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'You will see God's glory:' Thoughts on General Conference from Rev. Chet Jechura

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By Rev. Chet Jechura

Throughout this General Conference, the Gospel of John’s account of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead has come to the forefront of my mind again and again. Jesus was deeply disturbed when he arrives at his beloved friend’s tomb. When Jesus asks that the stone be removed from the tomb’s entrance, Martha and Mary are understandably concerned about the overwhelming stench of death. Jesus responds to their practical concern by asking them: “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” Given the recent historic outcomes of the General Conference, I imagine in my prayer that Jesus is now asking me this question, too: “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” 

I vividly remember the first time I looked up “homosexuality” in the Book of Discipline. I was a curious young teenager, my sexuality was beginning to bloom, I was deeply involved in my West Ohio Conference church, and I was already feeling a call to ordained ministry. When I read those particular paragraphs in what was most likely the 2000 Book of Discipline, a significant part of me died and was buried. As my spirit recoiled in silent shame, I dared not tell a soul what I was going through. But God knew. 

What followed was over a decade of searching for my place within Christianity as I strove to embrace my sexuality and then labored to reconcile my sexuality with my faith. In 2012, when I was living in Boston, I met United Methodists who are LGBTQIA and I visited a Reconciling congregation for the first time, Union United Methodist Church, whose pastor would later become my bishop. And when I moved to Washington, D.C. in 2015, I found myself in a safe and sacred space at Foundry United Methodist Church, a church where I could be myself in the fullness of who God created me to be. Inspired by the faith, grace, bravery, and tenacity of the now Rev. T.C. Morrow and supported by my pastor, Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli, I began to discern again God’s call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church – believing the Book of Discipline would one day change. 

In 2019, that belief was shaken to its core. What transpired at this General Conference was deeply traumatic for me and for many siblings across our connection. And, if the outcomes of this General Conference are any indication, 2019 became a catalyst for change that was further intensified following a painful season of pruning with 25 percent of United Methodist churches in the U.S. disaffiliating from The United Methodist Church, including my home church in the West Ohio Conference – the church where I was baptized, confirmed, and preached my first sermon.

Still, I imagine in my prayer Jesus asking me: “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see God’s glory?” Believing has not always been easy, but my belief has been strengthened by those who have gone before me to help birth this glorious new day. I am mindful that there are many who have not lived to see this day come, including a beloved brother of so many of us in the Foundry family: John Denson Harden. Shortly before he died, I asked John to pray over me. As I knelt down at his bedside, he placed his hands upon my head, prayed a most beautiful prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide and sustain me, and then assured me he would keep watch over our Annual Conference, joking that if anything went wrong we would all hear him shouting from heaven. On the day of my hopeful ordination, I believe John’s hands will be among those placed upon me. 

Believing has not always been easy, but my belief has been strengthened by those with whom I have been called to serve. For the past three years, I have had the privilege of serving as the pastor of Good Shepherd United Methodist Church, a small church with a big mission located in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore City. This faithful flock has not only taught me how to be a good shepherd, they have also embraced me as their pastor from the beginning. Reconciling congregations like Good Shepherd have been leading our denomination into its inclusive future for years. The United Methodist Church is now beginning to catch up with them. 

It’s notable that after the stone is removed from the tomb’s entrance, Jesus shouts with a loud voice: “Lazarus, come out!” Imagine this newly resurrected Lazarus wriggling his way out of the tomb. Imagine him surprised at having just been raised from the dead. Imagine him liberated at having his hands and feet untied as the burial cloth falls from his face.  Imagine him fully alive! Just as Jesus called Lazarus to “come out,” Jesus is now calling the church to follow the lead of its LGBTQIA faithful in “coming out,” too.

In this Easter season, my prayer is that the people called United Methodist will follow Jesus’ voice out of a tomb that has for so long confined us. And as we do, may we emerge from this tomb liberated as a movement of the Holy Spirit filled with resurrection hope, glory, and power and boldly live an open-hearted and heart-warming evangelical witness of God’s inclusive and expansive love for all. For we believe it is God’s love and sanctifying grace working through us that transforms lives and renews the face of the earth. And if we believe, we will see God’s glory! Like fire shut up in my bones, I know this to be true. 

Chip Aldridge May 4, 2024 7:15pm

Thank you for this reflection on how the anti-lgbtqia language of the Discipline has been a stone - a burden - that blocked many of us from being fully ourselves and fully in ministry. I hope our UMC can live into your vision of a new church.

Galen Zook May 5, 2024 3:17pm

Rev. Chet, thank you so much for your sharing your story. It has truly been a blessing serving alongside you in ministering to the Hampden community, and I join in your prayer that we would follow Jesus' voice out of the tomb as living testimonies to God's love and grace!

John David rowe/ May 16, 2024 12:49pm

I was very moved by the courage you have shown I can only hope the church itself will do the same.