Dear Riviera Family,
As you have likely heard on the news by now, the General Conference of The United Methodist Church voted this week to adopt the Traditional Plan, maintaining the church’s current stance against LGBTQ+ marriages and ordinations and strengthening enforcement of those policies. Here’s a more detailed article from United Methodist News Service.
Since this is so prevalent in the media this week, I thought it only fair for you to have insight into how I, as your pastor, am processing this news. I’ll use the majority of this Midweek Message to share my response, and then close with some reminders for this weekend and Ash Wednesday next week.
I do not agree with the decision of the General Conference. If I had been there, I would not have voted to support the Traditional Plan. Why not?
Because I believe that the emphasis on enforcement and punishment regarding one issue within our very large Book of Discipline is unfair and unwise.
Also, because of my understanding of Scripture. The Bible makes numerous statements (such as “do not wear clothing of mixed fabrics,” or “women must cover their heads”) that we understand to be reflective of the culture of their time, not reflective of God’s timeless will for us. I read the Old Testament in light of the New Testament. As I look to scripture to be authoritative in my life, and instructional, and a source of God's grace... I can't ignore that in Acts (the book about the church beginning, and continually expanding outward, and continually breaking down barriers, and shattering the disciples understanding, and astounding people with the power of the Holy Spirit) the final person encountered is the Ethiopian Eunuch... a foreigner, and a sexual minority that would have been considered an abomination and outside of the Kingdom of God. He is found reading scripture and asks to be baptized. Phillip states that he sees no reason why not, and baptizes him. I believe our ideas of what God's Kingdom looks like need to be expanded.
I know that some of you interpret these Scriptures differently, and that is okay; that doesn’t change my love and respect for you, or your place within the Riviera family. We don't have to all think alike, in order to love one another and serve alongside each other.
Our church has work to do. At the same time that I’ve been tuning in to General Conference, I’ve also been planning funerals, leading preschool chapel, teaching the scout group about Jesus, praying over someone going into ministry, and organizing spring outreach events. The work of the church goes on. The General Conference is not the primary expression of church. The local congregation where you worship, pray, and serve is the primary expression of church. Whether you are happy, sad, or indifferent about the results of General Conference, God still has a mission for us to fulfill at Riviera—to connect people to God, each other, and the world. I am as committed to that as ever, and I hope you are, too.
Many of you are asking me what the next steps are, and what will be happening in our denomination. The short answer is that I don’t know. The longer answer is that there are some waypoints in the coming months that I’ll be prayerfully observing:
· Bishop Carter will be speaking via webinar this Friday at 11:00am.
· The Judicial Council will meet April 23-25 to rule on the Traditional Plan; only then will we know which parts will be implemented into the Book of Discipline. Knowing exactly what I as a pastor will be asked to sign and certify, and how people will be treated under this plan, will be important information for me personally as a matter of conscience.
· Groups on all sides are discussing leaving the denomination. We may see the Western Jurisdiction of The UMC leave to form a more progressive denomination. We may see the Wesley Covenant Association leave to form a more conservative denomination. We may see centrists leave to form something new. Methodism may look very different by General Conference 2020.
How appropriate that the season of Lent is approaching; a time to draw closer to God through prayer and spiritual disciplines. I know I will not be able to clearly hear God’s voice if it is being drowned out by worry, anger, or a rush to strategize prematurely.
I invite you on Fridays during Lent to pray and fast with me. Christians all over the world (particularly Catholic and Orthodox) fast on Fridays, the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. Fasting is my least favorite spiritual discipline, so the fact that it popped into my mind is, I believe a sign of the Spirit’s guidance. You can fast from anything: meat, desserts, social media, a meal, an hour of sleep. Take the time and focus you would’ve spent on that, and use it for prayer. There are a lot of people hurting right now in our churches. We need to pray and encourage one another.
Coming up this Sunday, I will quickly recap this message for those who don’t get these emails, and then will move ahead with the sermon I had planned to preach on Luke 9:28-43, on the Transfiguration of Jesus. We will share in Holy Communion, and we will lift high the name of Christ. As you are preparing for Sunday, focus in on verse 43:
43 Everyone was overwhelmed by God’s greatness.
God has a way of overwhelming us, catching us by surprise, and accomplishing things we never thought possible with the most humble of resources. I look forward to seeing you this Sunday at 10:00am.
Don’t forget that Ash Wednesday is coming up next week, March 6th. We’ll have Ashes to Go available in the morning from 7:00am to 9:00am in the front parking lot, and worship services at both noon and 6pm.
Grace and peace,