by Leland G. Spencer IV
Annual Conference season has arrived, so I wanted to take a moment to express congratulations to everyone who is being/has been commissioned or ordained at annual conference this year. Especially to allies and LGBTQ people who have navigated the arduous process of candidacy, I say, congratulations. I'm glad you're working from the inside to make the whole church a place that shares God's inclusive heart.
I also want to congratulate Reconciling United Methodists with different relationships to the candidacy process, as I think these relationships are valid, valuable, and under-appreciated.
I say congratulations to LGBTQ people and allies who have been deferred or denied because of who you are. Perhaps you were honest about your identity or your supportive views, and such honesty led to your exclusion. I'm sorry this happened, and I'm sorry that Boards of Ordained Ministry sometimes function as gatekeepers rather than bodies that exist to recognize and celebrate God's gifts for ministry in the lives of the called. But I say congratulations for your exclusion. The voices of religious and political authority who have a vested stake in the status quo will often work hard to protect it, and that sometimes means keeping out those with other perspectives. In the fact of boards that are especially draconian, you could have chosen to equivocate or even transfer to a more open conference, but you made a difficult and courageous decision. Congratulations.
And I say congratulations to those who feel called, but have voluntarily withdrawn or extricated themselves from candidacy. That, too, is a difficult and courageous choice, and one I made four years ago. It is one that means understanding our call in new ways, like being present for people who have had bad religious experiences and need an affirming voice from an intelligent layperson who doesn't represent the institution as such.
Finally, I say congratulations to those who remain in candidacy or process for ordained ministry, but do so in different denominations. We'll miss you in the UMC, but I'm glad you've found a place your gifts will be recognized and celebrated. I'm sorry you had to leave this denomination to find a home, but that, too, is a difficult and courageous choice.
This season of the year is a difficult one for me, as it always means revisiting the painfulness and difficulty of whatever choices allies and LGBTQ people who are called to ordained ministry in the UMC make. Right now, none of these options are fully adequate (and none of them are all bad). All of them, I hope, offer us glimpses, albiet incomplete, of how to be about the reconciling work of loving God and loving our neighbor.
Leland G. Spencer IV, a lifelong United Methodist, is a PhD student in the department of communication studies at the University of Georgia, where he researches religious rhetoric as it intersects with gender and sexuality. Leland holds an M.A. in Communication from the University of Cincinnati (2009). While in Cincinnati, Leland served as the worship intern at the Wesley Foundation. Leland served as a part-time local pastor at Mapleton United Methodist Church in the East Ohio Conference from 2005 until 2007 when Leland withdrew from the candidacy process because of the United Methodist Church's exclusive position about the ordination of LGBT persons.