Here are three upcoming events that I’m marking on my schedule. Perhaps a reader or two will decide to attend, but all of you should follow from afar.
The national (international) convention of United Methodists only convenes every four years. Thus, when they do gather, there is a lot of business to take care of. The first week consists of committee meetings and hearings, and the plenary sessions take place the second week.
The Methodists are the largest of the “mainline” Protestant denominations with over 8 million members. For comparison, the ELCA has around 4 million, the Episcopal and Presbyterian churches slightly over 2 million each, and the UCC slightly over 1 million. Of these five denominations, the Methodists are the remaining holdout for ordaining gay clergy, and that will certainly be the issue at the forefront of the upcoming General Convention.
The Methodists are also the most international of the American denominations. While the ELCA belongs to the worldwide Lutheran Federation, that is not a governing body that decides ELCA policy. The same is true with the Episcopalians who are part of the worldwide Anglican Communion. But, within the polity of the UMC, their international sister congregations and conferences are not mere affiliates but actually belong inside the denomination; thus there will be large numbers of international delegates to the upcoming General Convention.
This is also a significant part of the reason why the UMC has not yet voted to ordain gay clergy—the international delegates tend to be much more conservative than the US delegates. The principal gay advocacy group within the UMC is the Reconciling Ministries Network, and I recently visited with Troy Plummer, their executive director, and Pastor Bonnie Beckonchrist, their board chair. Both are cautiously optimistic about prospects for favorable legislation in Tampa, but suggest it will take nearly 65% favorable vote from the US delegates to bring the total margin to 50% or better.
I’m hoping to be there for the plenary sessions to do some live blogging.
The United Church of Christ has the most progressive history regarding gay inclusion of any of the five principal mainline denominations. The UCC Coalition is their advocacy arm, and this year’s national gathering will be historic. In June, 1972 openly gay seminarian William Johnson was ordained in a UCC conference in northern California, and this year’s gathering will celebrate the 40th anniversary of his ordination. Elmhurst College of Elmhurst, Illinois (a west Chicago suburb) will host the gathering and will also be the home of The William B. Johnson “Guestship”.
Elmhurst College has named its annual LGBT Guestship in honor of an esteemed alumnus, the Reverend Dr. William R. Johnson. A member of the Class of 1968, Johnson is a United Church of Christ minister and vice president for member relations of the UCC’s Council for Health and Human Service Ministries. In 1972, he became the first openly gay person in modern history to gain ordination to the mainstream Christian ministry.
“For four decades, he has worked tirelessly and effectively on behalf of the rights and dignity of all people and, in particular, of LGBT people of faith and their loved ones,” said President S. Alan Ray in announcing the William R. Johnson Guestship. “He has provided counsel and support to hundreds of LGBT seminarians and clergy in the UCC and beyond.” Ray noted that a scholarship in Johnson’s name supports openly gay UCC seminarians studying for parish ministry.
I attended the 2010 Biennial in Minneapolis, and I hope to attend this year also. In 2010, LCNA celebrated the momentous changes at the ECLA Churchwide Assembly of 2009. The preacher during the primary worship service was former NY Synod Bishop Stephen Bouman, who currently works within the ELCA home office as Executive Director of Congregational and Synodical Mission. His participation symbolized that gays and their advocates were now insiders, and Bouman’s sermon encouraged LCNA to use their gifts of advocacy for those who remain on the margins, especially the immigrant.
This year, the symbolism will be heightened as the keynote address will be given by none other than Mark Hanson, the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA.
Reconciling Works 2012 is more than a conference. It is an opportunity to explore and live out the work of reconciliation that we are called to do. Justice requires reconciliation, and reconciliation takes effort. Throughout our time together, we will work on justice issues from the intersection of oppressions (racism, sexism, ablism, etc.) and through the lens of full participation of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in the life of the Lutheran Church.
We’ll worship together, using a rich variety of traditions of the worshipping community. We’ll provide a blend of the familiar and the unique drawing on our Lutheran heritage and the wealth of liturgical practice in the area. We’ll network with one another, hear stories of joy and frustration, and make decisions together about the future direction of Lutherans Concerned / North America and our Reconciling in Christ communities.