Each week Pastor Sarah offers a devotional reflection to connect with the South Shore UMC Family. Use this entry as a way to prepare your heart and mind for worship. See you Sunday!
Sunday's Scripture ~ John 13:21-30.
Devotional Scripture ~ James 5:16.
In 2019 Andrew stepped away from pastoral ministry. He had been serving as a local pastor for four years. At that time, we had hopes of being appointed to a church together, one day. But that hope became stagnant following the vote of The General Conference of The United Methodist Church during their special session in February of that year. The General Conference voted to adopt what came to be known as the Traditional Plan for The United Methodist Church. Three of the Traditional Plan's major tenants are 1) reserving the covenant of marriage as only being between one man and one woman, 2) maintaining homosexuality (meaning all sexual expressions and identities within the LGBTQIA community) is incompatible with Christian teaching, and 3) recognizing candidates for pastoral ministry cannot be self-avowed homosexuals (which extends to include all sexual expressions and identities within the LGBTQIA community).
When the church - the body responsible for our formative years of spiritual maturation, the church where we both received calls by God into ministry - made this decision - even as the vote count revealed how close and divided the body was (and, truly, remains) -made this decision, we wept. Since I am in full-connection as an elder, I have voice and vote to work towards creating a more inclusive church. Local pastors do not have the same voice and vote. Andrew felt defeated. He did not feel motivated to continue pursing the ordination process. And he did not feel that it served his integrity to continue serving in a pastoral role within an organization whose present decision maligns everything he believes about Jesus and his inclusive grace.
Andrew requested a moment of personal privilege from our Bishop during Clergy Session to share before the over 700 gathered clergy - active and retired - in our conference as to why he was stepping away from pastoral ministry. He spoke of his sister, Tiffany, who came into this world as his brother, Billy. He spoke of how Tiffany was bullied in our youth group growing up because she saw and engaged with the world uniquely from everyone else. He spoke of how Tiffany finally began flourishing as her true self - as an adult - with little or no relationship with the Church, because she found community in relationship with a different body.
Tiffany was not safe in the church then. We should have done better. Tiffany is not safe in the church now. We should do better.
At the conclusion of Clergy Session, I stood with Andrew - once again, utterly amazed by him - and watched as clergyperson after clergyperson thanked him for his witness, for being true to his heart, for upholding his integrity, and for hopes that he will continue to use his voice for good in God's church when the time was and is right for him. Last to speak to us were members of our home church's youth group - peers who are now clergy colleagues in the Annual Conference. Some further echoed words of gratitude for Andrew's witness. Others offered words of confession. "I was among those who bullied Tiffany..." "I made fun of her; I excluded her..." "I saw what was happening to her, and I remained silent..."
Andrew heard them. I cried silent tears listening to them. And I prayed - I prayed God would bring healing through them - for Tiffany - for our LGBTQIA sisters, brothers, and siblings everywhere - for our clergy colleagues - for and beyond The United Methodist Church.
James 5:16 says, "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective." The prayers confessed that day after Clergy Session led one clergy colleague to action oriented on loving God and showing love to Tiffany. This colleague asked if Andrew would ask Tiffany for permission to share her contact information so that the colleague might connect with her personally to seek forgiveness. I do not know if that happened - or if it will ever happen - but I am clinging to hope that it did or that it will. In that hope there is healing. In that hope is a future with safety - for Tiffany as well as so many others in the church that raised them or in the church that became a friend and home later in life.
The day Andrew stepped away from pastoral ministry he offered one of the greatest sermons of his life. He offered his life and committed his witness to a future with hope. Andrew has not stopped serving or advocating. God is not done with him yet. Through Andrew's faithfulness to God, and the power of the Spirit working through him, others will be and are healed and made whole.
Reflection: What is your relationship with confession or confession prayers? Have you been hurt in the past by people in your church or inner circle? What were the circumstances? Write out a prayer asking God to heal your heart and lead you in safely healing those relationships.
Prayer: "Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! 'Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee... Therefore, kind Jesus, since I cannot pay thee, I do adore thee, and will ever pray thee, think on thy pity and thy love unswerving, not my deserving."* Amen.
*"Ah, Holy Jesus," The United Methodist Hymnal 289.
**Devotional Resource: The Weekly Prayer Project by Scarlet Hiltibidal