WHAT IS A RECONCILING CONGREGATION?
A reconciling congregation is one that embraces and works for the full participation of all people in the United Methodist Church, including full equality in membership, ordination, and marriage for God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) children. Reconciling congregations make a public declaration welcoming all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, to participate fully in its congregational life, and they work for change within the denomination for full inclusiveness and equal rights and privileges for all.
WHY DID WE EXPLORE BECOMING A RECONCILING CONGREGATION?
As one of five recommendations coming out of the Natural Church Development process aimed at increasing Passionate Spirituality at ELUMC, the Church Council determined that we will explore the process of becoming a Reconciling congregation as one way for us to stand up for those who cry out for love & justice and to invite others to be a part of transforming the world. ELUMC has not invested itself in a significant social justice ministry since the Pioneer Valley Free Health Service and our Access for All campaign for building accessibility. Of all the potential justice ministries for ELUMC to consider adopting, reconciling has generated the most discussion and passion by far. Furthermore, we have had personal experience in this area as many current and former members and staff have been directly affected by the injustice of the status quo.
AREN'T WE ALREADY A WELCOMING AND RECONCILING CONGREGATION?
Some members have assumed that we are already a reconciling congregation. While it is true that ELUMC is known to be very warm and welcoming and we have had and currently have openly LGBT members, we have not formally and publicly affirmed our position on full inclusion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons. Studies have shown that the overwhelming perception within the LGBT community today is that they are not welcome in churches, in many cases because they have faced blatant discrimination within the church. Youth and young adults overwhelmingly see Christianity as anti-gay and want no part of a religion that (in their perception) focuses more on hate than love, on rigid rules rather than liberation. Being a reconciling congregation indicates to non-heterosexual people that they are welcome.
BY SPECIFICALLY CALLING OUT THAT WE ARE OPENLY WELCOMING LGBT, AREN'T WE PUTTING ONE GROUP ABOVE OTHERS?
Our intention is that this movement be first and foremost about inclusion of ALL people. No person or group is more important than another. However, it is necessary for us to be specific and intentional about naming LGBT because Christian denominations including the United Methodist Church have been exclusionary of LGBT. Even now, the only group explicitly excluded from basic rights including marriage and ordination by the Book of Discipline are homosexuals. Therefore, it is expected that people in the LGBT community will assume that they are either not welcome or at best second class citizens in United Methodist Churches. It is vital that we are explicit in our welcoming of LGBT.
WILL "RECONCILING" BECOME THE SOLE FOCUS OF OUR MINISTRIES?
No. Our church has been blessed with a rich history of strong youth ministries, mission and outreach including Habitat for Humanity and Heifer International, vital worship, active United Methodist Women, and social justice ministries such as the Pioneer Valley Free Health Service and our Access for All campaign for building accessibility. We hope that Reconciling Ministries will become another way in which our congregation can live into our mission statement of welcome, risk, justice, and hope, making Disciples of Christ. Like all of our ministries, the emphasis on reconciling work will depend on the commitment and energy of those in our congregation who choose to step up and step out to raise the level of hope for those who cry out for love and justice.
WHAT IS OUR RECONCILING STATEMENT OF INCLUSION?
"As we recognize the value in each other, we recognize God. We embrace God's good gift of diversity and believe all persons are of sacred worth. Therefore, we welcome people of every age, race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, socio-economic condition, family structure, and physical or mental ability into the full participation of this congregation. We are called by God to raise the level of hope for those who have been marginalized and singled out for exclusion, including our gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers. Our passion for a wide welcome of all God's children moves us to participate in reconciling and justice ministries so that we might truly open minds, open hearts, and open doors."
CAN'T WE CHOOSE TO ADOPT A SOCIAL JUSTICE MINISTRY THAT IS LESS CONTROVERSIAL?
Looking for the "safest" or least controversial ministry defeats the whole purpose. Our mission statement challenges, even invites, the risks involved in responding to God's call to raise the level of hope for those who cry out for love & justice. Like letting your light shine rather than hiding it under a bushel (Matthew 5:15), the decision to become a reconciling congregation is an event to celebrate rather than a decision to be kept quiet.
WHAT IS THE RECONCILING MINISTRIES NETWORK?
The Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) is a growing movement of United Methodist individuals, congregations, campus ministries, and other groups working for the full participation of all people in the United Methodist Church to transform our Church and world into the full expression of Christ's inclusive love. Established in 1984, RMN works for full equality in membership, ordination, and marriage for God's lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender children. RMN encompasses 272 Reconciling Congregations, 36 Reconciling Campus Ministries, and 77 other Reconciling Communities and Ministries. There are over 80,000 Reconciling United Methodists. The RMN is an independent, not-for-profit organization with no official ties to The United Methodist Church but does reflect the Methodist tradition of social justice and action. RMN's board of directors includes United Methodist lay people, clergy, cabinet executives, academics and bishops. It includes a very active Parents group and a student group called MOSAIC.
For further information, see the Reconciling Ministry Network's website at www.rmnetwork.org.
HOW DOES A CHURCH BECOME PART OF THE RECONCILING NETWORK?
After a period of exploration, including study, prayer and reflection about concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons and their relationship to the church, a local church makes a public statement welcoming all persons to participate fully in its congregational life.The statement is adopted at an all church conference.
DOES THE RECONCILING PROGRAM PUT US IN VIOLATION OF THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE?
