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The Fool's Errand I DIDN'T Go On (Part 2 of a Sorta-Series) - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
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The Fool's Errand I DIDN'T Go On (Part 2 of a Sorta-Series)
Two Sundays ago, I bought a freezer.  I did not cause hell to freeze over.  This is about the road not taken that day.

As I wrote the week before that journey,  the big-C Church denomination of my lifelong membership has been going through turmoil, over something that I can't see a reason for being very turmoily: Do we treat all of our members and clergy like equal human beings, or don't we?  After dogmatic bans on LGBT conduct, ordination and marriage (courtesy of our 1972, 1984 and 1996 General Conferences, respectively), the 2016 edition merely postponed ultimate change for at least a couple of years.  Meanwhile, more and more small-c churches in United Methodism are taking sooner and braver action; hundreds of ordained clergy came out during the May 2016 proceedings, risking their robes and their guaranteed paychecks in the same of obedience to the spirit of the Dude in the Back Part of the Book.  More and more individual congregations are also declaring themselves as formal participants in a movement within the big-C denomination called the Reconciling Ministries Network.  Three years ago, I began an effort to get our humble little patch of piety to join that movement.   Two Sundays ago, I considered making one final pitch to end that effort.

I cannot fathom why we haven't taken that step yet, but I can and will tell you here why I chose not to- and it wasn't just because I was in a House of Ware rather than a House of Worship.

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The Saturday before Memorial Day weekend, I spent four full hours in our church parlor, with about 20 active members of the congregation, our current minister (leaving, as Methodist pastors traditionally do, at the end of June), one of our incoming ones, and the "director of vital congregations" from our bishop's office in Syracuse.  I don't know his job description by sight, much less by heart, but in essence, he's a "fixer"- going into declining churches and trying to set them on the path to regrouping, rebirth, or possibly realization of the futility of it all.

It was a difficult but well-intentioned examination of how this 150-plus-year old religious institution- occupying the oldest continually-used sanctuary of any denomination- in this entire county- has declined to a barely double-digit pew count and a usually single-digit Sunday School attendance.  Members are dying, moving or just becoming disaffected- and the usual proposed solutions resorted to over and over, are to conduct surveys, write mission and vision statements and church profiles, send postcards to nearby residents, and occasionally hold high-profile events to get peoples' attention. 

The fixer had a different idea- get back to the real basics of what a church is really all about. Musical performances and food pantries are all well and good, but what should separate a church (Big-C or small-c) from a company picnic or an atheistic Sunday Assembly is, once again, the Dude in the Back Part of the Book.  The best way to get people in the door is to be as kind, as accepting, as self-sacrificing as Jesus himself was by all accounts. 

I'm no Bible-thumper, as you may have noticed- but I can get down with that Golden Rule shit any day of the week and especially on Sunday.  So I started to cogitate on an event scheduled for the then-following Sunday: a routine bit of small-c church business known as a Charge Conference.

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In theory, small-c churches within the Big-C United Methodist denomination are self-governed, and these duly-called "conferences" at the local level are the means by which it's done.  The members who show up elect leaders: some run committees, others (including, for a few unfortunate years, me)  make non-clergy hiring and firing decisions and contribute to the top-down decisions concerning appointments of clergy; they approve the church budget (or increasingly, the lack thereof); and they can vote on just about anything from acquiring/improving/disposition of church property to, at the end of the road, dissolving and desanctifying the church and returning its assets to the higher-up level of United Methodism.

It's also a visible-yet-sneaky way for those in the know to pretty much get their way on just about any decision. These tend to occur either toward the end of the year, sometimes in faraway venues, or as in this case, on a summer holiday weekend with attendance almost guaranteed to be sparse.  It might explain how so little has changed in this place in my almost 22 years in membership- because a central core of around a dozen people have been holding and/or rotating almost all of the greatest positions of influence among themselves.

I am not and have never been one of them- but I know enough about how it works to be dangerous, and even as I was leaving to buy that freezer on that May 29th morning, I had a sneaky plan of my own.  Any member can get anything on the agenda of this conference, as long as it has a second.  I know enough like-minded people who were likely to be there. And even though I was still stuck in the Temple of Cool when the 10:00 service started, I had plenty of time to get there for the 11:00 meeting to follow.  I even had the resolution worked out in my head:

Whereas, this congregation has considered, debated and implemented a Welcoming Statement that affirms the sacred worth of every person entering our doors and promises openness, acceptance, and support to enable all persons to participate in the life of the church, and

Whereas, the record of acceptance of that statement makes specific reference to the United Methodist Church's recent historical non-acceptance of LGBT individuals in their practices, marriages and ordinations and offers welcome to all such persons, and

Whereas, the actions and inactions of General Conferences call for boldness in standing behind our pronouncements of welcome and equality, and

Whereas, the Reconciling Ministries Network ("RMN") is a means by which a congregation of the UMC can express its support for, and identify publicly with, the goals of true welcome and equality for all persons, particularly those LGBTs who have been made the subject of specific doctrinal opposition,

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Welcoming Statement of Williamsville United Methodist Church together with this Resolution, be sent to the RMN as an outward and visible sign of our support for its goals and its means of achieving them.

Okay- there's nothing traditionally Methodist about that language- just something we’ve been kicking around the office-but look at it. Doesn’t it pop?

And by the time I had to turn either left or right on South Cayuga to either present it or go home? I went home.

----

In the end, it was because I decided to be a different kind of kind.  Our current minister just preached his second-to-last sermon; his last one was yesterday. He will be spending this week packing his office, and will then be leaving the pulpit in the hands of the laity for three Sundays before the new ministers get here.  Yes, plural- we haven't had two for the last four or five years, and they will be splitting their time between our congregation and a bishop-y initiative to "seed" new places and possibly forms of Methodist meeting in the area.

I met one of the two at the session with the fixer; she seemed thoughtful, but quiet, and if she has formed opinions about anything, particularly about this issue, I have no idea what they are. Her co-pastor (also her husband), I've yet to meet at all. It seemed unfair to pull such a guerrilla move on the Powers that Be right before a pastoral transition- and that explains why I didn't.

But stay tuned.  I hope to get that sense of their sentiments even before they begin their ministries here on July 1.  If there's support for it, or at least an acceptance of it as the right thing to do, it's a very easy thing to call another Charge Conference if that's what is needed.

And if it causes our humble little home to go to hell in a handbasket?  At least I can truck over a shitload of ice from the new freezer.
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Comments
glenmarshall From: glenmarshall Date: June 7th, 2016 03:13 am (UTC) (Link)
You might consider the US Episcopal Church. It has embraced equality. although it's Anglican siblings have not.

Any organization has warts & pimples, of course, and Episcopal vestries are not immune from them.

Wicca is another choice, but somewhat more drastic.
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