The special 2019 General Conference, which upheld and strengthened the denomination’s stance on homosexuality, caused the Church’s foundations to shift, said Bishop LaTrelle Easterling. To acknowledge this sea-change in the church, the bishop opted to open the Annual Conference Session with the gift of listening.
In a Samoan Circle process, seven conference leaders with varied and diverse perspectives shared — heart and soul — about what they believe is unfolding within and lies ahead for The United Methodist Church. The group did unite about what is at stake for the church. “Everything, absolutely everything,” they said.
The panelists included: the Revs. Rebecca Iannicelli, superintendent of the Washington East District; Jessica Hayden, chair of the Discipleship Council; Michele Johns, a Deacon at Silver Spring UMC and member of the UM Queer Clergy Caucus; Joe Daniels, pastor of Emory UMC in D.C.; Kevin Baker, of the Wesleyan Covenant Association; laity Tom Price, a long-time lay leader of ROCK; and Delores Martin, the conference lay leader.
Several of those speaking got emotional when they spoke about the pain they experienced from the actions of General Conference. Citing the harm she believed was “planned and done with great intention,” Johns spoke about holding her breath when the votes at the session were taken. “When I got home, I realized I was holding my breath. It had made me feel as if I was unworthy of breath. This kind of harm impacts us on a cellular level,” she said.
Daniels shared his anger and pain at the church’s continued lack of courage to tackle the issues of supremacy and racism, “which is the source of every other ‘ism’ we experience,” he said. He is hopeful the church will begin to seriously pursue justice — both soul justice and social justice.
Baker was concerned about the clouded narrative that claims, “unless I approve of everything you do, I can’t love you.”
But in spite of the pain, members of the circle process said they did feel hope.
Hayden is looking for the moment when the church is going to decide to be the church. “We, who are recipients of grace, are called to be the means of grace,” she said.
For Iannicelli, this hope is reflected in the ministries at the grassroots level. “God is still speaking. What’s happening on the ground at the local church is amazing. God is yet still with us.”
Baker is convinced that “God’s business is still transforming lives.”
For some in the Samoan Circle, that transformation may occur in a new, or very different, Methodist Church that is somehow splintered, or at least no longer “united.” But Daniels and the others were also clear: “We worship a God who loves us and cares for us and wants to do exceedingly more than we can hope or imagine.”