarnated as delegates walked past, lesbian, bisexual ,transgender and straight persons who literally laid their bodies down in an effort to remind the Church of the wounds it inflicted...wounds that went unnoticed as the conference continued "business as usual."

But, it was not business as usual. Faithful advocates for full inclusion were invited into the General Conference floor to witness to the pain and brokenness that is our Church Body in a liturgical ritual of lament. Shrouding the communion table and singing "Were You There," the Church was reminded of the way in which the Body of Christ had been broken through a breach in holy conferencing and the exclusion of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and straight persons. Delegates and advocates alike wept as they moved forward to place a black cloth on the altar in solidarity with those the Church harms.

Weeping may come....but joy comes in the morning.

While the ritual was one of morning, a new proclamation broke forth from the depths of pain claiming a resurrection within the Church of faithful disciples willing to be in full ministry with all God's children. To see this demonstration, click here.

As I finally find my way to sleep after these two exhausting days, I know that joy shall come in the morning. Watch our blog for updates...

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Skunked by a Fox

There are many ways to describe what happened today... after all, many things happened to day.
Sitting here now though at 12:00 am, I have a deep, deep sadness. The church basically maintained it's teaching on homosexuality although it did make it a little worse, but from this distance I can't even acknowledge that. We had a beautiful proposal, a proposal that says the truth and would have easily won the majority vote. Unfortunately, we never got to vote on that. In fact, we never got to debate it either. Thanks skilled directing by Bishop Whittaker, neither the minority nor the majority reports never received any debating. Instead we pretended to try on amendments for about ninety minutes (which were really speeches that were pretending to be amendments) and voted and voted and voted on amendments. Then, when frustration and fatigue had set in, the bishop maneuvered a delegate through the process of suspending the rules and calling all that was before us (which of course was the adoption of the minority report). This was all narrated by Rev. Eddie Fox, director of world evangelism for the church, who probably preached for close to thirty minutes in all. It was the same shtick he always gives at General Conference. I pray that this will be his last appearance at General Conference. I'm sure that comes across as harsh, but I've put up with far too much dishonesty today to not tell the truth. This hurts.
Thankfully, because I wasn't going to speak to the petition (we only were supposed to get three speeches and we had people lined up) I was called on to speak to the floor on one of the amendments. This was in the series of debate when people were trying to make substantive alterations. I know that the tactic is technically legit, but it's really deceptive to do this sort of thing at a church conference that is supposed to be based on the idea of holy conferencing. Anyway, I let people know that I'm gay and said that if our concept of church is so fragile that the only way it can stay together is to sacrifice gay and lesbian people than we have deep issues. When I got back to my desk, I had received six text messages from people who were watching! And then the notes started coming from other delegates. I know they didn't vote with me, but some of them were simply amazing.
After the vote, the witness team stood in the stands and slowly by slowly the supportive delegates did too. One voice broke out with "Jesus Loves Me" and soon we were all singing. The business of the conference continued as the secretary read a new Judicial Council ruling that seemed to go on for about fifteen minutes. We just kept on singing. Check out the stream on
We lost every other important debate from there on in. Marriage, ordination, and "membership" all fell one after another. The membership piece is the most difficult one, we didn't pass language that says homosexuals can't be members, we did pass language that says the pastor has sole discretion about whether or not a new member can join. If the pastor is homophobic, they have the right to deny membership. (This is all that decision 1032 of the Judicial Council and refers to para. 214)
Okay though, let's get it together. Even though General Conference is mostly composed of people who are comfortable with negative language about gay and lesbian people* (see below), the church is not falling. In fact, the big picture is that we're moving in the right direction. We just haven't arrived yet with the understanding of sexuality. We'll get there.
I'll share the two really great pieces of news from the morning that I'm sure you won't believe. First of all, two drastically trans-phobic pieces of legislation failed by about 30 to 70%. I spoke to that one two with the argument that we would be creating a new category for discrimination.
Secondly, we passed a resolution that said we are opposed to homophobia and heterosexism in what ever forms they present themselves... I know, it's hilarious. This petition also allows the General Board of Church and Society to resource parts of the church with tools to help combat these tools. And GBCS will be more than happy to take that opportunity (especially since the local church lost it's authority to do any sex ed with the new 161.g .... sigh....)
So today was also my birthday. I got lots of cards and messages from people I love, which was great.
We have over 120 calendar items left to consider before Friday night at 12:00. It is clear that we will not get to the overwhelming majority of these (I think we did about ten today). I suppose what we'll do is create a tabled calendar and just start dumping things there.

* - commentators in the notes section of this blog stated that my original words here were hurtful and nasty. I'm definitely able to live without what I wrote so I've altered my original. Thanks for the feedback...