2019 UMC Immersion

Prevenient Grief

Day 2: Monday, Feb. 25

 Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

—Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”

Professor Maia shared these words of encouragement as members of our cohort checked in with each other after a very long and difficult day at General Conference, a day that ended with every indication that the United Methodist Church as we knew it would die on Wednesday. It’s not over ‘til it’s over, and I hope I’m wrong, but preliminary vetting of the various plans and petitions strongly suggests the Traditionalist Plan will prevail, reinforcing the church’s bans on ordination of gay clergy and same-sex marriage and making it impossible for churches that are open and affirming of LGBTQ people to continue to exist within the denomination. A split of some kind had seemed inevitable, but I never imagined that the exit plans under consideration would be for us.

Listening to hours of debate had left me feeling battered and shaken. I had not anticipated such disregard for grace in a denomination that defines itself by it. After the Traditionalist Plan had handily won the required votes to move to the plenary for final voting—despite the likelihood that many sections are unconstitutional—and the One Church Plan for a unified church had failed, a motion was considered to give the only remaining plan that embraced inclusivity the dignity of a hearing. Though some time was eventually given to it, the permission was not freely granted: Ignoring the obvious pain in the room, one delegate derisively argued, “It’s clear we already are finding a way forward [without it].” It was as if progressives were being snow-plowed out of the way.

One of the most heartbreaking testimonies came from Rev. Byron Thomas, a delegate with the North Georgia Conference and a supporter of the One Church Plan. Referring to Methodists’ support for racial segregation in the church in 1939, he said, “White folks stood up and clapped then, and the black folks sat down and cried. I believe that we are at another stand up and clap, sit down and cry moment.”

The Traditionalist Plan was never supposed to see the light of day. The bishops were interested only in plans for church unity, not a split; and the commission charged with creating plans never developed this one beyond a rough sketch. But a plan got worked up independently that was effectively marketed to the rest of the connection. In many ways it feels like we got played. Time will tell.

The weight of grief is heavy, but something else happened today, allowing a glimpse of a beautiful new church: Arguing for Judicial Council review of all the plans and petitions to be voted on tomorrow to ensure their constitutionality, JJ Warren, a gay young adult delegate from Upper New York, reminded the conference what the church could be, bringing even the bishops to their feet:

And so we’ll ring the bells that still can ring.

~ Julie Harris