Prayer for the evening of June 6

Loving Creator, Risen Christ, Abiding Spirit: with humble gratitude we approach you desiring guidance, discernment, and wisdom. You entrust to us the care of the human family, and this earth which sustains life. As a human expression of the Body of Christ, we seek to do your will, even when we are stumbling along the path of life and faith. Please forgive us of our wayward wandering and with grace restore our vision of your goals. Infuse us with a passion to care for one another. Give us courage to speak out against injustice. And help us to treat every part of your creation with gentle kindness that together we may change systems and attitudes that oppress and harm your precious ones. Yearning to grow in every articulation of love for you, we offer praise and thanksgiving.

Amen.


The Rev. Beckie Sweet, delegate to General Conference 2020

Advertisement

Prayer for the morning of June 6

Lord, here we are gathering again. It’s been a challenging year since we were last together. Give us endurance though we are weary and let our fellowship keep us uplifted. Keep justice and hope at the front of our minds, and bring us back to the core of our faith when we wander. We’ll keep trying to be the Church we’re called to be. Be with us in this space.

Amen.


Marthalyn Sweet, delegate to General Conference 2020

The Example of Christ

The baptismal vows taken by every United Methodist include promises to “renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness … reject the evil powers of this world … [and] to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” United Methodists live out these vows and carry out this work in a number of ways. In my current appointment to St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality, a Catholic Worker house in Rochester, we seek to engage this sacred work by standing in solidarity with marginalized people and naming the injustice that exists in our city. We challenge governmental systems and officials who abuse their constituents, corporations and business owners who abuse their workers and patrons, landlords who abuse their tenants, and institutions that perpetuate racism, sexism, and classism. All of this feels very comfortably Christian. To me, it feels very Methodist.

But what do we do when one of these oppressive institutions is our own church? What do we do when United Methodism itself becomes a spiritual force of wickedness justified with “morality,” “orthodoxy,” “tradition,” “biblical teaching,” and “faithfulness?”

We face a church that has lost its way, a church that not only falls short of it’s own teaching but defies the Gospel of Jesus Christ. So we are called to do what Jesus did: challenge religious authority. It is a Christian act to question the Christian Church.

Over and over again the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life describe Jesus challenging religious authority, challenging the way things are “supposed to be done,” challenging “traditional” interpretations of scripture in order to more fully embody the message of welcome and unconditional love that lies at the heart of his faith. Jesus was criticized for healing on the Sabbath. He challenged ritualistic notions of what makes a person “clean” or “unclean.” He celebrated the faith and witnesses of people outside of his religious tradition. The way in which he practiced his faith led him to routinely clash with the religious establishment and its leaders.

To be disciples of Christ we must follow his example. To follow Christ is to seek to embody Christ, which includes calling out all the places our traditions and our religious institutions, leaders, and teachings get things wrong. When institutions become more important than people, when dogma becomes more important than justice, when tradition becomes more important than unconditional love, to be the Church is to be anti-church—not in a way that abandons or leaves behind but in a way that speaks truth and seeks accountability, repentance, and reform.

Our United Methodist Church is on the verge of collapse under the weight of our conflict over LGBTQ+ inclusion or exclusion. Some seek to uphold the church’s “traditional” understanding of homosexuality as “incompatible with Christian teaching,” and others wish to fully welcome all people and change church law to affirm and celebrate LGBTQ+ people and welcome them to fully participate in the sacred acts of ordination and marriage.

The problem with both the current position of The United Methodist Church around LGBTQ+ exclusion and the Traditional Plan that will go into effect on January 1st is that they elevate one restrictive interpretation of the “Word of God” that denies the liberation of marginalized people. Jesus Christ was and is the Word of God incarnate, and he “emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death (Philippians 2).”

The Word of God does not seek to rule over people. It seeks to set them free. It lowers itself to lift them up. It serves them. To use the Word of God as a wall to keep marginalized people out of leadership and to keep them from living fully as who they were created to be is to fail to live into the example of Christ. To elevate scripture above the lived example of Jesus is to make the Bible an idol.

Christians often look to their beliefs to guide their love and action, but Jesus taught that love in action should guide our belief. Feeding the hungry, serving the poor, loving the sinner, freeing the captive, healing the sick, liberating the oppressed, casting down the mighty, lifting up the lowly—these actions are the beating heart of the Gospel, actions that Jesus carried out over and over despite religious doctrine that mandated he not do so. Does our Methodist identity manifest itself in these actions? Do our beliefs align with this work? Does our dogma align with the Mission of God? The life, death, and resurrection of Christ continue to confront the Church with these questions.

When facing the dilemma of obeying church law or following Jesus in erasing boundaries between “us” and “the other,” we should choose to follow Jesus every time.

