The Journey Isn’t Over
I am proud to say that, today, Church of the Village is a church where LGBTQ people can find refuge, instead of a church from which LGBTQ people seek refuge! While I don’t like to brag about myself, I will brag ALL DAY about my church. Ready? Here goes. One of our founding churches hosted the first PFLAG meeting in 1973 and, just a few years ago, we hosted PFLAG National for the memorial service of their founder and mother of Morty, Jeanne Manford. One of our founding churches loved on their pastor, Rev. Paul Abels (pictured above), through his coming out as gay, through his same-sex commitments ceremonies, through attempts by his bishop to remove him from ministry.
Today, Church of the Village is a proud supporter of the API (Asian Pacific Islander) Project of PFLAG-New York, and every one of our three pastors, and one of our ministers in residence, is a member of the Steering Committee of Methodists in New Directions (MIND), our regional UMC LGBTQ equality organization. And, most significantly for us, just a few months ago, we finally became an official Covenant Congregation and held the first same-sex wedding in our sanctuary this December. And the cherry on top is truly this week’s statement by our New York Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry to consider all ordination candidates equally regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression. As a church that currently has several members in the ordination process, we are relieved that any who have found refuge at Church of the Village will also find it in the New York Annual Conference.
Boy! (Or Girl! Or Gender Nonconforming Child!) Let us just take a deep breath and celebrate just how amazing and beautiful all of that is. Let us give thanks for how much has changed for LGBTQ people in our church. Paul Abels and Jeanne Manford would definitely be giving us some substantial high fives. Truly, let us give thanks to God.
May God forgive us if we ever sit too long in our own comfort and safety when there are others who cannot share it. There was a recent episode of the sitcom Black-ish, which spent thirty minutes quite seriously tackling police brutality and Black American experience. At one point, the teenage son of the upper-middle class Black family, whose father had been giving poignant speeches all evening about racial injustice, decided to get off the couch and join a demonstration after the non-indictment of a police officer. His father quickly told him to sit down, forbidding his son from the leaving the house, to which the grandfather quipped, “Oh, I see. Now that you got yourself a little something, it’s okay for other people’s children to go fight the battle, but not yours?”
Today, we face the same pointed question. We have a good amount of freedom at Church of the Village and in the New York Annual Conference. Living in our progressive corner of the Village, with our regional institutions on the defensive, we could sit on the comfortable couch of our past accomplishments and attempt to live as though the United Methodist Church’s discriminatory rules no longer affect us. But that is taking a dangerous and historical bribe that has been offered generation after generation to those who are marginalized. Those on the margins fight and struggle and put incredible pressure on the powers and principalities, and those powers and principalities in turn offer “a little something” to a small group of us–a little leniency, a little don’t ask don’t tell, a little regional freedom.
And we often take that “little something” as a victory–and it is. It is a testament to our strength and work. But we often don’t realize what we give up for that “little something”. If we sit too long and too comfortably in our church’s or conference’s freedom to live out equality, we unwittingly take a bribe, and what we give up for that bribe are people. We give up on the transgender teen in the South easily walking into a United Methodist Church and hearing that a loving God will give them the strength to persevere through the bullying at school. We give up on the gay person in Uganda who no longer feels safe in the neighborhood and country that raised them. We give up on the Paul Abels’ and the Morty Manford’s who need supportive churches and informed parents today all around the world.
One hugely important way to get off the comfy couch is to go to General Conference in Portland, Oregon, in May to demonstrate, to trouble waters, to put pressure on the only body that can officially make and change our denomination’s statements and laws–laws that affect LGBTQ people, not only in our church and in our conference, but laws that affect LGBTQ people all around the world. If you can do this, please let us know.
An equally valuable contribution is to support someone else. MIND is committed to sending activists like our own Pastor Elyse Ambrose to General Conference. But it costs a good bit of cash to get activists representing us off the couch…because after the couch comes cross country airfare and housing for a week or two. If you can’t get to General Conference, we implore you to offer a financial gift. As a church this Sunday, we are taking a special offering to this end, and we encourage each of you to consider carefully your gift. You can give on Sunday by writing a check with “General Conference” in the memo, by dropping cash into the baskets, or online (Please click “Purpose” and type “General Conference”). At Church of the Village, we owe our freedoms to Paul and Jeanne and people like them, and we will honor them not by just celebrating where we are today, but we honor them by continuing their work, by helping to send activists to continue the struggle to ensure that people all over the world can someday feel some of the safety and comfort we enjoy in our church this week. Who are the special saints in your personal life that you will honor with this offering?
From Seneca Falls,
From Selma to Stonewall,
We’ve come a long way,
But the journey isn’t over.
The featured photo of Rev. Paul Abels is credited to the General Commission on Archives and History.