Cal-Nevada Annual Conference
The Cal Nevada Annual Conference held a Conference Committee on Reconciliation luncheon. The theme of the lunch was "Where Do We Go From Here?" We invited a panel of five people who attended General Conference to provide their thoughts on "where do we go from here" after General Conference. There was a great variety of thoughts about General Conference. The similarity was that the reconciling movement did not gain any ground but we did not lose any ground either. There were almost 100 people in attendance.
Legislatively we passed two main pieces of legislation. One was called "We Will Not Be Silent" and the other was called "A Study Committee for an Inclusive Conference". Both passed overwhelmingly in committee and was put on the Consent Calendar. The Study Committee for an Inclusive Conference was also passed in the New York Annual Conference. There was also a "Do No Harm" Covenant, similar to the one passed in Iowa. The covenant was brought up as a point of personal privilege because it would have been ruled out of order if we tried to get it though committee.
The Detroit Annual Conference has witnessed a turning of the tide and it began in 2011 with the election of 6 progressive candidates to General Conference 2012. In 2007, that would have never happened.
At Annual Conference 2012, there were two resolutions related to LGBT outreach. The first one was a call for the wearing of rainbow stoles, crosses, ribbons or any symbols thereof to cease and desist. Three congregations were singled out in the resolution: Detroit Central, Ann Arbor First and the Wesley Foundation at the University of Michigan. This resolution was withdrawn before legislative sessions convened. The second resolution called for all reconciling activities to cease, all MFSA activities to cease and essentially was asking the Bishop to micro-manage three congregations - once again, the three mentioned in the previous sentence. The recommendation from the legislative session was "Non-Concurrence by a vote of 41-29. When the resolution came to the floor for debate, there were two speeches for concurrence with the legislative session's recommendation and only one against. The vote of the conference was concurrence with the legislative recommendation and the vote was very close to 3 to 1. This was a HUGE victory for the Detroit Annual Conference.
Perhaps the most significant thing that happened at Annual Conference 2012 was a prayer circle that took place at the end of the General Conference 2012 report. Rev. Jeff Nelson, senior pastor at Redford Aldersgate and one of our biggest allies, asked the Bishop for a moment of personal privilege. At the mic, he stated that "incredible amounts of harm have been thrust upon our LGBTQ brothers and sisters" because of actions and statements on the floor of General Conference. He asked both LGBTQ brothers and sisters as well as allies to come forward and to form a prayer circle to specifically pray for "No More Harm" and to stand in unity with our LGBTQ brothers and sisters in their quest for change in the UMC. 145 people came forward. If you consider the delegation to Annual Conference to be around 520 - that prayer circle constituted 30% of the conference body - both clergy and lay. Another HUGE victory for Detroit Annual Conference as that would never have happened even as late as 2010. We ask for continued prayers for Detroit Annual Conference as we continue to break down those barriers to full inclusion.
- George Jonte
Illinois Great Rivers
When I first heard about the concept of a “reconciling church,” probably about 1997, I thought it was a “no-brainer.” How could my church, Wesley UMC in Urbana, Illinois, not embrace what seemed to me to be a movement that spoke to the heart of Christianity, and the Methodist Church (later professed to be a place of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors”)?!
So I jumped into what turned out to be an unexpectedly hurtful struggle, not only within my church, but across our Conference, and ultimately the denomination.
Fifteen years into the journey, with a church task force (“Reconciling,” then “Inclusiveness”), a Conference-wide ad hoc group (RUMI: Reconciling Uniting Methodists of Illinois), several “affirming” events, workshops, and studies behind me, I can report this:
At the 2012 Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, the RUMI breakfast was attended by 40 supporters, seekers, and questioners. This was probably the 7th or 8th year we have held such an event (previously a lunch, but changed this year to avoid conflict with the Social Justice meal which was attended by many like-minded persons). At that breakfast, we heard a powerful witness from two members of the Iowa AC who have signed the “Do No Harm” Covenant. Several persons who attended General Conference, both as delegates and non-delegates, spoke of their experiences there, and although there were disappointments, there was some optimism for change. The Rev. Sara Isbell, wearing this year’s stole from the Parents Reconciling Network, said that doing so is like a “secret handshake,” and she later wrote of the positive effect of that witness, in opening conversation and trust.