This Easter season, may we faithfully follow Christ in challenging religious authority. May we name the places in which our denomination and churches fail to embody the fullness of the Gospel. May we seek to liberate and lift up people who are harmed by Christianity and by United Methodism. May we live into Jesus’ anti-church witness, and in doing so, become the Church we are called to be.


Pat Dupont is a licensed local pastor serving at St. Joseph’s House of Hospitality in Rochester, New York, and a UNYFI lead team member.

To Be Blessed

In the wake of the passage of the “Traditional Plan” and the reactionary path of The United Methodist Church after the 2019 General Conference, Upper New York for Full Inclusion was born. We have come together as much for worship and support as for resistance.

As we pray and prepare for the Upper New York Annual Conference this week in Syracuse, hear again from the Rev. Rachel Ann Morse, chaplain for UNYFI and nominee for General Conference 2020, who led worship at our gathering in March.


I really like to talk about God’s kingdom.

I know it’s probably more accurate to say kin-dom, or even “commonwealth.” But I also think there’s a reason Jesus talked about a kingdom.

It seems to me that the idea of God ruling a kingdom makes a mockery of earthly kingdoms. If God rules, how could anyone else pretend to rule over others? If we call for God’s kingdom, it means we don’t really take any other human king all that seriously.

It seems to me that the words of the patriarchy are specifically used to signify the anti-patriarchy.

It’s as though God calls us to say, “You think you’re king? You think you have power over God’s people? You have only power with them.”

But what is the patriarchy, anyway?

It isn’t as simple as when men, even heterosexual, conservative, white men, are in power over others.

Patriarchy is a system that is about maintaining power, control, and order over others. Patriarchy is the opposite of partnership. A kingdom ruled by a man is patriarchal. When Jesus announces the kingdom of God, though, he’s announcing the anti-patriarchy.

The gospel of Matthew encourages us in this point:

The patriarchy, wanting to maintain power, control, and order, wants the people to think that they’re missing something, that they aren’t enough on their own. If they aren’t enough on their own, they’re willing to look to a patriarchal figure to tell them what to do and how to do it. Jesus says,

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. God’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.”

The patriarchy, wanting to maintain power, control and order, wants the people to feel they have no power. Ideally, the people will be apathetic about their personal responsibility and freedom. That way, they’ll follow the rules of the system blindly. But Jesus says,

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.”

The patriarchy wants to maintain power, control, and order. But with God’s kingdom in our hearts, God’s people have the freedom to take responsibility for their own part in the system. How have we contributed to maintaining the power, control, and order of the current system?

The patriarchy is more secure when we put blame on them, because we aren’t taking responsibility for our relationship to the system. Jesus says,

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.”

And hear this. Jesus tells us clearly that the kingdom of God subverts the patriarchal systems of the world. Listen:

“You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

“Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.”

Friends, the truth is too close for comfort. The patriarchy is uncomfortable. We have seen that it is working day and night to maintain power, control and order over us. And when a patriarchy is threatened, they make scapegoats.

But hear this good news. Christ was a scapegoat, too. But we know how that one turned out!

Christ shows us, that in God’s kingdom the patriarchy has no power.


The Rev. Rachel Ann Morse is pastor at Broad Street United Methodist Church in Norwich, New York, chaplain for UNYFI, and a General Conference delegate nominee.

UNYFI Lead Team

So who is UNYFI?

It’s everyone who stands against the Traditional Plan, for full inclusion and for a denomination that allows people to be whole.

But it also has a lead team. Here’s who they are:

  • Sara Baron
  • Michelle Bogue-Trost
  • Jami Breedlove
  • Stephen Cady
  • Diana Crouch
  • Pat Dupont
  • Jeanne Finlayson-Schueler
  • Ted Finlayson-Schueler
  • Amy Gregory
  • Karyn McCloskey
  • Carmen Perry
  • Beth Quick
  • Teressa Sivers
  • Beckie Sweet
  • Marthalyn Sweet
  • Corey Turnpenny
  • Ian Urriola
  • JJ Warren
  • Alicia Wood

Chaplains

  • Dion Marquit
  • Rachel Morse
  • Colleen Hallagan Preuninger

Thanks, lead team.

Sign up for our newsletter.

Questions? E-mail us at UNY4Inclusion (at) gmail.com

Upcoming regional gatherings

A few districts will be holding UNYFI gatherings in their areas next weekend:

May 4
Saratoga Springs 4 to 5:30 p.m.

May 5
Kenmore 4 to 5:30 p.m.
Central Endicott 4 to 5:30 p.m.

