Homecoming

Two years ago, when I decided to take a break from the United Methodist Church, I wrote about the decision both on this blog, and on another blog convened by a friend of mine from Wales. I also wrote about my feelings of being “in exile” in the Episcopalian church – still identifying with the theology and history of Methodism, but unable to continue participating in a church culture that denied many called and gifted friends of mine – denied them an opportunity to use their gifts in service to the United Methodist Church. They needed to be honest about their desire to partner with someone of the same gender, but the church denied that it was possible for their relationships to be as blessed and life-giving as the best partnerships between men and women.

That is, the church denied it in a legal sense. The question was put to a vote – are United Methodist Christians, after prayerful scriptural discernment, still divided on “the issue of homosexuality” ? The majority at General Conference 2012 voted to deny that this is so. And since, by the law of the United Methodist Church enshrined in the Book of Discipline, one can only speak for the United Methodist Church by using those words that the General Conference votes on by majority rule, we are left with the awkward ability to assert: “The United Methodist Church has chosen not to tell the truth about how individuals associated with the church feel about same-sex relationships.” Because, after all, the vote was not unanimous. Not even nearly so. Which means that the rejected motion was precisely correct as written – while the majority of United Methodists have decided that same-sex relationships go against what God desires for us, there is a sizable minority that disagrees.

If you read my post from 2 years ago, “Invisible Methodist,” you can see how my thinking has shifted slightly on this topic. Then, I interpreted the Conference’s decision to be declaring that I, and others who agreed with me, were not thoughtful, “Bible-believing” Christians – not, in fact, United Methodists. But now, I have decided that I was disempowering myself and the rest of those who think like me by granting this power to General Conference. I had not considered the other possibility: The General Conference, and so The Book of Discipline (and thereby, from a church law perspective, the United Methodist Church) can lie. And that is what the church elected to do that day.

Denominations are fallen institutions. The United Methodist Church is not the only group with a prevarication problem. But it’s my family, and so they are the group I am concerned with at the moment.

I’m sharing this now because I am long overdue to announce: I am back with the United Methodist Church. There is a sense in which I never left, in that the entire time that I was worshipping with the Episcopalians I never officially joined the Episcopalian Church. I was following UMC news, staying in touch with UMC pastors, and reading and writing for UMC publications. But insofar as my family officially has been attending Duke Memorial UMC since before Advent, and as we joined a couple of months ago, I am connected with a local UMC congregation again.

In the midst of the ongoing debate about whether the UMC will divide over the issue of relationships between persons of the same gender, I have hesitated to announce this new congregational affiliation on the blog. I do not want for this personal action to be reinterpreted as a witness against schism. I have done no such thing. Indeed, I do not know how long a “union” can last when one group feels compelled to hide the very existence of people who disagree – or at least chooses to deny that any folks who disagree with them (including their fellow church members) are really Christian. Instead, I have decided that I shall no longer allow a narrow majority of Conference delegates be the ones to determine whether or not I am “really” Methodist. Though I have returned to United Methodist congregational life, I will not be silent when I feel that those who lead us are moving in the wrong direction.

I enjoyed my sojourn with the Episcopalians at St. Luke’s – they are a delightful family of committed Christians, and it was a privilege to be invited to join in their common life. I miss weekly Eucharist, and weekly coffee hour, and the kneelers… I miss the dear sisters and brothers I met there. But I felt called back into the happy mess that is United Methodism in the American South. I have returned to the place that, more than anywhere else, is my earthly home.

Refuge

Next Sunday, Bishop Gregg (assistant to the Bishop of North Carolina) is coming to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Durham in order to lay his hands on those who are wishing to be confirmed and received into the Episcopalian church. After some consideration, I am not going to be one of those taking vows before the congregation.

When I was in high school, I first learned the difference between immigrants and refugees. An immigrant is someone who arrives in one country from another, intending to settle in the new place. A refugee leaves their home country only because conditions there have become intolerable for one reason or another, but they continue to consider themselves part of their old land – and they often harbor a longing to return.

Even as I long for my home, I do not know when or whether I will return. It may be that, over time, I will consider that I have immigrated to the Episcopal church. But for the time being, I am a refugee – I am grateful to the Episcopalians for offering me safe harbor, and I am even comfortable among them – more or less. However, I cannot help but notice that I am Methodist.