For several years we have had a visible presence at our AC, wearing multi-colored stoles as a witness to the many who have been excluded from the UMC because of their sexual identity. We have also worn aqua (“water-colored”) shirts to support the statement that “we were baptized too” – an image that came from the Cincinnati General Conference. These relatively quiet, non-confrontational actions were not lost on those who oppose an open, inclusive church, and they also served to send signals to those who needed a safe ear. “Ally” and rainbow triangle buttons, as well as rainbow ribbons have also been easy ways to provide witness.
Another powerful witness has been an annual display from the Shower of Stoles Project. Although we have not been able to exhibit the display in a place that would be visible to most of the Conference attendees, it has been a source of inspiration to those who have come to our RUMI events, and this year we were able to also display the stoles at the Social Justice meal, reaching a larger group.
RMN, Reconciling Ministries Network, has been a consistent source of inspiration, support, and guidance for us, providing speakers, workshop leaders, and literature (which we always display at our AC events, even though we cannot have a display table in the exhibit hall). Several of us have been privileged to attend the biennial “Convocations”, which are also life-changing.
The journey is not complete, but we have traveled a fair distance, and though sometimes weary, have gathered many along the way.
- Jean Peters
This was the fourth annual conference of the Indiana Conference. This was our first year at the Convention Center. It is HUGE and there was a lot going on (Indiana Republican Convention). We had and 8’ table in a 10’ booth. Although we have been at the previous conferences, about half of those who stopped were not aware of what the Book of Discipline says regarding LGBT persons. Many, who did know about us, thanked us for being there. Our table was decorated with a variety of stoles, a fish bowl filled with Pepperidge Farm Colored Fish. Besides our literature we had invitations from various churches of related events.
Friday evening, we had our annual dinner at Broadway UMC, which is a short distance from downtown. The UMW prepared a delicious meal for us. We were pleased to have 64 in attendance. There were a lot of other events going on at the same time. We had great time of fellowship and an inspiring message by Rev. Dr. Rachel Metheny, Assoc. Pastor of Broadway. Rev. Mike Mathers, Senior Pastor, also shared a greeting.
Saturday was an Indianapolis Pride event. Three of the Indianapolis UMC churches had booths at the event, and two of the churches were in the parade. Broadway UMC wore purpled t-shirts with “I am more than what you see” on them. They also had a convertible in the parade with one of Indianapolis’ promenade citizens riding in it. She is a member of Broadway UMC and has received recognition for her service to HIV persons.
2013 conference will also be at the Convention Center; we plan to have greater witness then.
- Marlene Crowder
The 2012 Minnesota Annual Conference met in St. Cloud, Minnesota May 30 to June 1st. United Methodists for Marriage Equality, the Retired Reconciling Clergy Caucus, and over 14 Reconciling Churches brought legislation to oppose the amendment to the Minnesota Constitution to define marriage as one man and one woman. We came to conference with several speakers prepared to discuss this petition. One of the traditionally conservative District Superintendents moved that we not debate this issue and just vote. The debate was closed on a nearly unanimous vote. On paper ballot we voted to oppose the amendment 70% to 30%. This is the greatest percentage of support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender legislation at any Minnesota Annual Conference session.
- Rev. Walter Lockhart
In Mississippi, we had a good pre-conference gathering (about 35 folks) at our house with Steve Clunn of MFSA giving us an overview of what happened at GC and where progressive United Methodists are hoping to go from here. This year we reserved a display table for MFSA which included a great deal of materials from RMN. We were placed in the main exhibit hall right across from the women's restroom so we were quite visible -- much more visible than last year. The tone of AC this year was rather calm – we didn’t feel led to put forth any kind of legislation to expose the un-Christ-like decisions of GC. Rather, we focused on being present for any who wanted to hear our stories and wished to gather information about social justice within and without the Church, while showing our hospitality to all by giving out free bottles of water to anyone who asked.
