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.

Better start swimmin’

Some of you may be aware that, while I am currently attending an Episcopal church, I retain my membership in the United Methodist Church, and consider myself a “Methodist in exile.”  You may also be aware of the decisions made at last year’s General Conference that precipitated my decision to leave the United Methodist congregation that had been my church home since returning to Durham – the congregation in which my daughter was baptized.

Just yesterday, my former pastor wrote to me with news of the recent gathering of the North Carolina Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  He knew that I would be interested in a resolution that was brought to the floor by the Youth Conference, and that passed by a wide margin.  It is worthwhile to quote Resolution #3 in its entirety:

Resolution 3: Concerning the General Conference’s Decision Regarding Homosexuality

WHEREAS, according to The Social Principles of the United Methodist Church, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching” and,

WHEREAS, two “agree to disagree” proposals were soundly defeated during separate votes by the nearly 1,000 delegates gathered for the United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Tampa, Fla, therefore keeping the previous language unchanged [1], and

WHEREAS, “One proposal would have changed the Book of Discipline to say that gays and lesbians are “people of sacred worth” and that church members differ about “whether homosexual practices (are) contrary to the will of God” [1] and,

WHEREAS, at least 15 regional Annual Conferences have already rejected the denomination’s stance on homosexuality [2], and

WHEREAS, when asked by The Barna Group what words or phrases best describe Christianity, the top response among Americans ages 16-29 was “antihomosexual.” For a staggering 91 percent of non-Christians, this was the first word that came to their mind when asked about the Christian faith. The same was true for 80 percent of young churchgoers [3], and

WHEREAS, “The gay issue has become the ‘big one’, the negative image most likely to be intertwined with Christianity’s reputation. It is also the dimension that most clearly demonstrates the unChristian faith to young people today, surfacing in a spate of negative perceptions: judgmental, bigoted, sheltered, right-wingers, hypocritical, insincere, and uncaring. Outsiders say [Christian] hostility toward gays…has become virtually synonymous with the Christian faith” (Kinnaman, David, unChristian) and,

WHEREAS, “one of the top reasons 59 percent of young adults with a Christian background have left the church is because they perceive the church to be too exclusive, particularly regarding their LGBT friends” (Kinnaman, David, You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving Church…and Rethinking Faith)

WHEREAS the 61st Annual Conference Session of the United Methodist Youth Fellowship of the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church, acknowledge that the church is divided on this issue but feel that such language is harmful not only to the groups that it attacks but to the future of the church, as such language is alienating to both present and future members.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that we implore the General Conference to change the language used in The Social Principles, and to affirm the place of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) members within the church, lest they risk losing not only those members but any and all members with family or friends who are LGBT.

THEREFORE, BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that copies of this resolution be sent to the General Board of Church and Society and the Council of Bishops.

As my home conference of Virginia begins their Annual Conference in Hampton this afternoon, I am disappointed that a similar resolution is not even on the agenda for consideration. Perhaps next year Virginia will join the growing numbers of U.S. regional annual conferences that are speaking up in opposition to the actions of General Conference last year?  It is hard to say.  But it does seem that momentum is growing for full inclusion of LGBTQ individuals in the life of the United Methodist church (in the U.S. at least.)

I will continue to prayerfully consider where God is calling me to be at this time – with my Bible in one hand, and Bob Dylan in the other:

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’

Becoming a (paid) writer

This week, I have signed two different contracts: one to write 13 weeks of adult Sunday school lessons, and another to write a number of sermon series helps.  And about a week before that, I received news that a book that I contributed an essay to is going to be coming out in October.

I am no longer a person who sits at her kitchen table and writes stuff – I am now a person who is paid to sit at her kitchen table and write stuff.  Wow.  I am a writer, y’all!  Wow wow wow.

While I agree with Anne Lamott that “if you write, you are a writer,” it helps for someone to like your stuff enough to read it.  And it helps, too, if they like it well enough to pay to read it.

I started blogging because I needed a creative and intellectual outlet for my preacher turned stay-at-home mom self. I didn’t really have any thoughts of becoming a writer per se – I intended to get my PhD, or return to the parish.  I knew that some people who blog had gotten publishing deals that way, but I also was aware that those people were generally more disciplined bloggers than I had been – they wrote at regular intervals, or had a gimmick or at least a theme that they hewed to closely.  They had not simply written about whatever occurred to them whenever it was convenient to do so.

