I am a seminary graduate who will soon be entering my first appointment. About a year ago, at my Annual Conference session, we voted on two amendments whose passing would mean that our denomination would explicitly affirm all genders as equal and state that gender would not be a characteristic barring people from membership in the church. A week ago, I learned that these did not pass with the required two-thirds majority. (As of May 11, the first of these two amendments will need to be revisited, due to an error, and even so, we are looking at a big problem.)
In less than two months, I will be starting as a pastor at a two point charge in Alaska. My bishop and cabinet have prayed over my appointment. They have sought counsel from those who know me and those who know my churches. Together, we have been led by the Holy Spirit to make this match between my churches and myself. Yet, this recent vote by my denomination causes me to be unsure if this fit is truly blessed by the UMC, because of my gender. That is deeply troubling to sit with.
UMC, I have some questions.
- What might my future in ministry look like if the beginning looks like this?
- When our denomination preaches a message of love and inclusion and open doors, but the legislation extends that inclusion to only some, what are we preaching?
- What does it look like to sing the hymns and recite the creeds of this church while also knowing that your gender is seen as less valuable than other genders?
- What if the same evil we make the covenant to renounce in our membership vows is happening right under our noses?
We need to do better. I’d like to be able to say we can do better, yet our track record reflects a different story. I am hopeful, and not yet convinced.
The women who inspired and encouraged me to enter ministry told me I could and should be a leader in this church. When they said it, I believed it, which is why I am here today.
- I wonder, what will my conversations with young people look like? When I affirm their gifts and encourage them to pursue ministry, will they believe me? Will it need to include limitations or cautions, about what they will need to do or say or be, or not be?
- What would you like me to tell the thirteen year old girl at camp whom I just gave a pink Bible, telling her that her gifts are so needed in this Church? Do we believe that? Are we willing to prove it?
I am thankful to be part of an annual conference who is led by strong women, and men whose ideals of the ‘highest standards of Christian excellence’ aren’t defined by gender identity, race, or sexual orientation. I give thanks for the privilege to preach and pray and wonder, completely as I am, full stop.
Still, it saddens me that as a whole, we are still unwilling to acknowledge the sacred, God-given worth of all of our siblings.
So I ask, one last time: United Methodist Church, do we in fact believe that the gifts of women are important enough to withstand a two-thirds majority vote? If we do, how do we plan to prove that going forward? If not, can you afford to lose 30% of your clergy?
Church, we need to do better.
Through it all, women are still proving to be vital forces of ministry, across the denomination. As they say, ‘Nevertheless, she leads”. Let it be so.
(Soon to be) United Methodist Pastor