Our Community…

After looking at my work load for school next week, I realized that I had less to do than I expected. So I decided to relax and enjoy the day today. I wish the weather was nicer, but being indoors is just fine at this point. I spent the morning watching and listening to old sermons and songs that I have kept for one reason or another. Many are from my experiences at General Conference in 2004 and 2008. I save these things as reminders of why I keep going and why I need to stay where I am to work on things.

There is a huge community to come together in God’s name, and it’s not easy or pleasant all the time. No matter how things get, we need community. We need each other. As I was watching a sermon for the 2008 conference, I kept watching the worship and a very simple song came up. In its simplicity it overpowered the service and the conference, driving home the message of the day, we all need to work together and be there for each other.

I need you
you need me
we’re all apart of God’s body
stand with me agree with me
we’re all apart of God’s body

It is God’s will that every need be supplied
You are important to me
I need you to survive

I’ll pray for you
You pray for me
I love you
I need you to survive
I won’t harm You
With words from my mouth
I love You
I need you to survive

I pray that each of you find that community to feel welcome and loved. Whatever troubles you this day, whatever is heavy on your heart, I hope that you find comfort in the prayers and love of others. I know I am thankful everyday for my community, and pray daily for them. We need each other to survive.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Refelctions

I’ve never been one to set resolutions as a new year begins, but I do think it’s important to reflect on events and happenings in my life and see what I can learn. 2008 was a year of much diversity in my experiences. There’s been highs and lows, and everything in between.

2008 started and ended in the exact same place and with some of the same people. I found myself in cold machine shed in rural Nebraska with friends from college. That might have been the same, but everything in between was anything but familiar.

I spent the first 5 months of 2008 living in Kansas City and working at Baker University in Kansas. I enjoyed the time very much, and often miss living in a city with so much to do. That semester is also when I experienced a class that forced me to think in different ways about theology. I was introduced to Process Theology, and think that this will be an area I will spend more time in, either in a class or on my own. I discovered an understanding of God that made sense to me and lined up with my experiences. This was a big moment for me to have discovered something in seminary that got me excited about what I was doing.

The spring of 2008 also brought about the quadrennial gathering of United Methodists known as General Conference. This was my second time attending, but my first as a primary delegate. This was a time of deep struggling for me personally and spiritually. There were many glimmers of hope that I saw and experienced during the conference, but there were also some down times. It won’t be a surprise to anyone who knows me, but there was much disappointment in the church’s continued decision to ban the ordination of homosexuals. Also, the continued policies that make the church less accessible to the LGBT community troubled me at the time, and still does. However, I experienced a progressive community that I had not previously within the denomination. These were people I shared views and passions with, and gave me some comfort during that time.

Following General Conference, the school year ended and I received my first appointment as a pastor in the United Methodist Church. This resulted in a move back to Nebraska and a few life style changes. I also spent July in Dallas at the South Central Jurisdictional Conference to elect bishops for the church. This was my last act as a lay person in the United Methodist Church, and was a reaffirmation of why I am moving towards ordination and greater leadership in the church. The politics and clear prejudices present at this event showed me the need for great change in the church.

As August and September came around, I became very excited to start school again. I was ready to start learning and to see my friends again. However, I never thought that this fall would be such a challenging time in so many ways. These last 4-5 months have been the most difficult that I’ve experienced in my life, and there are so many different elements that have contributed to it. I’ve learned so much about who I am in comparison to who I thought I should be, and learned a lot about trust. I’ve gained some amazing people in my life through these experiences, and wouldn’t want to have had any other people in my life during this time.

One shining highlight of the year was the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States. I spent much of the year hoping for that night when the election happened. I had the opportunity to see Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton in person, as well as take part in a few political rallies. It was exciting to be a part of something so historic. Election night was also a lot of fun in KC. I got to see the results with my closest friends and had a blast.

I know there will be challenges and difficulties in the future, but at this point I’m hoping for all the best in 2009. I have a lot of questions about my calling and my future ministry, but am going to take it as it comes and discover where I’m suppose to be in life. It may even end up being something I never imagined.

I’ve gained so much from my close circle of friends in the last part of 2008, and feel a lot better than I would if I didn’t have them. In some of my most difficult times, I gained people that are family to me. I can never thank you all enough, and look forward to the times we will have together in the future.

I pray that everyone will receive love and happiness this coming year, and all the years ahead. Take time to evaluate life, and be willing to try something new!

Grace and Peace,
Z

One Reflection of General Conference

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This is the video of the Witness that took place on the floor of General Conference. It was very moving experience. I found myself experiencing the Spirit of God during this time in ways I have not felt in a long time. The most powerful part to me was the bishops who were willing to stand to show their acknowledgment of the divide in our church, and the need for change. I found myself unable to control my emotions during this time, and began to cry during a couple occasions during the witness. The first was when the singing began and I saw all of the people standing in unity with those offering the witness, and the other when Bishop Melvin Talbert went to the microphone to offer the following words:

“My name is Melvin Talbert. I am one of your bishops. In this General Conference we have been reminded that in 1939 this church took an action that separated my sisters and brothers into a separate jurisdiction. That action was wrong. That action was a sin against God. Thank God we have moved through and discontinued that segregated structure. But my sisters and brothers, here we are again. In the name of Jesus Christ, we have taken an action that is wrong. At least for the Central Jurisdiction we remained within a structure and we worked out the relationships. But for these sisters and brothers we have chosen to leave them out rather than invite them into work out our relationships in the name of Christ. I can do no other than to say what’s on my heart. General Conference, General Conference, This is wrong. I invite you to reconsider.”

