A Look Back…

It has been a month since I’ve updated my blog, so here it goes.

I am now living in my own apartment in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s a nice place with an extra bedroom for an office. Maybe for once in my life I will keep things organized. I’m still getting settled in. I have a couple things to move here still and need to get my desk so that I can complete my office setup.

Annual Conference came and went. It seemed to be fairly calm and boring this year. I did enjoy the social side of the time spent there. It was good to see old friends, and get to know a few new ones. Our conference is in the midst of a huge shift in our structure and the way we do ministry, so it is a bit frightening to not know where we will be in a year or two. I’m glad that we are trying something new though, things have been stagnant for awhile now, and we need some change. Hopefully the conference will get around to hiring a new youth person that will be full-time.

I also attended the Nebraska Democratic Convention in June. It was fun to be a part of that and meet different people from across the state. I had to struggle real hard to not volunteer and sign up for campaign things. I really second guess my decision to become a pastor during election season. Maybe once I graduate from seminary and settle in a community, I will run for school board. I guess I can always run for state legislature in retirement.

This Sunday is my first in the pulpit at my new appointment, which also happens to be my first appointment. This week I only preach at one of the three, which is a nice way to ease into things. I’m really excited and ready to get started. It will take some time to figure out my schedule and how to do things, but that’s why summer is great…flexibility.

I leave in a couple weeks for Jurisdictional Conference. I don’t get as prepared for this as General Conference. We now have 3 bishops instead of 4 to elect. One bishop decided not to retire after the retirement age was raised at General Conference. I have a slate of candidates who I’d like to see elected, but I’m realistic and would be surprised to see any of them end up bishops.

Well, I better get back to working on my sermon and setting up my apartment.

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

Nothing Big Yet

Well, I am well into the first full day of General Conference. Last night’s opening worship was amazing. I found it to be a really good start to things. The service was very good for a experiential person like me. Lots of music, dancing, color, and excitement. After worship, we went into the business portion. Then, I felt like going home. I didn’t get back to the hotel until around 11:45pm. I had to be ready to go by 6:00am this morning.

One thing that bothered me yesterday was a debate on whether we should have parliamentarians appointed to legislative groups. The debate turned into white, middle-aged men from Southern US against it, and minority groups for it. It overwhelmingly passed, but was a debate that stressed me out.

I report more tonight on the days activities, including the first ever Young Persons Address…which was awesome.