One house with several tables?
The work of the General Conference of the UMC (meeting in Portland, OR) has been in the news this week. Especially as those nearly 900 lay and clergy delegates dealt with the whole subject of same-gender relationships.
In a few paragraphs I’ll talk about the actions of the General Conference, but first I want to tell you about one house with several tables.
1912 North Leland
The address, 1912 N. Leland, means nothing to you, I hunch, but to me that place means a great deal. It’s where my maternal grandparents lived. Zenith and Bill Owen took us in when my recently widowed Mom returned from Africa with me and my soon-to-be-born brother, Eric. They made room for us. Their love helped us heal. My Grandma turned her beloved flower garden over to me and in that dirt I built roads for my Tonka trucks and toy cars. The house was small, I realize now, but they made room for us.
As we grew up, we would always come back there because we were family. How did that work, though, as the family grew?
One house and kitchen with several tables
We’d come back to my Grandma and Grandpa Owen’s house because we were family. Even when the family started to outgrow the house.
Great food was prepared in that one kitchen, but we would gather around tables set up in different parts of the house. There was a small kitchen table, there was the dining room table, and there were even tables in the living room. We all were served the same good food, we would all gather on the same property as one family, but we would sit down around different tables in that one house.
One family with many differences
As my grandparents’ five children grew up and had families, we all shared a common name and blood lines…but we were very different. During the Vietnam era some of us supported Goldwater and some of us voted for George McGovern. Some of us listened only to gospel and some of us were fans of rock and roll. There were devout Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians…and some of us weren’t sure what we believed.
There were some tough conversations. My Grandpa and I spent several years tip-toeing around subjects like the war and politics. But we would still play horseshoes in the back yard, pick grapes off the grapevines, sit and talk with one another over a dish of ice cream.
The Baptists in the family viewed us United Methodists with great suspicion. The grandchildren attending Wheaton thought those of us at IU were in danger of losing our immortal souls.
But we came back to 1912 North Leland. We were family. It was one house with several tables.
So what does this have to do with the actions of General Conference around the difficult, highly conflicted conversation around same sex relationships?
Time to talk and work out a middle way
Our family (the UMC) was headed towards some kind of division when the Bishops of the Church were asked to step up and lead. Instead of the General Conference voting on scores of individual petitions on human sexuality, and instead of letting 860+ delegates hammer out some kind of denominational divorce, the Bishops -helped by Adam Hamilton and other pastors- offered a third way.
A special Commission will be named by the Council of Bishops. The Commission will examine the paragraphs in the Book of Discipline of the UMC that address human sexuality. This Commission will enter into a prayerful, thoughtful dialogue about how we -as a denomination with some advocating a traditional approach on this issue and others a more progressive position- go forward faithfully.
At the same time the denomination will encourage members and pastors to live in peace with one another, doing everything possible to avoid the complaints and church trials that have happened in places where the rules of the Church have not been followed.
The motion to form the Commission, and to set aside voting on all the petitions referring to human sexuality, passed narrowly.
This is a kind of timeout. The Church is taking the time to prayerfully and thoughtfully address an issue that has been a source of great frustration and pain. We United Methodists have a history of taking a methodical and thoughtful approach to these kinds of issues. (We’re great at commissions and study groups!)
We as a Church will then vote on the proposal that comes back from the Commission around the time of the next General Conference in 2020 (or at a special called GC in 2018/2019.
Is this good news for the Jesus community?
I believe the action of the General Conference is the best possible outcome right now, especially with the prospect of a hasty and messy denominational divorce.
How can this be good news, some might ask, since the Bible is so clear about this issue? Some Bible scholars would remind us that we as a Christian community are constantly interpreting scripture with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. The Bible is a living word! There are over 300 verses in the Bible that talk about slavery, and yet we have decided that the God we know in Jesus calls us to love one another. That means that one human is not to own another! So our understanding of scripture is always evolving as the Spirit moves in our world and the Church.
The early Church met in a Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) and decided that uncircumcised Gentiles did not need to become Jews before joining the Jesus community. That was a shocking change from tradition and the teachings of the Jewish scriptures!
Besides, Jesus prays that his people would be one (John 17:20-ff.)! The unity of his disciples was such a big deal that Jesus prays about it in the last hours he shares with them the night of the Last Supper.
I have no idea what the future holds. There may be a day when the United Methodist Church separates into two different denominations. If that happens, I trust we would work together closely, cooperating in key areas like missions, Christian education curriculum, inner city community centers, colleges and hospitals, etc.
I am hoping we’ll stay together. Because I remember 1912 North Leland. I remember the house that seemed kind of small but it was large enough to welcome us all back. We may have eaten around several different tables, but we were all being blessed by food made in love by our Grandmother (and her helpers).
God is in the kitchen. Serving the Good News of his love in Jesus Christ to all God’s children. We were always diminished if someone was missing from the family gatherings, and I believe God wants us to be together (even though we sometimes drive one another crazy!). If the delay and the work of the Commission gives God time to work with us so we can stay together, sharing one house, I would be very glad.
Join us this Sunday, in a Jesus community where all are loved and welcomed, as we continue our series FOLLOW THE LEADER. Invite a friend to join you.
If you are new to FUMC, please remember to join me in a brief “get to know the church” informal conversation we call, 1st @ First. 1st @ First will be held Sunday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in room 218.
Grace and peace,
UMC General Conference news
Nearly one thousand UM delegates from around the world have been meeting in Portland, Oregon for the once-every-four-years General Conference. This is the highest decision-making body for the 11-million member denomination.
If you want to get more information you can go to www.umc.org/topics/general–conference-2016.
A Building Vision
JOIN US AS WE SEE THE NEW THING GOD MAY DO IN THIS PLACE!
Late in 2014 our congregation voted to undertake a comprehensive building study and explore possible solutions to challenges presented by our current facility.
Late in 2015 we received a report on needed structural repairs (estimated cost between $2.8 and $3.5 million).
Now, we have the opportunity to see some exciting possibilities about the building and ways it can be a ministry asset to future generations.
Join us in the Great Hall on Sunday, June 12th at 10:30 a.m. or Wednesday, June 15th at 7:00 p.m. for a report (with virtual fly-through tour of some elements of the possible redesigned building) by architects Kevin Stuckwisch & Mary Krupinski.
We encourage you to come and join the conversation!