On the other hand, I had known people who had tried to take the “conventional” route to becoming a writer – sending one unsolicited manuscript after another to publisher after publisher, collecting a hundred or more rejections on their way to (maybe) getting something published. Did I have the discipline for that? The conviction?

I spent a lot of time thinking about “what next?” but “become a writer” didn’t even make the list most of the time.

Then, a little more than a year ago, I stopped trying to look ahead and instead took a look around. I was doing or had done everything that my five year old self had wanted to do or be as a grown up. (Admittedly with the single exception of being married to Greg Brady, which could never happen, given that he was a fictional character.  And in any case, my husband is way cooler than Greg Brady.) I had been a pastor, I was a mom, I was married, I could cook and sew and drive a car. I could eat whatever I wanted whenever I wanted without anyone telling me any different. Life was good.

Context matters.  “What’s next?” became a different question when it arose out of contentment with where I was rather than out of anxiety about not being where I “ought” to have been.

“Life is good – what next?”  Write.  I wanted to write.

Now, it is only fair to mention here that I was scared to say so. I am an American, and Americans are supposed to produce stuff.  Graduate school produces a degree, and a job produces money, but writing might only produce a bunch of ugly drafts that nobody wants to see.  I was scared to tell my husband what I wanted, even though he is super supportive, and even though we didn’t need for me to make money.  And that’s the other thing to mention:  if you need to make money (and most people do, given that money is good for buying things like food and electricity and a place to stay and so on) then writing is not a particularly reliable way to do it.  Certainly not at first.  Writing is for people who are well off enough to not have to work, or who are young and don’t have children and could always crash on a friend’s sofa if it came to it. And writing is for other people too, but only squeezed in those hours when they are not doing their paying job(s). I owe it to my less-well-bankrolled writer friends to fess up to this.  It was scary for me to admit that I wanted to write, and I didn’t even have my own or anyone else’s ability to live comfortably riding on the enterprise.

But my husband was all for it, and so I came up with a plan: I would give it a year and see what happened.  The year would start with my daughter entering kindergarten, in September 2012 – which would give me a lot more time for uninterrupted reading and thinking and writing and editing.  I would consider myself a writer starting in September, and I would see how it felt and if anything came out of it.

Great plan, but things started happening long before September rolled around.  On 22 May 2012 I wrote an entry entitled The Six Essentials for Preaching to Children, and it went viral – or as viral as these things go when you are writing something that is really only of interest to Protestant worship leaders.  Within less than 24 hours, it had caught the eye of Jessica Kelley, the editor of Ministry Matters, who asked if she could blend that entry with another entry of mine into one article, and publish it on her site. Sure, I said, as long as she linked to my blog, and she did.

That was pretty exciting, but then she invited me to write more for their website.  So I did. And then, when talking to her about a book idea about sermon helps, she asked if I would be interested in writing an article for the Circuit Rider sermon series issue (Feb/March/April 2013).  Yes I was interested! And so I got my first paying gig.

This gave me confidence enough to query after other opportunities, which led to a bunch of rejections that hurt my confidence a little, but not enough to keep me from trying again and again.  And the trying again led to me landing a contract to write for a popular Sunday school series, and also to me writing an essay for the book I mentioned above (Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith, White Cloud Press, October 2013.)

But the Circuit Rider job led to still another job – this time another job that came to me, much as the Ministry Matters work had come to me.  The Circuit Rider is a publication of the United Methodist church with a wide professional readership – it is sent to the pastors and former pastors and employees of boards and agencies and so on… and one of these readers was looking through the sermon series issue hoping to find a writer who could write sermon series helps while still having respect for the liturgical year. And she found me. After a couple of months of talking with one another, I am on board to start contributing sermon series helps in the next couple of weeks!!

As time goes on, I will share more about each of the three upcoming projects: the Sunday school lessons, the sermons series helps, and the book of essays.  But for now, I am feeling really grateful for having the opportunity to give writing a go.  And I am looking around me, thinking that I have done or been everything my 17 year old self wanted to be and do, including being a writer and being married to Brian McGiverin.  Admittedly with the exception of being a singer-songwriter, and knowing how to play the guitar.  But there is still time. 🙂