We welcomed five new members at Mount Vernon Place yesterday and had the privilege of baptizing two of these individuals. It was a beautiful day - one of my all-time favorite worship experiences in this place. As part of worship, I asked two of our new members if they would be willing to testify - to share a glimpse of why they were excited about joining Mount Vernon Place and what brought them here. Both of the witnesses were extraordinary - offered with love, grace, passion, and excitement. It was a blessing to hear their words.
I asked one of the individuals if I could have a copy of his words to share on my blog. As I read them, my only prayer is that God will continue to keep us on this path, and that God will show us how best to further open the circle that has powerfully been opened to so many people already. What a blessing it is to serve in this place!
Here they are for you to read:
I remember an afternoon when I was 16 years old. I was sitting in a meadow in front of the chapel at Camp Aldersgate – our United Methodist Church camp in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. A pastor speaking to a group of us shared this simple poem:
They drew a circle that shut me out;
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took them in.
As a Christian who also happens to be gay, I have known the hurt and despair of having circles drawn that shut me and those like me out in ways that keep us from experiencing the fullness of life and faith in the very communities of faith in which we were raised and once nurtured. My guess is, there are others here today who perhaps for the same or for different reasons have shared similar experiences.
But after a few short months here, in this place, I stand to give witness to what I sense is happening at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church; and why, today, I seek to be a part of this community of faith. Something is happening here that captures my imagination and convinces my heart: the God of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses and Deborah, of Paul and Priscilla is a living God who is walking among us today – speaking new words of hope to those both inside and outside these walls, and leading us all to new places of promise that encourage greater strength of community, healing and depth of faith. Something is happening here!
Today the five of us seeking membership in this congregation are linking hearts and minds with a community of believers who have taken an incredible leap of faith as you seek to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ – reaching out into our city and our nation in bold and creative ways to meet neighbors in need. Drawing circles around them that included – that incorporate them into a shared life that provides for a greater hope and promise of well-being.
I sense this congregation to be a community of seekers: people who know that living a life of faith is like being on a journey. As God moves among us, so must we seek and be prepared to be led to new and different places in our ministries. I’ve said to others that one dynamic of this community that makes me want to be a part is the sense that “we are always becoming!” There are other places we all could be where the sense is “This is who we are! This is what we do! And this is how we do it!!” It’s a good thing to know who you are, but each day is a new day that presents new situations, and new challenges with opportunities to share our faith with those around us. I want to be a part of a community of faith that has this sense of adventure – a sense of “always having to figure it out,” always discerning where we are, and what God is calling us to do in this new day, this new moment.
In 1980, as a young gay man who had just spent four years in seminary preparing for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, I attended our General Conference in Indianapolis, IN. I was there as part of a group of gay and lesbian United Methodists with a new name: Affirmation. Needless to say, in those early days we were very much on the outside of “the circle,” well into the margins. At the opening of the Conference I stood in an outer hallway of the Convention Center holding a tall banner we had just made a few days earlier that read, “Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian and Gay Concerns.” The hallway where I stood was the path that all of our Bishops took as they processed onto the main floor of the convention center. They all passed by me and ‘my’ banner. One bishop stopped and said, “Get out of here. You must leave this place! ” I looked him in the eye and said “Bishop, I’m not going to leave!” At that moment my heart was more resolved than ever to speak honestly and openly about who I was as a person of faith, and to always search for that growing community of believers in Jesus Christ who understand that their faith compels them to welcome – to include rather exclude people.
So Bishop, here I am! I’m still here! And I give thanks for my sisters and brothers in this place – for the way you welcome me; for being the people of God that you are; for being the people of God that you hold promise to become; and for being a people of God who have a passion for drawing circles that include people rather than keep them out. Thank you for embracing the five of us this morning and bringing us into this community. We want to draw circles with you.
William J. Matson
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church
September 27, 2009