As many of you know, I grew up in the United Methodist Church. I attended a university in TN that was affiliated with the UMC. While in college, I had a friend named Carlos Holmes. Carlos was majoring in education while I was majoring in religious studies. Like me, Carlos had a strict religious upbringing. Like me, Carlos loved to teach children. Carlos had a certain passion for life and never turned down a chance to share a drink, a story, or a dance. Unlike me, Carlos had to hide who he was from his parents. Unlike me, Carlos had to hide who he was from those who would decide if he would be allowed to teach in public schools. Unlike me, Carlos had to hide who he was from his church. Carlos is gay. When we graduated, I moved to this progressive haven we call Boston and Carlos remained in TN where his identity remained hidden for years.
When I began seminary, I was on the track to be ordained as a Deacon in the UMC. I was the youth director at a local UMC. It seemed my path was clear, but by the end of my first year, I had grown frustrated with the my church’s view of same sex marriage. I had grown frustrated with the church I worked with because their goal was to get warm bodies in their congregation. If they had paid attention to the suffering and the needs of the individuals within that community, they would have known that one particular youth was struggling with his identity and his church’s exclusion of who he is. At the end of my first year, I had a knee jerk reaction. I cut ties with the UMC, left behind any ideas of being ordained in any denomination, and began studying other religions just to spite Christianity. I finished school with a Masters in World Religions and a Masters in Religion and Conflict Transformation, but, with no desire to work in a church, those degrees sat on a shelf and collected dust.
I worked a variety of jobs. I went through staffing agencies. I worked in retail. I waited tables. Eventually, I found myself applying for religious education positions at various churches because it seemed it was the only thing I knew how to do. During this time of wandering in and out of Protestant denominations, I kept myself informed of the constant struggle to create an inclusive UMC. I listened to the debates between delegates. I hoped the church I left behind would change, but found myself in a persistent state of disappointment. Part of me was glad I had left the UMC behind, but another part of me missed the youth retreats where I began to open myself to a calling. Part of me missed the songs and the order of worship with which I was familiar. I even missed the Wesleyan Quadrilateral because this idea of bringing together faith, tradition, scripture, and reason always reminded me that nothing is black or white and the way forward is never an easy answer. After working in all those different churches, my resume gave the impression that I knew exactly what I was doing and where I was going, but my personal faith was a confused, skittish, and broken mess.
Thirteen years after I cut ties with the church in which my faith sprouted and grew, I found myself here at Calvary. Thirteen years after being convinced I would never step foot inside a UMC again, I found myself here at Calvary. In January I was contemplating the new year, starting over, a fresh start. I sat in Cynthia’s office and asked her if she had a copy of a book called The Christian as Minister. It’s on the required reading list for anyone who wishes to start the path toward ordained ministry in the UMC. I read that book. I had long chats with another United Methodist minister over coffee. I talked to my partner and my parents. I was beginning to feel like myself again.
On Tuesday, Feb. 26th, the General Conference voted on a plan that further excludes people I love and hold dear from fully participating in the UMC. I was frustrated and angry with my denomination. I’m not sure what the future holds for the wider UMC or my ordination. However, I have faith that there are other United Methodist congregations like Calvary that will continue to fly rainbow flags and welcome EVERYONE into their sacred space. Without Calvary, I would not have found my way back to a calling that I didn’t even realize I missed. Without the love and support I’ve witnessed in this community, I wouldn’t be saying what I’m about to say: I’m not walking away this time. I’m continuing down this path and I will continue to love my neighbor no matter who my neighbor is because that’s what my faith tells me to do. I will tell Carlos Holmes and I will tell Emma Stuart and I will tell everyone else who has been hurt by the General Conference’s decision that they are bright, brilliant, beloved children of God and they are beautiful to behold. I’m working toward a rainbow stole to go with this rainbow tie I have in my dresser drawer, and I don’t know if I would be doing that if Calvary had not shown me what the UMC can be. If Calvary will have me, rainbow tie included, I’d like to join this congregation as we continue this journey of welcoming all of God’s children together.