We had folks that came by and spoke of either having a gay child or working in education. All the brochures from the Parents Reconciling Network were taken - with one educator saying she planned to make copies of them to provide others. The most moving visits were with parents - most came when no one else was at the table and shared a little of their struggle - saying they needed to learn/understand more. I thanked them for wanting to learn more. I was able to hear them and honor their struggle out of compassion for my own mother’s journey in accepting my sexual orientation. One woman spoke of her fear that her gay step-son is leaving faith altogether and how she used to be able to say the United Methodist Church would welcome him but now she doesn't think she can say that. When I found out her step-son lives in another state I was able to tell her about a Reconciling Congregation there. My ability to do that is not lost on me when I realize there are no congregations in MS yet that are welcoming enough to be official about it. I truly hope that changes this year.
We got thanks and hugs from folks (I don't remember getting hugs last year), and it just felt like they left us feeling encouraged. I even had one man come by to say while he doesn't agree with some of what we say, he was very glad we were there. As the conference was coming to a close with the ordination service about to begin, I “just happened” (does anything “just happen” with God around?) to be in the right place at the right time - they needed more ushers to hand out programs. I volunteered and proudly wore my rainbow stole and buttons as I greeted folks and passed out programs!! And in that closing service, I heard God’s call to all of us as we sang “The Summons” --
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don't know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
will you let my life be grown in you and you in me? …
Will you love the "you" you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you've found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
- Renee Sappington
The New York Annual Conference (NYAC) meets annually to set policy. It is the one time every year that representatives from every congregation throughout the conference come together and is thus a crucial forum for our witness against the church’s ongoing exclusion of God’s LGBT children.
2012 was a breakthrough year for MIND at annual conference -- LGBT people were named and included from the stage of annual conference; the harm done us at General Conference was acknowledged; the dean of the cabinet asserted in his report that churches are strengthened when they welcome LGBT people; Bishop Sally Dyck held up one of our blue armbands during her ordination sermon; Rev. Amy DeLong gave a powerful speech at the MIND lunch; and we passed a significant piece of legislation.
See a full report of MIND’s witness at http://www.mindny.org/mind-initiatives/annual-conference-witness-2012/
- Methodists In New Directions (MIND)
The Reconciling United Methodists of North Carolina joined with the local chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) in exhibiting at the North Carolina Annual Conference in Raleigh, June 13-26. Our RUM table was adjacent to the MFSA table as we shared resources and experiences with attendees. We had a very visible location and were proud to be a part of conference again. A resolution to delete funds for the North Carolina Council of Churches was defeated. Bishop Alfred G. Gwinn, Jr. presided over his last conference as he announced his retirement. At the Southeast Jurisdictional Conference in July, Bishop Hope Morgan Ward was announced as his successor. We have hopes of positive movement forward under her leadership. Next year, NC Annual Conference will be located in Greenville, North Carolina.
Rev. Laurie Hays Coffman presided over a dinner meeting and worship service held at Fairmont UMC on June 14th that drew about 50 conference attendees even though it was some distance from the Raleigh Convention Center. RMN Board Member Rev. Dr. Gayle Felton gave a summary of the proceedings at General Conference. This dinner meeting and worship service served as a way for our members and supporters to voice their opinions, concerns as well as pains due to the events at General Conference. It was also meant to be a service that would be uplifitng in order to help all of us move forward in a peaceful way and know that God is moving our church in God's time. It was a wonderful time together to fellowship.
The RMN witness at the 2012 North Georgia Annual Conference had a focus of community, awareness, information, and strategy for inclusion. This was my second AC, having been a delegate in 2011 and now again in 2012.
