I was reading the website of the First United Methodist Church in Oneonta, NY. It’s a pretty special place whose motto is: Open Hearts Open Minds Open Doors. It is A Reconciling Congregation, which, in UMC parlance, means to “create full inclusion of all God’s children regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.” I should note that my parents-in-law are members of the church.
The congregation did something rather remarkable, especially if you understand church polity. It held a:
Special Church Conference on Sunday, March 16… to discuss a resolution presented to the congregation by the Reconciling Ministries team of our church… After two hours of discussion, listening, amendments, voting, and tears, the special session of church conference voted to pass an amended resolution. It reads:
RESOLVED, that First United Methodist Church of Oneonta, New York will withhold 40% of its remaining apportionment from the Upper New York Annual Conference in 2014 and will [withhold] 100% of its apportionment beginning in 2015. In 2014 the 40% withheld will be redirected to the Reconciling Ministries Network. 40% of the 100% withheld in 2015 and beyond will be given to RMN, and 60% will be given to other ministries as determined by the First United Methodist Church of Oneonta. This practice will continue until the United Methodist Church removes the discriminatory language from the Book of Discipline and grants gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people all rights and privileges accorded to heterosexual people, specifically ordination and marriage.
The resolution was then sent to our bishop, Rev. Mark Webb, along with a letter composed by the Reconciling Ministries team here at our church. The bishop responded promptly, asking if Pastor Emily and Pastor Teressa would sit down with him, our district superintendent Rev. Jan Rowell, and his executive assistant Christine Doran… We were able to sit down together on Wednesday, April 9th during the bishop’s noon break.
The bishop began the meeting in prayer and then expressed several times that this meeting was in no way a reprimand nor was there any negativity. We discussed the action our church has taken and why this decision was made. The Bishop indicated that he understands the pain and heartache the congregation feels, and that he has to manage these types of actions being taken by churches… A time is being set up for our District Superintendent, Rev. Jan Rowell, to have a conversation with the congregation about the issue—Monday, May 12th in the evening at 6:30 p.m.
First UMC Oneonta has a long history of standing for justice. We make our voices heard on many different issues—hunger, homelessness, human trafficking, health care, education to name a few… . Our work, however, regarding inclusivity in the church is not about an issue, it is about people—our people. It is about the wonderful church family that worships together, learns together, spends time in fellowship, and lends their hands and hearts in service. Our denomination currently holds that some of our active and engaged members cannot have the same rights as others who worship along side them. No matter how gifted and talented they are, some members cannot become clergy. No matter how committed and loving their relationship is, some members cannot get married in their home sanctuary. This church takes a stance on many issues, but we understand that equality isn’t an issue. It is simply the way God calls us to live as citizens of God’s commonwealth.
SAVE THE DATE—May 18, 2014 First UMC will be celebrating 25 years as a Reconciling Congregation by bringing Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor at Glide Memorial Church in San Francisco, to our pulpit on May 18. In her pastoral assignments she has expanded congregations and has been instrumental in the effort to open the doors of the United Methodist Church to all persons including those identifying as LBGTQ and their families.
As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you. ~Genesis 9:9
I will take you as my people, and I will be your God. ~Exodus 6:7a
At its heart, covenant is about belonging. We belong to God. As the Body of Christ we also belong to each other. God commits to us and we, in turn, commit to be God’s people. Covenant knits us together. God initiates covenant and never betrays the call, gifts, and promises given to God’s people.
The church exists because God’s Holy Spirit has called us together and bound us in covenant for the purpose of a particular mission: God calls us into the church to accept the cost and joy of discipleship, to be servants in the service of the whole human family, to proclaim the gospel to all the world and resist the powers of evil, to share in Christ’s baptism and eat at his table, to join him in his passion and victory.
Bound together in this covenant, as disciples, we form what many call the beloved community. We have insisted, always, on the importance of walking together in all of God’s ways. We are called to be careful caretakers of this covenant, stewards of our relationship with God and one another. Though the month of May is a busy time and our calendars fill up quickly, let us commit to be stewards of our covenant. Let us be sure to make time to be together in community, to be the Body of Christ.
There will be one service at 10:00 am with a luncheon after. Rev. Oliveto is a remarkable preacher, teacher, and theologian. A few of us have had the wonderful honor of hearing her speak and preach at national events. Please save the date and come worship and celebrate with this wonderful church family! And please RSVP to the church office so we have plenty of food for fellowship after the service.
In order to take full advantage of Rev. Oliveto’s visit, we will not only hear her preach but glean some of her wonderful wisdom. On Saturday, May 17, First United Methodist of Oneonta will be offering a workshop: Evangelism: A Ministry of Invitation, facilitated by Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto. Rev. Oliveto is also part of the adjunct faculty at Pacific School of Religion teaching evangelism. Evangelism can be a “scary” word. She will help us develop approaches in becoming intentional in our invitation to invite and nurture “disciples for the transformation of the world” (Upper NY Conference mission statement). The workshop will be from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm with lunch provided. The workshops are designed to be appropriate for both youth and adults and we encourage our youth to attend and be part of the conversation. Reservations would be appreciated by Thurs. May 15. Please indicate in your response if you need childcare on Saturday.
You may email or call the church office. Phone: 607 432-4102.
And there’s this:
ALL God’s people. In May we light the candle for Bishop Melvin Talbert. Bishop Talbert is retired from the Western Jurisdiction and has recently been brought up on charges for performing a same-gender marriage. He is the first Bishop to have done so. Bishop Talbot was also a colleague of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights Movement. During General conference 2012 he has started advocating for Biblical Obedience; challenging the United Methodist Church to put obedience to the Bible before the Book of Discipline.