Dear Salem Family,
Lenten graces and Easter blessings to you!
I am back from spending most of last week at a retreat at the Green Lake Conference Center, and I want to tell you about it. (The retreat, not the Conference Center—although the facility is beautiful. If you haven’t been there, you should check it out.) Every United Methodist pastor in the state was invited to the event, and the focus of the retreat was something called The Academy of Faith and Money, a series of presentations on what we loosely call stewardship—a subject many of us equate with the idea of being asked once a year to support the church financially. In its broader sense, of course, stewardship means a lot more than that—it has to do with how we individually, and as a church, manage the resources we have available to us.
Now that I see that in writing, I think I need a glass of water—it’s mighty dry.
I approached the retreat with some reluctance, both because of the subject matter and because being locked in a room with several hundred pastors is not as much fun as it sounds. (You may not know this, but pastors like to talk. A lot.) As it turns out, the speaker was very engaging, had a lot of great stories to tell about his time as a soldier in Desert Storm, then as a pastor, and now as a financial consultant, and it was a valuable time of learning for all of us…but it was not the main event.
On the first night there, there was a two or two-and-a-half hour meeting focusing on the events of the Special General Conference in St. Louis. The Bishop spoke to us about the vote to implement the so-called Traditional Plan, retaining exclusionary language for the gay and lesbian community, and there was a report from several of the delegates. The prevailing message is that Church leadership is still trying to sort out how to proceed in the wake of the vote—a delicate task given that many feel the continuation of such restrictions is immoral and antithetical to Christ’s call for inclusion and welcoming of all. How does the United Methodist Church proceed from here—can we remain united, or is it time to talk about how congregations may gracefully exit…or is there some other way forward? And on a gut level, how do the delegates proceed in the face of some unloving, unseemly things that were said by representatives of all sides, at the Special General Conference?
The most interesting thought to come out of that initial report is the question of whether parliamentary procedure and the idea of majority rule is even the proper way to address questions of ethics and morality. Ponder that for a few moments, and it seems to lead to the conclusion that right and wrong can’t be decided by vote—at best, a vote can establish aspirational norms for a particular body, but it can’t really decide right and wrong on a cosmic level. (Human slavery, for example, at some point in our history was agreed upon by a majority, and was legal…but it was never moral.)
The night concluded with statements from the floor, and it became painfully obvious that our leaders and delegates weren’t the only ones struggling with the outcome of the Special General Conference, and the question of where the future lies. I don’t know about others, but I left that meeting pretty disheartened.
Skip ahead, now, to the last day. Before we left, the Bishop led us in a very simple worship service that concluded with Holy Communion. And I will tell you, feeling the energy in the room, hearing the words of those around me and seeing their expressions…standing in line together, to receive the body and blood of Christ as brothers and sisters…it made me hopeful. It made me realize that no matter the divisions—and there definitely are divisions—we are still one body in Christ, committed to making disciples for the transformation of the world. There was a genuine sense of love and togetherness among all present, and I left the retreat feeling good.
Or maybe not.
With everything going on at the denomination level, it was a reminder that the real resources of the United Methodist Church are the individual congregations, the people within them, and their gifts and talents. And while there are real issues to be worked out, there is one issue that is settled—we all know that the only real hope for this broken world is the grace of God and the love of Jesus Christ. Moving forward, if we can keep our focus on that, then I think we can find a way to continue.
So this Easter, I invite you to remember and to share the truth we all have in common—whether we are LGBTQ, straight, Democrat or Republican, white brown or some combination thereof—Jesus Christ has risen, and by rising he has defeated death and made life possible for all people.
Share the miracle of Easter with someone you know. Invite them to experience it with you at one of our Easter services, 7:00 or 9:30 a.m. You never know what might happen.
(Earlier A Word from the Pastor messages may be found in Newsletters.)