Our RMN table was in a better location this year than 2011. Last year we ran out of the PRN information pamphlet “When Your Child is Gay” at the RMN table. This year we printed an additional 50 copies of all materials supplied in the RMN AC box … and we gave away more than half of these extra copies. New this year at the table were rainbow colored lanyards that were given away. We exchanged the standard conference lanyard with the rainbow lanyard for 140 delegates, explaining the inclusion significance of wearing the rainbow lanyard to each delegate as we helped them put the lanyard on. The lanyards provided a sense of community and a visible witness each day. Speakers came to the AC podium each day in their rainbow lanyard. We had two new volunteers help staff the RMN table this year.
Our AC day two witness included a silent witness. Six brave volunteers carried messages for LGBT inclusion in our silent silhouette witness, similar to the General Conference witness. Two other volunteers stood with us in support. As the day two session ended, the volunteers stood on the sidewalk as delegates walked by to their parking garage, hotel, or restaurant. Volunteers received hugs, positive comments and gestures of approval from many delegates. This witness had been planned for lunch on day two, but as volunteers headed to their positions at lunch time, conference security would not allow volunteers to enter the conference center and police said a permit was required for the witness outside the conference center. The police were helpful obtaining the permit used for our day two session ending witness.
By the end of day two, the few who had rainbow stoles were wearing them along with their rainbow lanyard. I estimate 12 to 15 delegates with stoles. I was able to wear my stole and lanyard as I gave a two minute talk about Leadership UMC from the AC podium during the day three afternoon session. Many delegates asked where they could obtain a stole; unfortunately we had none to give. We hope to have stoles for the 2013 conference.
Our AC day three witness included our second annual RMN luncheon. The luncheon included Rev. Christina Wright discussing the planned path forward for RMN at the grassroots level. Featured speakers also included Rev. James Cantrell and Rev. Beth LaRocca-Pitts, both of whom were North Georgia delegates to General Conference. Jim and Beth reflected on General Conference and discussed strategy for inclusion in the UMC given the growing central conference. Our luncheon count was 48 this year, approximately double the 2011 attendance. Donations to RMN of $225 were given at the luncheon.
- Giselle Lawn
Oregon-Idaho Reconciling United Methodists (OI RUMs) linked arms with our wonderful MFSA Chapter to open our Annual Conference session (unofficially yet enthusiastically) with a Coffee House, featuring stories and songs of justice and love -- especially reflections on General Conference 2012 -- and free coffee and snacks. This second-time event is rapidly becoming a tradition (we doubled our room size from 2011) to kick off AC the evening before it officially convenes.
Significant actions include passage of two legislative items: One is an action recommending that every congregation adopt a statement that specifically welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. We offer resources for this initiative from the RMN and from our group and will continue to seek ways to engage individual congregations in conversation and action. The other, a resolution that even though "we are not of one mind" (amendment by a conservative brother), we agree with Bishop Talbert's May 2012 statement about derogatory language in the Discipline being immoral and unjust and not deserving of our loyalty and obedience and that we will work toward the day of repentance and reform when the inclusive gospel is truly lived out. We also created a statement of “Do No Harm” (based on Iowa’s statement) that clergy and laity alike were encouraged to sign and to take back to their congregations to gather further signatures. We are approaching 200 clergy and lay signatures as they are still coming in.
Our laity workshop featured the film of the Rev. Amy DeLong's dynamic sermon at Sing a New Song and discussion with General Conference lay delegate Jan Nelson about where we go from here. Our Ministry Marketplace display (which is open and attended for the duration of Annual Conference) featured three 8-foot tables with RMN and our own literature plus a 9x12 image from each Reconciling congregation and campus ministry in our Conference. One of the tables is reserved for our Parents Reconciling Network in a space suitable for confidential conversations which always occur.
‘twas a blessed session!
- Deborah Maria
In the short time between the General Conference in Tampa ending in May and our Annual Conference in June, the SWTX Reconciling Ministries Team, the Austin chapter of MFSA and other like-minded folks, both clergy and laity, joined together to form the “Love Your Neighbor” Fellowship. Our AC had not planned any response to GC. Working to address this need, members of “Love Your Neighbor” organized several events at our Southwest Texas Annual Conference in June, creating spaces to talk and witness about the harm done by our church’s exclusive policies.
