By Dawn Francis-Chewning 79C
In 1972, The United Methodist Book of Discipline was amended to include language that specifically excludes homosexuals. In protest of that language, some congregations formed the Reconciling Ministries Network. This is a network of Methodist congregations who disavow that language and want to welcome people of all sexual orientations into full membership in the Church. This is the story of how Glenn Memorial UMC became a Reconciling Ministry.
While Glenn’s awareness and concern was active throughout the late 70s, 80s and 90s, it was in 2003 that our Naomi Circle (Mothers, wives, sisters, daughters) researched and reviewed the issue, submitting a resolution in 2004 at the North GA Annual Conference calling to eliminate the language. Awareness became their mission, though the resolution didn’t get traction.
The effort continued, but in early 2011 there came the Retired Bishops’ Letter: A Statement of Counsel to the Church that said:
“Out of concern for the welfare of all God’s people, and, out of special concern for the people of The United Methodist Church, we, United Methodist Bishops – retired, believe The United Methodist Church should remove the following statement from The Book of Discipline (2008):
‘…The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.’ ¶304.3
In response, Glenn’s Church Council voted to form the Common Table in May 2011. The Common Table started us on the journey to reconciliation. This group was established to prayerfully research, review, discuss and discover feelings surrounding the letter from retired bishops to the Conference. Representation was purposefully inclusive of those in agreement and in opposition.
Led by Dr. Bob Gary, with hundreds of hours devoted to the task, their recommendation was for Church Council to endorse the Bishop’s letter. In November 2011, The Church Council voted to support the Common Table’s recommendation to support the retired Bishops’ Statement of Council tothe United Methodist Church “and take all appropriate steps to support said letter as it and related legislation are considered during the General Conference of 2012.”
In 2012, The Rainbow Advocacy was formed as a Task Force to find ways for Glenn to be purposeful in support and, as charged by the Church Council, to select 5 representatives to witness to our 2012 General Conference delegates, and to share Glenn’s Common Table process and results, and to find ways to actively support reconciliation.
We worked in many ways to educate and welcome all! Our Summer Lecture Series 2013 included Dr. Steven Kraftchick from Emory University: “Bodies, Selves, and Human Identity: A Conversation with Paul – Uncensored.” We went to the Pride Parade and handed out Glenn water bottles and hosted Matthew Berryman, Director of Reconciling Ministries Network, to speak on January 27, 2014. In 2014, we had a new Church Council and a new Senior Minister, Dr. Alice Rogers from the Candler School of Theology. Matthew ended his presentation with a single, powerful question “Where’s Glenn with this?”
We answered. The Rainbow Advocacy met with the Church Council to consider our next steps as a congregation toward becoming a recognized reconciling Church. We identified the immediate goal: to help the Glenn congregation understand what the Reconciling Ministries Network does and how we might participate. We also listed specific ways to make it happen, including events and guests, and then we noted that the end goal would be to formally vote on RMN membership. Church Council approved the plan.
We invited members from neighbor UMC congregations who have joined RMN to speak at each:
- Wednesday Night Supper
- Lunch & Learn after the 11am service
- Potluck after the Gathering
We added a book study group on Adam Hamilton’s Making Sense of the Bible, led by Rev. Josh Amerson, and participated in Safe Space Training at Emory University. We held these events with great attendance and support. We added a fourth “Listening Session” for those who had concerns who might not have had a chance to speak. The concerns noted: “Taking a side leads to exclusion;” “We can be reconciling without joining RMN;” and “Glenn will be stronger leading from the middle than the far left.“
A parallel effort to make our Welcome Statement truly inclusive was passed by the Church Council and adopted in July 2014. This Welcome Statement is on every program’s bulletin and will be on our new website (coming soon!).
“Glenn Memorial is committed to loving God and loving neighbor with our whole selves – heart, mind, soul and strength. As Jesus loved all those around him, we believe that all persons are of sacred worth and dignity as part of God’s creation. Glenn Memorial United Methodist Church welcomes all persons into the full life and ministry of our congregation, regardless of race, culture, ethnicity, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, family or socioeconomic status, education, politics, physical or mental ability, or faith history.”
In August 2014, Church Council approved the motion made by the Rainbow Advocacy to hold a Church Conference, which would allow the entire membership of the church to have a vote. The proposal noted that in order for Glenn to become a Reconciling Ministries Network Church, the motion had to pass by an 80% majority (as specified by the Rainbow Advocacy).
A Church Conference vote was presided over by the District Superintendent and followed strict procedures to be conducted properly. To accommodate the Glenn membership, two dates were proposed and three speeches each (for/against) were allowed. Both votes were very well attended. The experience gave us the sense of being a real family – imperfect, but no less caring. In the end, an 87% majority voted for Glenn to join RMN! The second vote occurred on the day of the Pride Parade. Our float riders got the news while parading with great celebration.
On a personal note, the Common Table effort sparked great conversation in my family. My grown children were vocal about not attending church because of the Methodist stance on homosexuality. They said, “If all our friends aren’t welcome, then neither are we.” I promised them that I would “be a part of the change we want to see,” and I was willing to work to make it happen. My kids were present at both votes, as were so many others. They were in church to vote, to hear and share, and then to celebrate the good news. This has been a short year with so many milestones, but it was a very long time coming.
Our journey of reconciliation continues in Loving God and Loving Neighbor, as a member of the Reconciling Ministries Network. http://glennumc.org/RainbowAdvocacyGroup
Dawn Francis-Chewning 79C is a graduate of Emory College and has served on the Glenn Board of Trustees, is the Service Chair for Rainbow Advocacy, Missions, Environment and Church/Society, sings in the Chancel Choir, serves on the Board of Directors for Intown Collaborative Ministries, and works in Information Technology at Emory University.