Absolutely not! Making a statement of inclusion, in fact, supports the Book of Discipline which calls for the inclusion of all persons who are viewed as individuals of sacred worth. Official United Methodist policy bars the ordination and appointment of "selfavowed practicing homosexuals". The Board of Ordained Ministry and bishop of each annual conference must decide how to handle this mandate. The Book of Discipline also "prohibits ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions". Each local church must decide for itself how it will handle this matter.
DIDN'T THE JUDICIAL COUNCIL RULE THAT LOCAL CHURCHES MAY NO LONGER NAME THEMSELVES WITH THE LABEL OF UNOFFICIAL ORGANIZATIONS?
Yes. In November 1999, the Judicial Council announced that local congregations cannot adopt labels which identify them with unofficial organizations. The Council expressed its concern that labels are "divisive", but we need to remember that wherever there is injustice and discrimination, any stand for justice and inclusiveness will potentially be divisive. Many congregations have described themselves as engaged in the "ministry of reconciliation" or asa "reconciling congregation"
IF WE BECOME RECONCILING, WILL WE BECOME AN ALL-GAY CHURCH?
No. There are now over 1,000 Affirming (United Church of Canada), More Light (Presbyterian), Oasis (Episcopalian), Open and Affirming (Disciples of Christ or United Church of Christ), Reconciling (United Methodist), Reconciling in Christ (Lutheran), Supportive (Brethren/Mennonite), Welcoming (Unitarian Universalist), and Welcoming and Affirming (Baptist) churches and ministries in the US and Canada. The experience of these congregations has been that they have received some new lesbian and gay members. In addition, they have also been graced with many more new members who are attracted to the open, inclusive, and hospitable environment a reconciling congregation can provide.
Marriage Equality Policy
We the members of the East Longmeadow United Methodist Church declare that no one will be denied the services of our church because of sexual orientation. This includes the use of our property for marriages and holy unions. This action is in accordance with the following statements in the United Methodist Book of Discipline:
Therefore, we commit ourselves to be in ministry for and with all persons because we understand that each individual is of sacred worth. We do this in a spirit of biblical obedience as we practice the radical hospitality of Jesus Christ.
WHY ARE WE ADOPTING THIS POLICY NOW?
As an established and committed reconciling congregation since June 2010, we are compelled to live into our Statement of Inclusion and consider how we should bear witness to the inclusive love of Christ. Our inclusion ministry continues to resonate and evoke the passion of our members. While we have already explicitly declared ourselves to be reconciling and inclusive, ambiguity around wedding ceremonies for same gender partners in our building arose because the Book of Discipline expressly forbids such ceremonies. In addition, many recent clergy trials were in the news as were stories about our denomination's discriminatory policies on non-heterosexual marriage and pastors. Thus, the Church Council determined that the best way to respond to these events was to adopt an explicit marriage policy that doesn't discriminate against LGBTQ persons and treats all couples the same regardless of sexual orientation.
ARE WE GOING AGAINST THE BOOK OF DISCIPLINE?
While the Book of Discipline contains the inclusive statements mentioned in the resolution above, it also contains the following statements: "We do not condone the practice of homosexuality and consider this practice incompatible with Christian teaching." (¶161.f) "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." (¶341.6) Despite these fundamental inconsistencies, the current policy of the United Methodist Church clearly forbids same-sex marriages or Holy Unions in United Methodist buildings or by any United Methodist clergy person. Thus, in the spirit of "Biblical Obedience" we are going against the specific policy in the Book of Discipline that forbids weddings for gay people while upholding other core tenets of the Book of Discipline, our understanding of the Gospel, the UMC's strong legacy of social justice, and ELUMC's own Statement of Inclusion.
ARE WE ALONE AMONG UNITED METHODIST CHURCHES IN TAKING THIS STAND?
No. In the summer following the 2012 General Conference, 15 regional conferences passed resolutions in support of same-sex marriage and against the UMC's current position on homosexuality and marriage. Others said they would express support for a "statement of gospel obedience" that declares the UMC to be in error for its position against homosexuality. In July 2012, the Western Jurisdictional Conference affirmed that God's grace and love is available to all persons and asserted that the UMC is in error on the subject of "homosexuality's incompatibility with Christian teaching." The Conferences of the Jurisdiction were invited "to operate as if the 'incompatible' statement in ¶161F does not exist." At the 2014 Annual Conference for the New England conference, a movement called "New Wineskins" will attempt to unify the various proposed resolutions on inclusion into a single resolution.
ARE WE REQUIRING OUR CURRENT AND/OR FUTURE PASTORS TO PERFORM SAME-SEX WEDDINGS?
Nothing in this declaration shall infringe upon ¶340.3.a of the Discipline: "The decision to perform the (marriage) ceremony shall be the right and responsibility of the pastor."
WHAT IS MEANT IN THIS CONTEXT BY THE PHRASES "BIBLICAL OBEDIENCE" OR "GOSPEL OBEDIENCE"?
Rev. Andy Oliver reminds us, "Jesus was asked by a scribe, 'Which is the greatest of all the commandments?' Jesus simply said, 'There is only one God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.' It is time for us as people of faith to live into those commandments. It is time to see ALL human beings as our neighbors. That is what I mean by Biblical Obedience."
WHAT ARE THE POTENTIAL CONSEQUENCES OF ADOPTING A MARRIAGE EQUALITY POLICY?
Practically speaking, there are no specific punitive or administrative consequences associated with the adoption of a marriage equality policy or the conducting of wedding ceremonies for LGBTQ couples in our building. The real question is what are the consequences of not enacting this policy? Being a welcoming and inclusive community, based on our understanding of the Gospel and our core beliefs, demands that we demonstrate the integrity to stand up for those who cry out for love and justice and follow the example of Christ in placing people above discriminatory rules.