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News from the Land of Not So Far Far Away - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
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News from the Land of Not So Far Far Away

For random reasons, I checked in on the website of the United Methodist Church that we belonged to in our first (almost) ten years together- the site of our marriage, of Emily's christening, and of friendship- with members, and especially with the minister who officiated at those services and counseled us on more than one occasion.

I found two bits of news there- one bittersweet, one without a trace of bitterness.

Susan- not Sue, please, but rarely "Pastor" or "Reverend"- is retiring this month after 34 years at Asbury First, a nearly impossible run for a denomination known for its itinerant ministers.  The last several have been as their senior pastor- a position she richly deserved. They are sending her off with a celebration dinner at Rochester's convention center- and even that might not be big enough to hold every life she's touched- and they are also endowing an appointment to expand the scope of the ministries of those who will follow in her well-worn sneakers.

I doubt we'll make the meal, but I do think we'll contribute in some way to the ministry- and will do so, likely, in place of the successor local congregation we've belonged to, now, for twice as long but without nearly the same import on our lives.

And not just ours.

----

The other thing I found on our former church's website was this:

A reconciling statement welcoming all to Asbury First, including LGBTQ individuals, was overwhelmingly approved by the congregation in 2015. It reads as follows:

Asbury First United Methodist Church prayerfully strives to live in its community with open hearts, open minds and open doors. Affirming that each person is of sacred worth, we seek to be a fully inclusive church, believing that all people are God's children, created in God's image, loved and blessed equally by God. It is our purpose to be a Reconciling Congregation. This means extending hospitality and encouraging full participation of all, regardless of age, race, national origin, gender, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, marital status or family structure, education or economic background and physical or mental ability. We recognize that we hold a variety of opinions. We do not seek to erase our differences, but to journey together in faith toward greater understanding and mutual respect. We believe that reconciliation to God and to one another is central to our mission and ministry.

Two days after seeing that, I found an affirmation of it on my Facebook feed from our denomination's movement supporting full inclusion and change in (or in spite of) the official United Methodist doctrinal statement banning any but straight men and women from its clergy and marriage celebrations.  Asbury took the additional "out" step of declaring themselves as, now, the largest Reconciling Ministries Network congregation in all of Upstate New York- and, as of now, the closest to our home.

Compare that bravery, and that overwhelming approval, to what my now-home church took over a year to do when I first broached the subject in the summer of 2013.  The idea of reconciliation was smiled at, discussed politely, wordsmithed away from my original proposal (but with still a specific welcome to those of all sexual orientations- an express RMN requirement to participate), subjected to churchwide survey, watered down further to remove any reference to that (or any) specific group, and, finally, left as mere wishy-washy words in the weekly bulletin, without anyone daring to take the next, further affirming step of declaring our UMC as a RMN congregation.

It would've mattered.  While we are much smaller than our former church home, we are well known throughout our Conference (diocese in Methodese) as a respected, historic and a longtime landing spot for talented, experienced clergy. Our music program is not the de facto Sunday home of the Eastman School of Music that Asbury is, but it is well known and is home to many BPO players and choral singers.  We walk as well as talk important outreach ministries.  But we are prone to "the way we've always done it" and to avoiding public controversy (better to keep it to whispers and rumors, dontchaknow). And while the congregation never got the chance to "overwhelmingly" say anything on this denomination-dividing issue, I'm sure there was concern that we would lose members, and money, if we dared to take more of a step than we did.

I'm now convinced that I will never change that "we" except by removing "me" from it. (Eleanor has already made that choice in everything other than a formal resignation.)  I am ready, today, to reclaim my past membership, and transfer my lay speaking credentials, to the home that now feels so much more like home to me given what they've done.  I doubt I'll get to do it before Susan's last Sunday, but just letting her know seems like a good step.  And to the still-friends and fellow-believers I will leave? They will still have my prayers, but presence, gifts and service? Not so much.

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