“Do No Harm” Gathering Held at Walnut Hills UMC
“I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together…”
“This General Conference feels like a watershed moment.” Many lifelong United Methodists are questioning, “How can I stay in a church that continues to call people I love ‘incompatible with Christian teaching?’” “Aren’t exclusion and discrimination incompatible with Christian teaching?” “Can I keep giving my prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness to a church that refuses to welcome God’s LGBTQ children?” “How can I live out my vow to be in pastoral ministry with all people, if I cannot perform marriages for all loving, committed couples?” “If I don’t stay and work for change, who will?” “What can I do to make a difference, and be part of a faithful witness for justice, love, and a church where ALL of God’s children are welcomed and affirmed?”
On Thursday, May 24, from 5-7pm at Walnut Hills UMC in Des Moines, 160+ United Methodist clergy and laity gathered to stand for justice, inclusion, and a United Methodist Church where LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer) folk are welcomed into all levels of ministry in the church. We shared in conversation and worship, explored processes other annual conferences have utilized, and looked toward what faith-filled action we would share at Annual Conference.
Together: We mourned. We lamented. We affirmed our faith. We bore witness to injustice. We recognized pain, and anger. We prayed. We comforted. We covenanted together. We remembered that we are not alone. We emboldened one another. We strategized. We organized. We discerned. We gathered. Because we are the church, together.
The following is a reflection from Jean Swenson, a layperson from Walnut Hills UMC who attended the “Do No Harm” Gathering.
Surely the Presence of the Lord . . . . . . Was in Walnut Hills UMC on May 24!
I am a life-long United Methodist. I have not been ashamed to say that I love my church, and I list the Social Principles and the democracy within the church as reasons that I will always be a United Methodist. The recent actions of the General Conference, however, had me “rethinking church.” Was it time for me to find a church where all are truly welcomed? What had happened to the church of my childhood, where we sang “Jesus Loves the little children, all the little children of the world?” This is the church that taught me that we are all worthy and equal in the eyes of the Lord. Why is my church even having a discussion about people who happen to be GLBTQ – what’s to discuss? (Jesus doesn’t care!)
My feelings regarding the actions of General Conference seem to be similar to those I’ve endured while grieving. Prior to May 24, I must admit that I was stuck in the anger “stage.” But, I also knew I wouldn’t begin to heal and “accept” until I’d had many opportunities to discuss my feelings with my friends. My first such opportunity presented itself on Thursday, May 24, at Walnut Hills UMC, in Urbandale.
More than 160 people from the Iowa Annual Conference came to worship together and to commit themselves to “Do No Harm.” The leadership who had planned our evening together gave us ample time to share our feelings about the actions of General Conference, and to name the emotions we were experiencing. Rev. Denny Coon’s message prepared us for the next steps, the “Do No Harm” covenant and the “Covenant of Conscience.” For those of us present in the Celebration Center, we knew we were a part of something much bigger than ourselves. The signing of the “Do No Harm” Covenant was significant, but it really didn’t require much “soul searching,” as most of us in attendance had made up our minds on matters of human sexuality long ago. But the tears for many of us began to flow, and did not stop ‘til long after the meeting, when more than 20 pastors stepped forward to sign the Covenant of Conscience. As a layperson, I cannot imagine having the courage to sign my name on a document that has the potential to end my career. (I was chief negotiator and grievance chair in my school district, but I always knew, no matter how often I “locked horns” with the superintendent, the law protected my job!) These pastors did not walk slowly to the altar to sign the document, they hurried! The presence of the Lord was in that place! It was fitting that our evening included the laying of hands on those resolute pastors, and the sacrament of Holy Communion, where all have always been welcome at our table.
So, how do I feel now? I am encouraged! There is still a place for me in the United Methodist Church. The number of people who have signed the covenants grows each day. The actions of General Conference are causing ordinary, and extraordinary, folks to witness in ways they never thought possible. We have mobilized to “do good.”
May it be so!