When the vote first occurred on the issues around sexuality, I felt an urge to be angry and finally leave the denomination. I knew that I had a place in the UCC, and would be more than comfortable there. As this witness occurred, and I spoke to people who were also struggling with these stances, I realized the need to stay and work for justice. I am able to be ordained because my sexual orientation is accepted by the church, and I can work for change within the system. I pray that we may be able to be an open church for all people, and realize that above all things, Love is the call of God.

I’ll have other reflections over the next few weeks, but I started with this one.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Almost Done

Sorry about not being able to update as regularly as I wanted. Most nights I get to my hotel around midnight and then have to be up at 5:30am. The last few days have been very long and hard. The General Conference did vote to maintain exclusive language in the discipline as it relates to homosexuality. The debate was hurtful and saddening at many times. There was an option to pass a petition that included language, in which I see much truth, that we do not agree on the issue of homosexuality and that we can still be faithful members of the church.

Today (Thursday) there was a witness on the floor of the General Conference by those who were most hurt by this vote. The Council of Bishops allowed this show of witness to the entire body. This was a very moving moment that brought me to tears many times. Bishops, Clergy, and Laity were seen showing there support to the community of people we have institutionally discriminated against. The very moving part was to see the Bishops who stood in support of this cause. Many of them put themselves in positions to be criticized publicly, and for that they should be thanked.

I plan on offering a more detailed look back on General Conference once the sessions are over and I am back in Kansas City. I should have that posted sometime this weekend.

Peace with Justice,
Z

Sunday Update

Today was a tough day emotionally and physically. My legislative committee spent a good portion of the day debating the language in Paragraph 304 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline. That paragraph deals with requirements/restrictions to ordination. My sub-committee also dealt with this paragraph. In the end the committee voted, by a margin of 20, to maintain language that states the homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching and that self-avowed practicing homosexuals cannot being appointed.

This process was very emotional and tiring. For the most part, it was a civil discussion. My biggest problem was the arguments that said that acceptance of our LGBT members would lead to a moral backslide that leads to polygamy, unsafe place for children, and cult activity. One member of the committee paralleled homosexuality and the recent events in Texas with the fundamentalist sect that was raided by the government.

This decision greatly saddens me. I don’t understand the hate that comes this way. I don’t hate those who I think miss use and mistreat the teachings of Jesus. It’s hard being a supporter of LGBT rights with the way I’m looked at and treated, but it is small in comparison to those in the LGBT community and deal with it all the time. It’s times like this I find it hard to continue in the ordination process in the United Methodist Church. As an elder, I would be called upon to maintain an institution and doctrine I do not agree with in major ways.

One moving moment today was when a Swahili interpreter stopped mid-translation to state that he was merely interpreting and that it pained him to say these words, since they were not his own belief. Our chair of the committee, Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, has been a very strong leader and has been an inspiration. She shared today how hard it is to lead and present a decision to the General Conference that she did not agree with, but the love she had for the church and the people would lead her to do all she could to present the will of our committee.

It’s been a long day, and I’ll have more reflection and reactions later. Time is not on my side for many updates at this time.

Grace and Peace,
Z

Quick Update

This will be short since I’m updating from my phone. My legislativegroup moved slowly yesterday. Today we will be discussing ordinationstandards, specifically around sexuality. It will be a test to theunity in holy conferencing we have been striving for.Yesterday my group discussed gender and how it is defined. We didn’thave any motions or votes, just discussion. People on all sides areconfused and curious about what we should do. As issues around genderidentity and sexual orientation become more personal for people, itbecomes more difficult to be dogmatic and theoretical on these issues.This gives me hope. Let’s hope I feel this way after today.Grace and

Peace,
Z

First Full Day

We’ve completed our first full day of General Conference. So far, the highlights have definitely been the worship and music. During our times together, it is obvious to feel the Spirit in the convention center. The day was filled with initial reports from different areas of the church. Worship flowed right into the Episcopal Address. I found the address to be very hope filled, but my skepticism is still coming through. I hear about recruiting young clergy, and reaching to younger people, but I never hear how the church is going to do this.

My favorite part of the day was the Young People’s Address. The report was filled with energy and excitement. These young people get the church. They spoke of bridging gaps and rising above our divisions, but needing to respect each other in that process. They were not afraid to take the “tough” issues head on. Many people here try to get around saying that we don’t agree on issues about sexuality, gender, and race. These people had no problem with that. This report left me hopeful that there can be a future in the church. I only can pray that others in attendance will take this all seriously.

We began our work in legislative groups. My group is the Faith and Order Committee. The chair we elected is Dr. Mary Elizabeth Moore, who spoke at Saint Paul last fall. We didn’t get into any actual business during the first day. We spent time getting to know others on the committee and setting a town for a civil process of legislation.

That’s all for now, hopefully we will start having some detail filled days were I can share interesting happenings.

Grace and Peace,
Z