Congregation stands in solidarity against United Methodist Church
● By Richard Gaw
Late in the afternoon of March 2, 40 Methodist parishioners gathered at the Friends Meeting House in Kennett Square to wrap their collective arms in unity against a decision recently made by the leaders of their denomination – one they found appalling, discriminatory and against the principles of their faith.
Led by Pastor Lydia Munoz, the Church of the Open Door held “I Will Not Bow Down,” a Holy Communion ceremony that stood in solidarity with the LGBTQ community, in response to the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in St. Louis on Feb. 26, where by a vote of 438 to 384, church delegates from around the world voted to maintain the church’s Traditional Plan, which rejects same-sex marriages in the church, and does not permit members of the LBGTQ community to serve as clergy.
With their vote, delegates rejected the One Church Plan, a measure that would have eased restrictions on LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriages, and allowed individual churches to decide how they handle issues of same-sex weddings and the sexuality of their clergy. Of the delegates who voted, 43 percent are not United States citizens, and most of that percentage are from African nations who have laws against homosexuality.
Almost immediately, shock waves of protest from Methodists reverberated worldwide in protest of the decision, which included a comment by the Rev. Tom Berlin of Virginia, who compared the decision to a virus that would cause a dire sickness in America’s Methodist community.
To make her parishioners aware of the March 2 worship event, Munoz sent an email to them that read, in part:
“The recent events in St. Louis at the General Conference gathering of the United Methodist Church have been devastating to our souls. The decision to support the Traditional Plan which calls for even more enforcement to an already closed system for LGBTQ persons who seek to follow their call into ministry and pastors who seek to fully welcome LGBTQ faithful disciples into the life of their community of faith and including performing same sex weddings has been one that has been deeply hurtful for many of us and shows that we are as polarized in the UMC as the country is.
“On top of this, the language of incompatibility with Christian teaching continues to be a label that further stigmatizes and alienates our beloved siblings in the LGBTQ community. Even in the midst of great pain, this is nowhere near over!”
Prior to the start of the gathering, several parishioners spoke about their opposition to the ruling. “If you’re heterosexual, you can get away with a lot of things, and people often look away or say, ‘We’ll forgive you,’ and you can go on doing what you do in the church,” said Cheryl Miers, who has been a member of the Church of the Open Door since its inception. “But if you are different, somehow this big ‘Scarlet A’ is placed on you, and you are told who you can love and you are draped in this black cloth of sin. It all seems very hypocritical to me.”
Miers said that while she firmly disagrees with the church’s ruling, attending the March 2 ceremony gave her hope, encouragement, and unanimity among her fellow parishioners.
“I know that there are other leaders right here in Eastern Pennsylvania who were just as upset as I was, but it’s about continuing to push forward,” she said. “You don’t throw in the towel just because things didn’t go your way.”
For Jere Worrell, who has been a member of the church since 2002, the ceremony – and the protest contained within it – dovetails with the Kennett Square Methodist church's stance on acceptance and inclusion.
“This congregation was founded on diversity, and it’s
helped me over the past 16 years, in my understanding of my African-American
brothers and sisters, and my LGBTQ brothers and sisters,” Worrell said.
“Without it, I would not have been in the same place as I am now. This is what
I hoped our church would do, to accept love for everyone, rather than making
one part right and one part wrong.”
“The church has been an instrument of oppression and it’s also been an instrument of hope, and it is the people who decide how they’re going to use the church in order to make a difference,” Munoz said. “We choose to follow the way of Jesus. The people who were supposedly ‘the worst’ were Jesus’s friends -- people of ill repute and the poor -- and yet, the message never changed. So why should we?”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.