I woke up this morning to a text from a friend questioning why the United Methodist Agency I work for ran a full page ad in USA Today about the denomination’s efforts in disaster relief/recovery around Typhoon Haiyan. It had escaped me that the timing of this ad would coincide with the beginning of Rev. Frank Schaefer’s trial for officiating the marriage of his son.
We are a denomination that cares about people, though the recent news about clergy trials, defrocking and certain kinds of love being “incompatible with Christian teaching” says otherwise.
I updated my status on Facebook this morning as a public way to wrestle with the ways The United Methodist Church feels the need to address the increasing number of clergy who are called to obedience to love their families, friends and those who are choosing to enter into marriage with their same-sex partners:
As someone who is in the candidacy process for Deacon, I ask myself, Is this the church that I want to be a part of?
No, not really.
But the church, with all her flaws, doesn’t change the God who has called me to ministry.
As I was catching up on news on twitter this morning, I read a blog post by my friend, Jeremy Smith. He just returned from a gathering of young people interested in ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church and reflected on the culture wars our denomination faces.
What stuck with me is the question he posed on twitter:
— Rev. Jeremy Smith (@umjeremy) November 13, 2013
and the response he received:
— John Lomperis (@JohnLomperis) November 13, 2013
So shelve that conversation for a minute. At the same time I’m reading all of this, I’m getting texts from one of the young women I mentor. It’s her first year at Wesley Theological Seminary and she felt it was important for her and her classmates to support their friends who are directly affected by the trials. As we’re texting about how ridiculous it is, she asks me if I’m following the conversation on Twitter. I respond by saying, “Yes. #ministryontrial makes me sad.”
And her next text is what broke my heart: “Ahhh, Ate this is so discouraging.” [Ate, in Filipino/Tagalog is a title of respect for older sister]
What do you tell someone who has said, “Yes, God, I’m gonna see what this ministry thing is all about” and then really discovers what we’re about: church trials, public shaming, “we love you, but…”
My only advice to her this morning was to pray on it. That her presence at the trial meant so much. That she shouldn’t forget what she sees and hears, because this will remind her why she is called to ministry: To be present when injustice happens and we point to a book to justify it. To be present when we turn people into issues we can debate away. To be present when all we know is right, is being tested.
So when someone says that the denomination doesn’t need more clergy whose ministry is based on a lie? I say, bring it on. We need you.