- by Rachel Harvey, Deaconess -
“Aren’t you coming home for the trial?”
I’ve fielded this question a lot in the past couple days. Today, a member of my home community is on trial by the church we both love. I am from Lebanon, PA (pronounced Leb-nin). Formerly “famous” for Bethlehem Steel, Sweet Bologna and “Lebanon Levi” from Amish Mafia, today my social media feed is buzzing with news from United Methodists across the country following a church trial of Rev. Frank Schafer. Frank is a Lebanon father and United Methodist pastor, who officiated at his gay son’s wedding which is illegal according to The United Methodist Church’s (UMC) law.
Lebanon is a town of approximately 25,000. My rural roots are often termed “Pennsyltucky”, politically resembling rural Kentucky over our metro Philly and Pittsburg bookends. When one Eastern PA progressive heard where I grew up he said, “I can’t believe anyone progressive came from there.” And when I heard the news of Frank’s fatherly love for his son, I both could and couldn’t believe it was from my home.
This morning, more than most, when I woke Pennsylvania was on my mind. I wondered if my Uncle Matt, a UMC pastor who serves within 15 miles of Frank, would be selected for the jury pool. I wondered what my other family members, in an around Lebanon, heard yesterday from their local pulpits. I thought about the former and future campers at Camp Innabah where Frank’s trial was starting. I wondered how my Reconciling family, of conscience and call, was preparing for the beginning of the trial. As I got ready to head into the RMN office in Chicago, 10 seconds on the radio set my head spinning.
Yesterday afternoon several tornados touched down in Illinois. During the intro for a news story an eye witness shared that while his family was safely below ground he was clutching his iPhone to capture the damage done to his house. The ten second testimony of his choice in the midst of a disaster struck me as both physically stupid and wildly symbolic of the choice many of us face today. The fact that there is a trial today prompted by a former employee’s son a month before the six year statute of limitations was lifted is in simple terms – stupid. It’s a senseless stewardship of church funds and symptomatic of the ways an unjust and oppressive system continues to challenge the lives of those who follow Jesus’ teaching to love one another. Sadly this is not the first or likely to be the last church trial related to LGBTQ inclusion, others are already at various points in the process.
So what do we do? We organize.
Some of us are at Camp Innabah witnessing Frank’s trial. We are there to bear witness to harm and hope, to tell the story, to support one another and sing songs that remind us of who we are. Some of us are home, glued to social media and praying for a glimpse of justice with every click of the mouse. Some of us are immersed in ministries which demand our full attention today, working and witnessing for God’s all inclusive justice.
“No mom, I won’t be coming home for the trial, but I will be there next week for Thanksgiving and I hope we can talk about the trial then”, was one response to the initial question that prompted this blog post. While my mom doesn’t hold positions of power that will change the language in the Book of Discipline, I know that the open and honest conversations I have with her do change the ways LGBTQ people who attend her church experience God’s love. I know when I lovingly speak and listen to my cousins navigate homophobic language at youth group, it changes how their LGBTQ friends are heard and I know through all these conversations my understanding of God’s love deepens. And if that type of transformational, practical, relational organizing can take place in Lebanon, PA - I know it can happen anywhere.
Praying for Frank, his son and family and working together with him and you toward our collective freedom.
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Rachel is a United Methodist Deaconess appointed to serve as Program Director. Prior to joining RMN in August 2009, Rachel worked for 2 years as a mission specialist with The Advance at the General Board of Global Ministries. As a mission specialist she focused on youth and young adults and created the B1 campaign. From 2004 -2006 Rachel was as a US-2 missionary serving as the director of CoffeeLoft.org, a Reconciling campus ministry at The University of South Dakota. Rachel has also worked with Response, a magazine of the United Methodist Women and The Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew, United Methodist (SPSA) in New York City.