February 27, 2019
Dear Hopewell UMC Members, Friends, and Affiliates:
I returned last evening from the Special Session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church in St. Louis. The Special Session of the General Conference was called to find A Way Forward after years and years of debate within the denomination regarding language in our Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. As you may have heard by now or have read in the news, the United Methodist Church’s General Conference did not pass the “One Church Plan” to which the Commission on A Way Forward spent countless time, tears, and energy working on; but instead the voting body passed a plan titled “The Traditional Plan”; which in no way, shape, or form moves us forward; quite frankly, it moves us backward into a more precarious place than where we began.
The Traditional Plan upholds the exclusive language found in the UM Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQIA persons and adds extreme, punitive measures for clergy who violate this language. It is worth noting that many pieces of this plan were found to be unconstitutional by our Judicial Council and it will be difficult and time consuming for this plan to be implemented. If anything, the plan will take a lengthy amount of time to become official church discipline – so for now, the Book of Discipline is exactly as it was before this conference began, and we, Hopewell United Methodist Church, are the same church called to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world as we have always been.
I’d like to take a moment to speak personally about my experience in attending this conference. The conference was extremely painful to watch and I am deeply saddened by my experience; not saddened because this oppressive plan has passed – saddened because I saw a shocking side of the loving denomination I grew up in that I never imagined possible. I experienced deep pain and sorrow at watching beloved children of God drive nails into the hearts of other beloved children of God. The lack of grace and mercy and compassion from delegates of churches and conferences that many other churches and conferences have supported with grace and dignity and mercy for years, and years – was indefensible.
At this time, I am lamenting – my heart cries out to the Lord. I am grieving over a lack of grace and mercy from a denomination I love. Our church, Hopewell United Methodist Church, will still BE the church of Jesus. I vow to continue to lead our church in the following ways:
1. I vow to lead our church in a way that promotes the unconditional love of God to ALL persons.
2. I vow to lead our church in a way that shares the call of Jesus Christ for justice, mercy, radical hospitality, and inclusion for ALL persons.
3. I vow to lead our church in a way that helps ALL persons realize the gifts of the Holy Spirit working in and through them.
As we approach the Lenten season, we prepare for Resurrection and I can sense Resurrection power ahead. United Methodists of Greater NJ’s bishop, Bishop John Schol, has released a statement which I implore you all to take the time to read. (Bishop’s statement posted here.) In the meantime, I encourage you ALL to be in prayer and support of one another at this time.
In the Love of Christ,
Rev. Laura Steele