May 05

Just because it’s expected doesn’t make it hurt any less, diary of a delegate

This post comes to us from Becca Girrell Clark the pastor of Trinity United Methodist Church in Montpelier, Vermont, and a delegate from the New England Conference to General Conference 2012.

JoAnn, Annie, and I share communion in the midst of the Body’s brokenness. Photo from the UMNS.

Earlier this week I tweeted: just because it’s expected doesn’t make it hurt any less.
We– whoever “we” are– did not expect to win any ground on the church’s position about homosexuality this quadrennium. But I’m a believer in the resurrection promise. That sometimes means that I every so often and ever so naively hold on to hope.
I was hopeful because Revs. Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter had come to the place where they could not only support but speak for, advocate for, even write, legislation that simply said our church could not agree about sexuality. I was hopeful because I had heard delegates from Africa say that, while they could never vote for full inclusivity for persons who are GLBTQ, they did not want to stand in the way of us doing ministry with all people in the United States.
Like I said. I can be overly optimistic sometimes.
It didn’t happen that way.
And when it didn’t happen that way, when the body rejected first Adam’s petition (by about 53/47%) and then an amendment to the Global Young People’s petition (53/47), and then debated with hateful words, equating loving and faithful same gender relationships with illness, perversion, and bestiality with only mild rebuke from the chair, and then defeated all changes by over 60/40%, when that happened, we did the only thing we could do.

Lifting the broken Body of Christ, tears in my eyes. Photo by UMNS

We set the communion table in the center of the room. We welcomed the visitors and supporters from outside the voting bar and delegates from the floor. We blessed bread and cup. I was the elder closest to the bread, and I lifted it in the air, breaking it as we are broken. I looked across the table and through my tears I saw my new friend and fellow laborer for justice, Gregory Gross, holding the cup.
We sent servers with (gluten free) wafers and cups of juice to serve those around the room. Some bystanders received communion with from those with whom they disagree, and some refused. I served those around me, offering them the Body of Christ as we all wept.
We stayed at the table when the session attempted to reconvene. Unable to get the delegates back to their seats and the visitors off the floor– indeed unable to even to get people to stop singing, the Bishop had no choice but to call for an early lunch.

Lifting the broken Body of Christ, tears in my eyes. Photo by UMNS

I later tweeted- Becca Clark ‏ @pastorbecca: You cannot legislate love. Grace is never out of order. The communion table has no bar. #GC12love #gc2012 #nowalls
We were told that the police were called. They never came.
For the next three hours we sat, stood, prayed, sang (okay, I didn’t), and waited. I stayed on the floor, without any intent of getting arrested, but with the full intent of protecting my friends as a human shield if need be, and with the intent that if one or two particular friends were arrested, they would not be going anywhere without me. We also had conversation with the bishops and it was decided that no further votes on human sexuality would be taken that day, in an effort to do no harm. Hey! Protest making legislative change! Awesome.
An agreement reached to shuffle human sexuality legislation to the end of the calendar and hopefully therefore do no further harm, the protestors took our seats on and off the floor, and legislation resumed. The topic was pension; an important topic, but I couldn’t focus. I called in a reserve and left the floor intending to return, but ended up seeking food and drink and long, healing conversation with a friend, and going to sleep.

Steve and Leigh Dry do the only thing one can do in the face of such brokenness. Photo by UMNS

I’m actually in an okay place about the vote on this legislation. We didn’t really expect improvement on the church’s policy here. I felt good that the response in protest was an act of love and faith rather than anger coming from the deep pain we all felt.
What is so discouraging to me is that this vote was only a symptom of the entire General Conference’s pattern, moving away from the Wesleyan principles of prevenient grace, social holiness, and commitment to hearing and honoring the voices on the margin. We are becoming more totalitarian, more Calvinist in our theology, and more exclusive of voices and people who disagree from the majority– a majority that has been using its power to assure that they will have a super-majority in four years.
That will be the subject of many a blog post to come.
Today, we wrap up business, and then Saturday I will return home to my family and to rest. Monday morning, we live into a new quadrennium, and begin building a new church.
We have built strong coalitions and allies here, people who can come together across the continent and the world, across theological and sociopolitical divides, united in our love of Christ and the Wesleyan heritage of the UMC. I told you I’m naive, but I have hope once more.
Becca Clark ‏
For more information about the General Conference of the United Methodist Church 2012 please click here

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  1. Why is it so difficult to live in full communication and communion with Christ? Why are we so sure we know a better way?

    1. John after all was said and done and I knew I would have to post links on my church Facebook Page this is how I felt “General Conference 2012 is adjourned as of 10:35 Friday night we are not a perfect church, but I for one feel like I perfectly belong. Go and spread the Good News of the Gospel in any way you can weather it is with a chicken, a sermon, a cake, a visit to Haiti or Ireland, a visit to a homebound senior, a night out with a teen, go camping, go walking, pray, love, go, do, tell. Let God’s light shine through you this season” I guess Bishop Wenner’s parting words referring to the great commission resonated with me more than what had come before them. One of the very first things I learned as I joined the Methodist Church was to go and make Disciples, and to be honest no one told me to go and make heterosexual disciples as opposed to homosexual disciples so I have just been working on making disciples and learning how to better make disciples ever since. May God’s light shine through both of us this week.

    • Miranda Rand on May 5, 2012 at 9:28 pm
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    About 4 years ago a college president in the Reformed tradition legally performed the marriage of his daughter to her longtime companion (in Mass.) and was excommunicated as a result.
    It seems almost every mainline Protestant tradition is fighting this same battle.
    All we can do is pray that Bishops and higher judicatories learn to exercise compassionate hearts and to rule with justice

    1. Yes I remember it well having been part of the RCA tradition, Dr Norman J Kansfield president of New Brunswick Theological Seminary, was basically ousted by the board of directors by their unwillingness to renew his contract. This was in Feb of 2005 when he preformed the marriage of his daughter to her same sex partner. He was told he was suspended until his views fell in line with RCA teaching. I can remember thinking at the time that he probably did this as a gift to his daughter in an act of retirement. It is a shame that we are all struggling with what seems to me such a crazy battle. We seem to all easily agree that God is Love and God is Perfect, so why do some of us think that God would create imperfection ? We are all created in perfect love it is such a shame that somehow we forget that and forget to act that way. God Bless You Miranda !

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