This past week, people from Merge and I attended the IGRC Annual Conference in Peoria, Illinois. If you aren’t sure what IGRC means, the Illinois Great Rivers Conference covers over 800 churches south of I-80, including Merge. On June 6th through the 8th, I witnessed voting sessions that decided who would represent us at the 2020 General Conference. While many other topics were voted over, this was the most important because these people could make a difference at the General Conference of 2020.
What is General Conference?
Every four years, representatives from United Methodist Churches all around the world gather to discuss if things should be changed in the UMC’s book of rules, called the Book of Discipline. In the Book of Discipline right now there is a rule that says ordained elders (pastors) can’t perform a wedding between a same-sex couple, and that “practicing homosexuals” can’t be ordained. This past February, we held a special General Conference that specifically discussed how the UMC should move forward concerning this rule. In the end, the Global UMC decided to reinforce the ruling that anyone identifying as LGBTQ+ could NOT be married in the church or hold leadership positions. In fact, starting January 1st, those who disobey this ruling will have repercussions.
Since February, I have been trying to decide whether it is worth it to stay in a denomination that is harmful to LGBTQ+ folk. Close friends of mine have grown up in the United Methodist Church and have now lost their church home. The message of the Methodist Church “Open hearts. Open minds. Open doors” is a fallacy. Many of my friends have had the church doors slammed in their faces, and it is causing more harm to the group of people who have received the most of it.
Personally, I am on a journey of self discovery, trying to find my place as a bisexual woman. You can accept this as me coming out to you, readers. I’m in this battle too. And while I have only told the people I know will support me, I wonder what my place in the United Methodist Church will be if we do not fight for inclusion. I currently am considering becoming a Deacon in the Methodist church, which would not be possible if current legislation stands.
But, there is hope.
The 2019 IGRC Annual Conference made history this year. For the first time ever, our conference voted in an almost fully centrist and progressive delegation to send to the General Conference next year. These representatives aim to oppose the ruling that happened in February. We have a chance to stand up for the LGBTQ+ community and create a global church that is more inclusive, accepting and affirming! God called me to the United Methodist Church 3 years ago and I will spread God’s all-encompassing love in whatever ways I can!
One way I do that is by being an intern here at Merge. Our core belief is that absolutely everyone is equally loved by God, no matter what you believe, or how you identify. We even have T-Shirts that spread that message! That is why we are working towards a centrist and progressive delegation who can change the ruling in the UMC to one that is affirming to ALL people, and will allow anyone who is called to ministry to follow that call.
Two incredible things that happened during Annual Conference:
- On Friday, my friend Isaac organized a gathering for young adults who identified as LGBTQ+ and allies to come together and get to know each other. So much of the battle is not knowing who will accept you if you don’t identify as straight or cis-gender. This was a chance for young adults to form a safe, loving community and know that they are not alone in the conference. I had the honor of playing two songs on guitar to bring people together in a way that only music can. Already I feel that we have a strong core of young adults called to ministry who have the drive to make a change.
- On Saturday there was an Ordination service where UMC ministers officially become ordained in the church. After the ceremony there’s an opportunity for those who feel called to ministry to walk to the front, be prayed over, and accept their call. Before the conference, we reached out to people in our community who both identified as LGBTQ+ or were an ally, and felt a call to ministry. We then asked if they would be willing to wear a shirt at that ordination service. It was a rainbow Tie-Dye shirt that had the words, “Resisting evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.” Not only do we believe these words, they come straight from the Book of Worship used in the Methodist church.
That morning, we wore the shirts and walked up when called, representing the voices silenced in the LGBTQ+ community as well as showing our seriousness for our own personal calls to ministry. We showed that there is a younger generation that is ready for change and wants EVERYONE who is called to ministry to be able to follow that call.
All in all, this conference was one of the most impactful experiences I have ever been a part of. We witnessed change in many forms and found community with each other. God was moving through this conference and so was love and compassion. I left the conference on Saturday feeling hopeful and renewed.