January 07, 2020
By Bishop Leonard Fairley
I know many of you have been longing to hear a word from your Bishop as you’ve seen countless statements, and most likely, numerous posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter regarding the proposed Protocol Document on Reconciliation and Separation. It is also likely that you’ve heard, and possibly joined in, many conversations already. The national and local media outlets have picked up the story with their own sensational headlines: “The United Methodist Church Splits.” “Church Leaders and Bishops Propose Split Over LBGTQ Issue.”
I don’t mind confessing that in these last 48 hours I have been an emotional wreck, but let me qualify that statement. Epiphany Sunday, January 5, I baptized my and Priscilla’s grandson in a United Methodist Church that we both loved with all our hearts. I love and will always remain eternally hopeful for our denomination.
Like many of you I have grieved, longing for a word from the Lord. What if our hopes lie in letting go of the very things we think we have to hold? What if our hopes lie in confessing that we’ve made idols of our ideologies and our stances with an unwillingness to yield to the wisdom of the Holy Spirit?
Often, the hope of life and resurrection comes through the grief of loss nothing short of death. It was the hardest thing I think I have ever had to do, bending down over my wife Priscilla and saying, “Honey, it’s OK to let go.” In that letting go I learned and witnessed God’s power of healing. That healing only happened after I surrendered daily to all my pain, suffering, hurt, and ego that desired to control outcomes. I had to learn all over again how to give everything to Jesus Christ. I pray that now we will be able to ready ourselves to live into all the possibilities and newness of life that God has to offer. Change and letting go of things we cherish is extremely hard and painful, but we must let go if hope, redemption, salvation, and peace are to be possibilities. As Matthew 9:17 tells us, you can’t put new wine into old wine skins.
I ask that you join me in prayer, asking God to help us see the possibility of renewed hope and reconciliation, even in the midst of possible separation. Help us, God, to continue the daily works of piety and social holiness that will lead us to the sharing of the gospel with all your people. Help us, Lord, never to lose sight of the grace you promised would be sufficient for us; may that be true, especially in the days ahead, as we prepare for General Conference.
May we be reminded that no proposal is Disciplinary law until it is voted on and approved by General Conference. Help us, Lord, to read the protocol document through the lens of “Holy Sight.” May we pray, nevertheless, not what I want, but what you desire for your church, Lord. I pray, oh God, that you would remind us that the Church has never been ours to control and manipulate. It has and always will be yours, even though it might get battered and bruised by our conflicts; the good news of the gospel will always find a way to prevail.
With all that has gone before us, and all that is yet to come during this season of discernment, there is a unifying constant. “That unifying constant is a movement toward God that results in transformation of life and how life is valued and lived out in the everyday experiences of our existence.” – Rueben Job, Three Simple Rules.
I offer to you the following prayer and scriptures that have been helpful to me as I’ve read the protocol document, always asking myself, “Lord, is it time?” If it is indeed time to let go of the very things we think we have to hold on to for the sake of your kingdom’s work, give us the courage to walk through this valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil.
“Eternal God, calm and quieten my soul; keep me humble and full of hope, wonder and love, trusting in your grace as I live in your love, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Adapted from the Daily Office.
“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” -- Matthew 6:34
I also include the entire 17th chapter of John’s gospel while asking God’s forgiveness that we have not been able to live into the prayer Jesus prayed for us. One final request: Please continue to be the Church that offers good news to a hurting world, making a place at the table for all God’s people. I believe that at the table of the Lord transformation is always possible.
Bishop Leonard Fairley