taking the words of Jesus seriously

Yesterday, the Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church voted to reinforce restrictions on conferences who choose to go against the denomination’s Book of Discipline by ordaining queer clergy and performing same-sex weddings. (This decision is called The Traditional Plan).

The UMC, a global church, has struggled over the issue of human sexuality since before most people can remember — battling to reconcile some progressive congregations in the U.S. with congregations on other continents where identifying as LGBTQIA+ is against the law (and all those in between). Several plans were considered, discussed, and debated over these last three years since the worldwide body last met in 2016, culminating in this week’s session in St. Louis. Included among these plans was the One Church Plan, which would have given clergy and local congregations the room to choose whether or not they would take part in ordaining and marrying LGBTQIA+ people, seemingly imposing no requirements that compromised personally held convictions on any one group. This plan was voted down not once but twice, crushing many delegates and live-stream viewers who hoped that this would be the year that our beloved denomination would make more space at the table. To add insult to injury to this specific community, the Traditional Plan was passed — communicating that the majority not only wished for the exclusion of queer pastors and weddings, but that they also wished for greater accountability for the churches who choose otherwise.

What is ahead is unknown. Today, many churches who long to be far more inclusive than what some 500 people decided for them are issuing letters of love and support to their hurting and anxious bodies. I, a United Methodist for more than 30 years and someone who has considered ordination more often than not, grieve with and for us today. I grieve our collective hurt, and I grieve what the UMC has decided to refuse in the prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness of the faithfully queer. In response, I have written this liturgy of lament for those who gather in the aftermath.

Grieving Exclusion: A Liturgy of Lament

God, our hearts are broken.

We pause now to hold space for this brokenness, naming all that we feel:
Disappointment, fear, disbelief, rejection, shock, exhaustion, betrayal, loss . . .

Meet us here in the silence.

(silence)

We reach out to grab the hands of those next to us, passing this peace:
“I am here. God is too. We are not alone.”

Now together.
I am here.
God is too.
We are not alone.

For those of us who identify as LGBTQIA+
And for those of us who do not but who love them fiercely,
We grieve publicly and together the rejection of the United Methodist Church
To embrace the room for same-sex marriage and the ordination of queer clergy.
We weep for the prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness in them that the institution has refused. 

We know you are bigger than this part of the Church, O God,
But many of us found you first in this part of the Church.
We were met, nurtured, set out, and supported here.
But now we lament exclusion
And are overwhelmed by confusion of what is ahead.
We longed to be home, God. But home did not want us. 

Where some would prioritize belief over belonging, rather than belief as belonging,
Remind us that we already belong and that nothing can separate us from your love and calling.

Where some would prioritize obedience over neighbor-love, rather than obedience as neighbor-love,
Remind us of the Rabbi who left the 99 to find the one.

Where some would prioritize truth over grace, rather than truth as grace,
Remind us again about how free it all is, about unconditional love, and the liberation of relinquished judgement.

Where some would interpret love as behavior management, rather than love as welcome,
Remind us again that Jesus was rejected unto death. And still, he rose. 

We looked for home, God. But did not find it.
We longed to be home, God. But home did not want us. 

But our home is bigger than this home.
It is both here and on its way.
When we are quiet, we can hear her running toward us like the prodigal’s father
Who took no inventory of actions or intentions before celebrating inclusion.

So tell us again, Way-Maker,
Who is the Creator of all?
Who knitted us, our bodies, our vastly deep souls, our complex and diverse sexualities, our hunger for beauty and connection and restoration within our mothers’ wombs?
Who called the slaves as chosen,
And made a home among the oppressed?
Who parted seas that threatened an ending
And brought down walls that blocked a path?
The Lord our God is their name.

And tell us again, Change-Maker,
Who elevated the weak to the strong?
The tradesmen to disciples?
The prostitute to anointer?
The sinner to saint?
Who condemned anyone who would try and throw stones
At the one whom the Story would need?
Who said that the downcast, the mourning, and the meek would inherit the earth and the kingdom?
Who said that the merciful would receive mercy and the peacemakers would be God’s children?
Who had enemies and loved them?
Who had enemies and died for them?
Who took on the sins of the world so that we might release our need to be the Judge?
Who is alive again today?
Jesus, the Son of God, is his name.

And tell us again, Home-Maker,
Who hovered over the waters, turning chaos into order?
Who filled the tabernacle and tore the veil and danced in tongues of fire on the Church?
Who leads us into the Word of God and leads the Word of God into us?
Who is our dynamic, ever-present counselor and friend?
Who is teaching us still?
Leading us still?
Changing us still?
Meeting us still?
Calling us, still, to be a body that can listen to where God is moving today?
The Holy Spirit of God is their name

So Way-Maker, Change-Maker, Home-maker, meet us.
Lead us.
Change us.
Call us.
Help us. 

Help us give room to the unsure and mercy to those with whom we disagree.
Help us to remember that we are always at once the Good Samaritan, the robber, and the wounded.
Help us be good to each other, as Christ was good to us.

Help us be honest and graceful, filled with righteous anger and nonsensical warmth;
Help us to hold fast to the image of God within us, in our community, and in those who fear our community to be unfaithful.
Help us be good to each other, as Christ was good to us. 

Help us have joy over what is ahead, though we see only in part.
Help us have ears to hear and eyes to see and courage to run the race you have set before us.
And since you have gone before us,
Help us be good to each other, as Christ was good to us. 

We longed to be home God, but home is still calling us.
We march on, together, until we all are there. 

About The Author

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Britney Winn Lee is a writer, mama, wife, and neighbor living in Shreveport, LA, where she works as the director of a community arts program. She is currently signed with Wipf and Stock Publishers for a ministry memoir whose working title is "The Way is Where: A Complicated Search for Radical Faithfulness" (due in 2018). Her public writings can be found on Red Letter Christians blog, Art House America blog, and her personal site www.britneywinnlee.com.

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