I am Methodist when singing a Charles Wesley hymn in worship makes me giddy. I am Methodist when I get worked up about the proposed Cokesbury closures. I am Methodist when I get excited about the content from the latest issue of Circuit Rider (a publication for United Methodist pastors, published by the United Methodist Publishing House.) I am Methodist when I sing from my United Methodist hymnal for nightly family devotions. And I am Methodist when I feel closer kinship with someone who was raised Wesleyan (Another outsider! From a Holiness tradition!) than with a lifelong Episcopalian.

I sort of wish I felt more Episcopalian. I like the kneeling, and Eucharist every Sunday with wine instead of grape juice. I like that the Episcopalians *don’t* have guaranteed appointments, which makes them more comfortable ordaining people who feel bi-vocational — the Episcopalians are not caught up in the worldly worry of “what am I going to do when this person decides they want a parish after all, and I am obliged to find one for them?”  And of course there is the thing I like that sent me to the Episcopalian church in the first place – I like that my gay friends can get ordained or married in an Episcopalian church.

But no matter how much I like about Episcopalians, it is not enough to make me an Episcopalian myself. For now, I can only claim St. Luke’s as my refuge from an intolerable situation in the country of my birth. And some nights, I lay awake and wonder what it will mean to raise my daughter in a foreign land.

Father-less Day?

Last year was the first Father’s Day since my own Dad died. In the United Methodist Church, Annual Conferences are typically held around Father’s Day – including the Virginia Annual Conference, in which my Dad was an ordained elder. So last year, instead of being home with my husband – my daughter’s father – I was in Roanoke, Virginia. The Saturday night before Father’s Day was the time appointed for the annual memorial service for pastors who have died in the past year, and I wanted to be there with my mother. She and I skipped church the next morning – neither of us were much in the mood to hear a single word about fathers – and instead spent the day driving back to her home outside Richmond, bemoaning that it was hard to find an antique store in Southern Virginia that was open before noon on a Sunday. Antiques shopping instead of church? It was almost as if we were calculating ways to pretend my sternly Sabbath-keeping father had never existed.

For me, my best ally in processing my grief has been my astute and sensitive five year old, who still has moments of being “sad about Grandpa Cosby.” (Not to knock my wonderful husband, friends, and therapist – I have a great team!) Hannah asks very intelligent questions, like “Is Grandpa Cosby still your Dad?” (yes!) and “Does Grandpa Cosby still have a birthday?” (yes!) And as I have talked about my continuing relationship with him and about my memories of him, I have felt his loss a little less keenly. I still have a father, even if he is not reachable by telephone.

I remember last year, feeling the loss so deeply – it was Father’s Day, and I had no one to call! But this year, celebrating at home with my husband and my daughter, I didn’t have time to think about it – every day of the past week was consumed with Hannah’s plans for making her Daddy’s Father’s Day “the best ever!!”  Keeping alive the flower she picked many days too early, making cards, planning a special breakfast in bed…  And then on to the Episcopal Church – not least because I can count on those reliably liturgical Episcopalians to leave these civil holidays nearly unmentioned.  I do not exaggerate to pray, “On Father’s Day, I thank you for the Episcopalians, most merciful God.”

I am an American – in this world, if not of it (I hope) – and so I do still find it not just impossible, but undesirable to escape celebrating Father’s Day.  There are lots of men I could call today – to thank them for being there for me, to encourage them in their own fathering… with the aid of a year of growth and reflection, I can see that I am certainly not without anyone to call on Father’s Day. And I must remember to call my mother on this Father’s Day – a woman who long ago lost her father, and more recently lost her step-father and then the father of her own children.  I wonder if she wonders who to call today?  I wonder if she went to church today? I wonder, if she did, if it was a healing or a wounding hour spent in the pew?

We who grieve on this day are not alone – there are many more like us. Rather than organizing our day around our loss – at least as the years go by – I pray that we find ways to celebrate what we had and continue to carry with us, and the many fathers we know and love who are still a telephone call away.  And I pray that the church continues to find ways to nurture those who need true comfort on the days when the culture seems to exclude their grief.