We had a well-staffed vendor booth which became our compound (thanks to local MFSA & RM Team). We had a Shower of Stoles on display, which attracted much interest (http://www.welcomingresources.org/sosphistory.htm) We distributed over 150 rainbow stoles, along with educational literature. We talked to delegates, many of whom expressed gratitude for our presence. A communion of lament & hope was held for those in need of healing, as well as a dinner off-site for those who needed to gather with others to discuss and process GC disappointments. A copy of the Hamilton-Slaughter amendment (with an added prologue) was turned into a petition, and distributed to delegates. The petition received almost 100 signatures.
Over 185 attended the 2nd annual Peace & Justice Luncheon, organized by local MFSA chapter, where we shared a Tex-Mex meal and listened to the prophetic words of Audrey Krumbach from RMN and Jim Winkler, General Secretary, Board of Church and Society.
At the start the afternoon business session during which Jeff spoke on Saturday, June 9th, we had arranged (with consent of AC leadership) a lighting of a peace candle by Rev. Sid Hall, with an inclusive liturgy read by lay delegate Brian Heymans about LGBT equality. During the entire business session, silent witnesses were in a line at the back of the hall holding signs, peaceably gathered, not blocking any exits. Most of the delegates walked past us as they entered and exited the business session, with many smiling at our signs and giving words of encouragement. The GC report was given during the second half of this business session. Jeff’s point of privilege was granted by Bishop Dorff at the end of the GC report, allowing Jeff 3 minutes to speak. Bishop Dorff then led the hall in prayer and closed the session.
Many were engaging in conversations about the importance of inclusivity at our AC this year. Many in our conference are working to help our church welcome ALL to God’s table. For a full report visit the group’s website: http://swtxrmteam.wordpress.com/2012/06/19/southwest-texas-annual-conference-2012-overview-5/
You can read more about these activities here:
Jeff’s point of privilege: http://swtxrmteam.wordpress.com/2012/06/12/southwest-texas-annual-conference-2012-jeffs-point-of-privilege/
- Joy Butler
The Holy Spirit continues to move in the Tennessee Conference! We had a great time together at Annual Conference – passing out more and more reconciling stoles each year. The stoles were all over the conference, on people on the stage up front to voting members. We also hosted our Second Annual dinner hosted by Nashville Area Reconciling Methodists (NARM) and the TN Clergy for Inclusion. Bishop Melvin Talbert and his wife joined us to give us hope and strength for the journey ahead. Over 100 people joined together to share in fellowship and the good words of a strong ally for justice in our church. The most exciting part of Annual Conference was that anti-bullying legislation that NARM and TN Clergy for Inclusion wrote passed! This was the first legislation ever written by the groups, and it reminded us that we do stand on common ground with many who believe in God's grace extending to all. As someone who was disheartened at many points at General Conference, it was a joy to come back home to my community and be reminded that God continues to declare God’s inclusive love, even in the Bible Belt of the South. Thanks be to God!
- Laura Rossbert
Western North Carolina
During the Western NC Annual Conference in June of this year, the 3rd annual RMN Chapel Service was held on Thurs. evening in the beautiful chapel next to Stuart Auditorium at Lake Junaluska, NC. The Rev. Josh Noblitt led the powerful worship service along with members from Green St. UMC in Winston Salem, WNCUMC’s only Reconciling Ministries Congregation, who provided soulful and inspiring music that kept attendees on their feet for most of the service. Approximately 150 people attended the service. During the time of sharing, clergy and lay people alike offered moving personal stories and thoughts on what is happening within the UMC in regards to the full inclusion of LBGT people. Communion was celebrated and prayers were offered for our church and the desire to truly become all that God wants us to be.
Methodists for Social Action invited Reconciling Ministry members and supporters to join them for a luncheon at which those who had attended General Conference reported on the highs and lows of that experience.
Information was made available to people attending this year’s conference through a RMN display/bulletin board. Reconciling pins and ribbons were shared and could be seen being worn by delegates throughout the Conference.