Help us, O God, to prove to our disjointed world that You are in our midst.
Psalm 92.15 (Psalms Now)
Many years ago, a local United Methodist Church uptown was struggling with a conflict. They tried every way they knew how to correct the situation. After following UMC protocol, members still perplexed and dissatisfied with their minister, the District Superintendent, and Bishop, they walked out. Forty families, hurt and broken, frustrated and disappointed, walked out of their “church” not knowing where they would go or what they would do as a community of faith. At first they gathered in one member’s home, which worked for a few weeks. But as Sundays came and went, they missed being in their sacred space to worship. So, one Sunday morning these forty families walked into the local Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) for worship. Imagine being the minister and looking out to see the pews full with quadrupled attendance. Imagine the people in the pews wondering why all these people were here.
These folks needed a safe place to worship. They needed a safe place to grieve. They needed some time to heal and discern what would be next for them. As worship moved along, some held hands with their pew mate and quietly wept. Some sang along with the hymns, some could not. All listened to the sermon that morning, and all shared in the Lord’s Supper that morning, clinging to every word uttered.
My colleague and I were very strategic and careful in our pastoral care in the days that followed. Should we call upon each family? And when? What questions would we ask? We decided to meet with a few key families to glean some understanding of the situation. And after a few weeks, we personally invited each family to a fellowship dinner for a meal and pastoral conversation knowing that these families were broken hearted and just needed sacred space to unpack what had happened and to discern their faith identity. They all had deep roots in their home church and many served in significant leadership roles. We were certain that once they had some distance from the situation, and allowed some time to get some perspective and heal, they would find their way back home or to another Methodist congregation.
Twenty years later, most of these folks are still with that Disciples congregation. However, they still remember their Methodist identity which is deep in their heart and soul. With the decisions of the UMC General Conference, they once again remember the pain and sorrow from long ago and are again deeply grieving decisions of the church that originally shaped and formed their faith.
With this week’s tragic vote of the UMC General Conference to adhere to tradition, along with the added disciplinary action, our Methodist brothers and sisters across the nation and the world are experiencing trauma, are heartbroken, and are in need of safety, comfort, and care. My prayer for them, whether they are serving as ministers or lay people, is that they do not lose all hope, that the Spirit gently guides them into sacred space to cry out or quietly grieve their deep disappointment in their “church” which has betrayed them, and that they remember God’s grace and love will prevail. I pray that we, as Disciples, walk beside them in their deep grief and as they discern how they will continue to serve God as a follower of Jesus Christ. I also pray that we Disciples are there for them with open arms when they are ready.
Picking up the Peaces,