Dear members and friends of Calvary United Methodist Church,
I walk with a heavy heart this week. The United Methodist Church finished its Special Session of the General Conference in St. Louis on Tuesday and it seems that the church that I have loved and served for most of my life may no longer exist.
One of the great strengths of the United Methodist Church has been its commitment to be a faith community that makes room for a variety of persons and theological positions. There are many very different backgrounds and perspectives within the church and though we may not all agree on every matter, we share a common faith and practice that goes back to the earliest days of the Methodist movement. For example, United Methodists practice an “open table” which mean that all persons are invited and welcome to receive God’s grace when they come forward for Holy Communion. We have long been a church that is more interested in discipleship and Christian service than adherence to a particular theological position or creed. We have a long history of bearing with one another in love and working together to live out our call to make disciples for the transformation of the world.
Over the years, I have been challenged to love everyone, not just those with whom I feel most compatible. I have many friends who I have come to love and respect even though they are much more conservative or more progressive or liberal than I am. I am enormously grateful to have been part of a church community that allows this to happen on a regular basis. In this way, we reaffirm the truth that every single person is created by God and is of sacred worth.
With the adoption of the Traditional Plan, the UMC seems to be moving in a very different direction. One part of the church wants to silence the voices of those who do not agree with them. The 53% majority that voted for this plan is saying “Agree with us or leave.” They also seem to be saying that gay and lesbian, transgendered and queer members of the church are not loved by God and are to be treated as second class Christians.
It should be noted that the name for this plan is misleading. It was called the “Traditional Plan”, but it does not come out of our Wesleyan and Methodist tradition. Instead, the plan represents a particularly narrow interpretation of certain scripture passages and inserts new rules and language into The Book of Discipline that are at odds with longstanding practices within the denomination. Even prior to the adoption of this plan, the Judicial Council ruled that many of its provisions were ruled unconstitutional (to our church constitution) and could not be implemented in their current form. And yet, those in favor of the plan proceeded to adopt it anyway.
It’s not entirely clear where things stand with the United Methodist Church today. Many matters are still to be decided. There will most likely be more action needed at the General Conference session in 2020, at the annual conference session this May and at local church level.
Your pastors will do all they can to share more information becomes available. A good source for resource continues to be the Baltimore-Washington Conference website at www.BWCUMC.org. This Saturday from 9 A.M. – noon, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling will lead the people of our conference in a time of prayer and information sharing in a livestream event that will be available with a link the conference website. We will be setting up opportunities at Calvary Church to share and discuss these matters more fully starting with time in the chapel after each of the worship services this Sunday.
Even with all that is not certain, I know that some things have not changed. There is still the need to work in God’s vineyard. We can be certain that God’s love is not reserved for any particular group, but available to all. We can also know with certainty that there are plenty of people that have gone before us who carried on in the faith even in times of great disappointment and uncertainty. And we can do the same.
There are people that are still hungry for the gospel, people looking for a word of hope that only God can provide. We will continue to gather together to offer our praise and thanks to God, to offer encouragement to one another, to share our stories, to study the scriptures, and to be in conversation with one another. We can be witness to God’s abiding love. And I will endeavor to do my best to carry out my call to be your pastor and servant to this congregation no matter what may come.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Steve Larsen