These gathering are to prepare us for the Upper New York Annual Conference in Syracuse June 5-8 by helping those going to annual conference get to know one another, share in brief worship, learn about parliamentary procedure, review inclusion-focused legislation, discuss General Conference elections, review the implications of the recent Judicial Council decision and explain how to stay connected to up-to-date news and information during annual conference.

Events are open to any who would like to attend and who are committed to a fully inclusive conference and church. Please share this with clergy and laity delegates to annual conferences who stand for inclusion.

If you are a layperson interested in becoming a voting delegate (and we think you should), check and see if your district is still looking for lay equalization delegates.

Pre-annual conference gathering
June 4, 7 to 8:30 p.m.
University United Methodist Church
324 University Avenue, Syracuse, NY 13210

Please RSVP to the event page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/events/2294735464187586/
Or you can also RSVP to UNY4Inclusion (at) gmail.com.

Child care will be provided! Please let us know ages of children.

Bishop’s gatherings
In the coming weeks, Upper New York Conference Bishop Mark Webb will be hosting regional gatherings to “focus on unpacking the Judicial Council’s decision regarding the constitutionality of the petitions that made up the Traditional Plan affirmed by the delegates of the 2019 Special Session of The General Conference.”

Be sure to honor your hearts, minds and schedules when deciding whether to attend these session. We have summarized the decisions for you here, and at our gatherings we will review what the Judicial Council has allowed the 2019 General Conference to put into practice. As people who support full inclusion and stand against the Traditional Plan, do not feel you need to attend these events lead by a supporter of the Traditional Plan.

Chaplains
UNYFI is grateful for the gifts of the Rev. Dion Marquit, the Rev. Rachel Morse and the Rev. Colleen Preuninger, who are serving as our chaplains. They are willing to offer pastoral care or simply be in conversation with those who are need of support in this difficult time:
Dion: (518) 915-3393, dionmarquit (at) aol.com
Colleen: (315) 527-7383, colleenpreuninger (at) gmail.com
Rachel: (607) 434- 2082, pastor.rachel.morse (at) gmail.com

Response to the April 2019 Judicial Council decision

The United Methodist Judicial Council has ruled seven pieces of the Traditional Plan constitutional as well as part of an eighth. They will go into effect in The United Methodist Church Jan 1., 2020. The disaffiliation plan passed at the 2019 General Conference has also been ruled constitutional and takes effect immediately.

Upper New York for Full Inclusion remains steadfast in its opposition to the Traditional Plan, which not only upholds the church’s unjust ban against gay clergy and wedding ceremonies but more severely restricts and punishes those who defy the ban.

You’ll hear the traditionalist leaders say this is for church unity. It’s not. Demanding conformity is not the same as unity.

At General Conference 2019 multiple plans offered ways to coexist that allowed for contextual interpretation of the Bible—no bishop or conference would be required to ordain openly gay clergy, and no church or pastor would be required to host or officiate a same-sex wedding. But nor would any bishop or conference be banned from ordaining openly gay clergy, and no church or pastor would be banned from hosting or officiating a same-sex wedding.

Other plans allowed for religious liberty. But traditionalist leaders, despite our shared foundation of basing our faith on Scripture, tradition, reason and experience, don’t want to be a part of a denomination that allows for freedom of biblical interpretation.

They don’t want to be a part of a denomination that doesn’t oppress LGBTQIA+ Methodists by all the means it can, in all the ways it can, in all the places it can, at all the times it can, to all the people it can, as long as it ever can.

They don’t want to be part of a denomination that doesn’t consolidate power into the hands of a few.

This is why those who support the Traditionalist Plan are celebrating today: the schism it has caused. Has the schism been created to push moderates and progressives out? Possibly. Traditionalist leaders would at least contribute to a going-away party. But with every claim of victory comes a statement that others’ nonconformity will force traditionalist local churches to leave the denomination … and join the new denominational structure set up to accept them.

Traditionalist leaders claimed that if General Conference 2019 “made” them interpret the Bible in a way they didn’t agree with, they were ready to leave. Now if others don’t interpret the Bible in the exact way they demand, they’re ready to leave (though they prefer the term “separate”).

One thing is for sure: We are not ready to leave. We believe God is still at work in The United Methodist Church.

Celebrating and intentionally inviting diversity would change our church. Truly shared power would change our church.

UNYFI will continue to call for justice and diversity and will welcome all seeking to grow in faith and work for full inclusion of all God’s children in all parts of God’s church.

Summary of Judicial Council decision 79922

7.5 pieces of the Traditional Plan were found constitutional and will go into effect Jan. 1.

