by Rev. Andy Call, Lead Pastor at Church of the Saviour, United Methodist in Cleveland Heights, Ohio
Dear members and friends of Church of the Saviour,
I find it difficult to find words to adequately capture what I am feeling today, much less how to interpret the outcomes of General Conference to our congregation. I am not surprised, but I am disappointed.
First, to summarize: the General Conference approved the so-called Traditional Plan that maintains current language in The Book of Discipline and would seek to tighten enforcement, adding compulsory penalties for infractions. This plan is deeply flawed, having been ruled unconstitutional three times by our Judicial Council. Amendments needed to align it with the church’s constitution were not passed, many of them not even raised. In addition, a path to a “gracious exit” was passed for those congregations who chose to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church based on its position on human sexuality, though that path is complicated and assumes that congregations that leave are of one mind on matters relating to sexual identity and inclusion in the church. It, too, will face a constitutional challenge.
It will come as no surprise to those who took part in our Conversations on A Way Forward last fall or those who know me well that I was a supporter of the One Church Plan, a path forward that would have relaxed restrictions, placing responsibility for ordination requirements in the hands of Annual Conferences and decisions about weddings in the hands of local congregations, allowing those here and abroad to maintain their current position if they choose. This is the plan that best reflects our reality, a congregation where we know we are not of one mind, but manage to strive together faithfully for the Gospel while maintaining strong relationships with robust conversations. I believe the actions of General Conference to represent a step back, not forward, a path that will do serious damage to our ability to be an effective witness for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, it already has.
You may, by now, have read and heard reports in the national media. Some of you may have heard me on WCPN this morning, as well. I remind and encourage you to respond, not to react. Reacting is visceral, emotional, spontaneous, often allowing us to vent without first processing. Responding is reflective, thoughtful, and purposeful. Resist efforts to overly generalize categories like conservative or liberal, to assume that all Africans think alike, or any other stereotype. Labels are hurtful, not helpful. We will not find a way forward through further fracturing.
We have some important reflecting work to do, church. I pray we can do so together. I am passionate about justice, but I also take covenant seriously. I believe in the authority of scripture but I also believe the lenses through which we read it are important. For my part, I will not sign any document certifying that I will uphold a rule or standard beyond that of my ordination vows.
I believe we are the same Church of the Saviour today that we were yesterday. Our identity as a congregation does not change based on the actions of this General Conference. We continue to love God and love neighbor. We continue to work alongside one another to live the Gospel of Jesus Christ in every way we can. We continue to worship, grow, serve, give, and invite for the sake of Christ and his mission, without restriction.
Ministry doesn’t happen at General Conference. It happens in churches, where we worship together, serve together, live together in humility, knowing that there are flawed people all around us and sometimes they are us.
Today, I hope we can just breathe. Then, tomorrow, we begin anew the work of living into the kingdom of God… ALL of us, together.