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What's with all the time off from work?

Having been raised in the United Methodist Church by two pastors, I have always felt interest and responsibility in the direction of this denomination. I was born into a church whose official stance was one of exclusion toward gay people. However, because my parents were always my pastors, I was raised in local churches that were affirming of all people, and celebrated the beauty and gifts found in every person. I have memories of picnics under rainbows as a small child in the 80’s, listening to the adults reassure each other that the church is on the verge of transformation. That with advocacy and time, policy and language change is inevitable, and in fact just around the corner. 


This has not turned out to be true. The church’s stance on sexuality has been a painful and enduring reality (here is a copy of a short article I wrote in 2013 on my uncertainty about staying connected to the church). In fact, in 2019 the United Methodist Church voted to strengthen its language condemning diverse human sexuality, causing enormous harm to countless people whose last bit of hope in the church was lost at that moment. I initially felt that this was the final blow for my participation with the church, as I could no longer reasonably believe the promise I was given as a child: that change was just around the corner…advocacy and time will bring transformation. I was ready to leave the church for good.


It might be hard to understand, but it was much harder for me to do this than I expected, and I really grappled with what it means to be an ally and advocate. Do I keep trying to fight for change from the inside, or leave the church in protest, abandoning it to the conservatives for them to decide who gets to feel that God loves and accepts them. I don’t know what the right answer is, but I decided that if I was going to walk away from the church, I wanted to do so knowing I had done absolutely everything I could to correct this injustice before I went. So later in 2019 I let my name go forward for nomination (and ultimately election) as one of the people who will represent our area in the institutional bodies that have the power to make the changes necessary for an inclusive, affirming church. It was a meaningful vote of trust and I have taken the commitment to create legislative change very seriously. 


(Not really relevant to this story, but my elected service was meant to end in 2020…but the pandemic happened. The 2020 General Conference (the global meeting that occurs every four years and makes policy and legislative decisions for the church) was postponed several times due to the pandemic and is FINALLY happening this month, making mine the longest serving delegation in church history. So…yeah. That’s been fun.)


So, it is finally here! I’m heading to a conference for TWO WEEKS where the church’s position on human sexuality (and a ton of other things) will be, once again, discussed and voted upon. I will be away from home and my kids longer than I ever have before. I have spent hundreds of hours writing, reading, and studying intricacies of church policy at a level of detail I have never imagined I would tolerate. I am giving up income for multiple weeks this summer to attend three different conferences. I have had weeks where I’ve had evening meetings every single night. And I admit I am left trying to answer what my kids (and my inner voice) keep asking me: why are you doing this? And trying to answer this question is what led me to offer you this level of detail and explanation about my time off this summer.


I am doing this because the church I was raised in is doing harm, and, because I feel so connected to it as an institution, I am doing harm as well. And I want to know I have done what I can to make it right. I am also doing this to use my clinical care skills to offer on-the-ground support to participants who are hurting from the historical damage done by the church, as well as the ongoing harm perpetuated by the continued public debate about the validity and value of a group of people. I am grateful to have been able to offer strategy, resources, and care training to support the Queer Delegate Caucus and others who are subjecting themselves to personal pain to advocate for justice. I am also doing it for me, and my wish to witness what I believed almost four decades ago: that with time and advocacy, change is right around the corner. There have been so many good people pushing for change since this idea was first planted in mind. When my mom was my age, she was one of those people, at this very conference, fighting for this very thing. And although I never expected that this was a fight that would be passed down to me (naively assuming it would have been corrected and resolved long ago), it has been handed to the next generation for us to carry it forward. How could I receive this gift of hope, faithfully carried for so long, only to set it down and walk away?


My relationship with religion, my ideas about God, and my future participation in the church has been on unsteady ground for much of my life; I don’t feel any sense of certainty about my beliefs or even religion in general. But I feel certainty about my personal values of acceptance, human connection, compassion, and the inherent worth of every person; values shaped, in part, by being raised in the United Methodist Church. It is my hope that these values can be mirrored back to this church, who, it seems, has abandoned them. And if the church chooses to continue its abandonment of these values, I will still be grateful I could be present, knowing I tried, showing I care, and carrying forward the gift of hope long enough to hand to the next generation. 

April, 2024

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