Everything unconstitutional before General Conference 2019 remains so, including any amended pieces. The Taylor Exit Plan is constitutional and now in effect

What happens when implemented:

Traditional Plan

The ban on same-sex wedding ceremonies and openly gay clergy remains in place, but so does the church’s stance on all people being deemed of sacred worth.

  • New minimum penalties of a one-year suspension for first offense and a loss of orders for second offense for clergy who celebrate same-sex unions.
  • Expanded definition of “self-avowed practicing homosexual” to include someone “living in a same-sex marriage, domestic partnership or civil union, or is a person who publicly states she or he is a practicing homosexual.”
  • More specific prohibitions against bishops consecrating or ordaining bishops or clergy who are “self-avowed homosexuals.” (Note the now-missing “practicing.” UPDATE: “Practicing” will be added.
  • District committees on ordained ministry and boards of ordained ministry are forbidden from recommending “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” for ordination.
  • More opportunities to appeal church trials.
  • Complainants in a just resolution process receive explanations of dismissals as well as a statement of harms.

Disaffiliation

  • Churches must leave by Dec. 31, 2023.
  • Decision to disaffiliate requires 2/3 vote of professing church members at a charge conference.
  • Annual conference board of trustees sets terms and conditions for disaffiliation agreement between conference trustees and local church trustees, with following required provisions:
    • GCFA must develop standard form for disaffiliation agreements (BoD ¶807.9., ¶2501).
    • The local church shall pay any unpaid apportionments for the 12 months prior to disaffiliation as well as an additional 12 months of apportionments.
    • Local church can retain its “real and personal, tangible and intangible property.” Transfer of property takes place before disaffiliation, and all legal costs are paid by the local church.
    • Local church pays its share of unfunded pension obligations to the annual conference, determined by the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
    • Local pays all other debts, loans and liabilities or transfer them to its new entity before leaving.
    • Disaffiliating churches (BoD ¶2553) remain eligible to sponsor voluntary employee benefit plans through the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits.
    • Once all funds due are paid by exiting church, annual conference releases the church from the trust clause (mainly BoD ¶2501).

More info:

www.umc.org/decisions/79922

www.umnews.org/en/news/court-oks-part-of-traditional-plan-exit-plan

What’s been happening

Upper New York for Full Inclusion was born in the wake not just of General Conference 2019 but of Upper New York Bishop Mark Webb’s canceling of scheduled in-person regional gatherings after the February 2019 special session.

Those who would call themselves UNYFI came together March 9 for an initial gathering, making use of a time and space once reserved for a required all-clergy meeting to instead meet, mourn and get to work organizing for a better United Methodist Church.

Teams were created around communications, annual conference legislation, general conference delegates, direct action, Reconciling Ministries, meeting with Upper New York moderates and hospitality, with a team of leaders leading each group. The movement has a Facebook page, Twitter page and blog. And, now, a newsletter!

The group was further galvanized after a disappointing livestream event hosted by the bishop, and it met again in a large gathering March 30 to continue strategizing for full inclusion, especially as the 2019 Upper New York Annual Conference approaches.

On March 29, members of the lead team met with consultant Angela Neal to focus on goal-setting. Together the team determined that the goals for UNYFI were the following:

Long-term goal

Full Inclusion in the United Methodist Church.

Intermediate goals

  1. Removal of the exclusionary language from The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church.
  2. Supporting a gracious exit plan.
  3. More delegates to General Conference 2020 who want full inclusion and more presence at General Conference 2020 of those who are not delegates.

Short-term goal

Protect the vulnerable and mitigate harm being done in Upper New York, including candidates for ministry, licensed local pastors, LGBTQIA people, youth and clergy brought up on complaints/charges.

If you feel called to help with one of the teams, let us know at UNY4Inclusion@gmail.com, and we’ll put you in touch with the team leads.

Open letters:

Two open letters have been circulating in the Upper New York Conference, both inviting Upper New York United Methodists into the work of full inclusion and to stand against institutional oppression.

The letter titled “Invitation and Traditional Plan Rejection” invites everyone to join the work of justice and Jesus by calling on Upper New York leadership to not abide the punitive Traditional Plan, passed at General Conference 2019, that has pushed our church backward, not forward. A second letter titled “We Refuse” calls for a bold defiance of the Traditional Plan and the Book of Discipline’s exclusionary language against LGBTQIA+ siblings.

Consider adding your name to these statements and let the Upper New York Conference, The United Methodist Church and the world know how you feel about a church with closed doors.

Save the dates:

May 4-5: Regional meetings are being planned for the weekend of May 4-5. We’ll share more information as details are finalized.

June 4: Pre-annual conference gathering at University United Methodist Church in Syracuse at 7 p.m.

Please continue to pray for our church and for our work together, and continue to invite others into the work.