Mount Vernon Place Congregation:
The United Methodist Church has been making the news a lot this week. Our beloved church has garnered space just inside the front page of the Washington Post and countless other newspapers. We have been mentioned on the television news far and wide. We've made quite the splash, garnering attention that we have not received for a while. But the attention is not because of the good we are doing. None of the stories mention how much we donated for relief efforts in the Philippines last week. I've not seen anything on what we are doing to end hunger or homelessness. Rather, I, along with many of you, have read stories and accounts of a trial in Pennsylvania.
On Tuesday, my colleague, the Rev. Frank Schaefer, pastor of the Zion United Methodist Church in Lebanon, Pennsylvania, was found guilty of performing a same sex wedding and not upholding the discipline of the United Methodist Church. The trial was the result of complaints that were filed several years after Rev. Schaefer presided at the marriage of his son in Massachusetts (by the son of a former disgruntled employee of the church). On Wednesday, a thirteen person jury punished Rev. Schaefer with a 30-day suspension during which he must decide if he can fully embrace the entire Book of Discipline or surrender his credentials - giving up his ordination. I don't know of any parent of three gay children who could possibly say "yes" to what the church is asking of Rev. Schaefer. When many of us will be welcoming guests and members to our Christmas Eve services, there is a chance that Rev. Frank Schaefer will be Frank with no "Reverend" in front of his name.
There is nothing good coming out of this trial. I'm not sure there is ever anything good that comes from a church trial. When the church is so broken that we "try" ministry in the same format that criminals are tried in our communities, there is no chance of anyone winning. While the Good News movement may claim victory in this trial, everyone lost. Our denomination is losing - losing faithful pastors, deeply committed members, and the chance of being in ministry with and to hundreds of thousands of people around us who cannot fathom being part of such a judgmental, broken body.
Some of you have spoken out on Facebook, questioning your involvement in the United Methodist Church. Others of you have sent me emails making sure that I am okay in the midst of all that is happening in our church. I want to assure you that I am okay. I also want to assure you that we are okay. Mount Vernon Place has not changed.
If I have one message to proclaim - one sermon to preach - it is the sermon that we are all deeply beloved by God. The God I know and seek to follow is one who is foolishly in love with all of God's creation - one who goes to great lengths to capture our attention and woo us until we finally give in to God's relentless desire to be in relationship with us. This God longs for us to live lives that are different as a result of God's presence in our lives - lives of generosity, service and sacrifice - lives in which we seek to fully love God and neighbor. The trial in Pennsylvania did not change this message.
A specific prayer led me out of my role as Director of Admissions at Duke Divinity School and back to the local church: "God, take me out of my place of comfort and success. Give me a heart for hurting and broken people. Make me more prophetic." In my 13 years of professional ministry, I've had more conversations with gay and lesbian brothers and sisters who have been hurt by the church than any other group. I've never seen the church work so hard to keep a person or people away as we do individuals who are gay or lesbian. My heart hurts for the message conveyed to my LGBT brothers and sisters and now re-conveyed by our Council of Bishops and the jury in Pennsylvania. The trial in Pennsylvania did not change my heart for hurting and broken people.
We are part of a church with a wedding policy that states that any active member can be married in our church by our pastor. We wrestled as a congregation over how unfair it was for a couple with no connection to our church to be able to pay to get married in our sanctuary while saying "no" to same sex couples who faithfully live out their discipleship through the ministries of our church. I have wrestled with how many couples I have married who had no business getting married while being told by my denomination that I cannot marry couples with relationships that have stood the test of time - couples who adore each other and have Christ at the center. The trial in Pennsylvania has not changed our policy as a congregation or my call to be a pastor who offers the same blessing and pastoral care to all of our members.
We begin every Sunday morning with the words, "No matter where you have been or where you have failed to be, what you have said or what you have failed to say, what you have done or what you have failed to do, or who you love or who you have failed to love, you are welcome here." The trial in Pennsylvania has not changed this welcome. In fact, it's made me want to fling open our doors even wider. All are welcome at Mount Vernon Place. Nothing about this welcome has changed.
We have an important role to play as a Reconciling Congregation. We are called to actively seek change in our denomination. We are also called to be the most faithful expression of Christ's body in downtown Washington that we can be. There is much hurt and pain around us. God can use us to heal this pain. I believe with my whole heart that we can play a role in ending child hunger, homelessness and sex-trafficking in our city. I believe with my whole heart that we can be a real, authentic community for people who have 1000 friends of Facebook but no one to call on Friday night. I believe we can make a difference. May we be this church - as faithfully and as fully as we can - with as many beloved children of God in our midst.
See you tonight for Charge Conference and on Sunday for worship.
Thank you for the precious privilege of being your pastor,
P.S. If you're reading this blog and not part of a church, you're abundantly welcome to #MeetMeAtMVP on Sunday @ 11. I love our church - a lot.