News and Views

Statement by Ann Brown Birkel, June 1, 2017

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Ann Brown Birkel, Lay Member of Foundry UMC, rose for a point of personal privilege and addressed the body of the Baltimore-Washington Conference on June 1. Below is a copy of her remarks.

Bishop Easterling, I request a moment of personal privilege. I am Ann Brown Birkel, a Lay Member of the Annual Conference from Foundry UMC in Washington, DC where my family and I have been members for nearly 30 years.

Our region is in many ways the cradle of American Methodism. Throughout the long and storied history of our Annual Conference, we Methodists have created colleges and hospitals and a leading seminary. We have ministered to the poor, the hungry and the sick and have tried hard to oppose injustice in whatever forms it has presented itself. But, as much as any other region of the US UMC, Baltimore-Washington has struggled with racial injustice in the church. Yet the wonderful racial and ethnic diversity in this room is living, breathing evidence that we did not give up on working to overcome racism. And that work goes on.

Foundry UMC has been a part of that (both Great and unhappy) history for 203 years. Over those centuries, many candidates have been called to ministry from our pews. We have also been pastored by a long line of gifted, bold and spirit-filled clergy.

Yesterday was a dark day in the long history of Foundry and this Annual Conference. Many of us are grieving the loss of TWO great leaders. Rev. Dr. Philip J. Wogaman was called to take the extraordinary step of turning in his clergy credentials after 60 years of service to highlight the injustice represented by the Board of Ordained Ministry's decision to withhold T.C. Morrow (a certified candidate for commissioning as Deacon) from consideration in the Clergy Executive Session despite the fact that she had been voted on in last year's session. T.C. is a very active and beloved member of Foundry. Phil Wogaman's decision was also felt personally. My baby boy was the first child Phil baptized after arriving at Foundry in 1992. He also ministered to me when my father died and we worked together in my first volunteer role as a member of the Board of Trustees during his decade of service as our Senior Pastor.

Since at least 2011, our Conference has been journeying and discerning the questions of justice for LGBTQ persons in the UMC as both laity and clergy. Our Conference had voted twice to advocate for permitting our clergy to choose to perform same gender weddings. We are also on record in opposition to trials over the sexuality of our clergy or their acts of pastoral care to same gender couples and in favor of removing all discriminatory language from the Book of Discipline.

Some of this work emerged in 2013 and 2014 from the Circles of Grace process devised by Bishop Mathews. In those circles, the Holy Spirit was truly present and allowed lay and clergy members from many backgrounds and perspectives to share their stories with each other in a personal way.

As the work of the Bishops Special Commission continues and the church prepares for an extraordinary called General Conference in 2019, I believe this is the time for continued courage by our Annual Conference and by our clergy and lay leaders as well as our Board of Ordained Ministry. The discernment work of the BOOM in 2016 was visionary. We were on the road to achieving God's justice and supporting the call to all people to lead others in discipleship in Jesus Christ.

But we have taken a step backwards. Yet in my opinion, nothing has truly changed despite the recent Judicial Council rulings.

The Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference has a unique role to play due to Our history — our diversity — and our experience on this journey at this critical moment in the life of our church. Other annual conferences have shown us a path. We should model the inclusion we have endorsed for the church at large as we move toward the special called General Conference.