On November 4, 2012, at our annual Charge Conference, what was then Silver Spring Cooperative Parish adopted this Welcome Statement (the language has been updated since the merger of the churches in 2013):
Silver Spring United Methodist Church believes that having open hearts, open minds and open doors means we are called to share God’s welcome with all people. We are a community where believers, seekers and doubters of every race, ethnicity, age, ability, socioeconomic status, gender identity and sexual orientation are valued as beloved children of God. We believe that Jesus taught of God’s love and acceptance for all, which we seek to embody through our actions, prayers, service, witness and discipleship. All are welcome here.
When we adopted this Statement, we also became a Reconciling Congregation, joining a movement of United Methodist churches that aims to open the church to our lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQ+) brothers and sisters in Christ.
The Reconciling movement formed in response to the United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline, which contains a clause that states that homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and forbids same-sex marriage in our churches or officiated by our clergy, and also prohibits “self-avowed, practicing” homosexuals from being ordained as clergy. At the same time, our Book of Discipline also maintains “homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth.”
Believing that these statements are in conflict, a group of clergy and lay people came together to challenge the policies that prevent the church from serving its LGBTQ+ members. Decades after its beginning, the movement now consists of over 500 United Methodist communities throughout the United States working together to change the church and to share the welcome Christ offers to all people.
SSUMC participate in events and meetings led by Baltimore Washington Area Reconciling Methodists, and we host monthly “Beyond Reconciling” meetings on Second Sundays for members of the LGBTQ+ community and allies to study scripture, share our experiences, and keep up to date with the developments in this area within the UMC.
During Annual Conference in May of 2018, our conference had an opportunity to recommend two faithful candidates to be ordained who are in loving, same-gender marriages. Instead, their names were removed from consideration. On Sunday, June 3 the following statement was read in worship:
This past week, the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference held its annual meeting in Baltimore. Rev. Angela, Rev. Michele, Rev. Katherine, Rev. Evelyn were all present as voting clergy members and Suzanne and Bob Browning were present to represent SSUMC as voting lay members to annual conference.
During the clergy session, candidates who have been recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry are presented for final approval. During the extended clergy session, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling ruled that two of the recommended candidates were not eligible to be voted on at all. She removed their names from consideration.
The two candidates are TC Morrow who you may remember from when she has guest preached here before and Rev. Joey Heath-Mason who faithfully served this church both as a seminary intern and as associate pastor.
Both of these candidates are called by God to the work of ordained ministry.
Both have been examined and found to be exceptional candidates and faithful disciples.
And yet because both are in faithful loving marriages with partners of the same gender, their names were removed by the bishop from the slate of candidates put forward for commissioning and ordination.
We, as your pastors and lay members to annual conference, grieve this action, injustice, and true harm done to both these candidates and all LGBTQIA+ United Methodists. We grieve that for all the strategizing and all the prayers and all the commitment, this was still the result.
We are in grief. We are angry. We are exhausted from a painful several days.
But we refuse to get stuck in despair.
We recommit and we urge you all to recommit to the hard work that lies ahead. This denomination—this United Methodist Church—is ours too. We will not be bullied out. We will not be silenced. We will continue to cry out and act out for justice for ALL of God’s people.
For all the pain of annual conference, there were glimmers of hope.
After the devastating and long clergy session, we gathered in the hallway for protest and prayer. Afterwards, TC came and greeted us and showed to us a level of grace that few in her position would be able to muster. She proclaimed to us that God is yet alive in the United Methodist Church and vowed to continue her ministry of presence. If TC can keep showing up, so can we.
As a conference we voted and went on record saying that the Baltimore Washington Annual Conference urges the General Conference in 2019 to remove the harmful language in our discipline that currently excludes LGBTQIA+ folks from full participation in the life of the church.
The contingent of folks strategizing to work for inclusion, protesting the decisions made and committing to the continued fight for justice has never been larger. The circle was drawn wider this year and even as we grieved, we found power in being together. Even as we did not always agree on strategy, we found space for grace and a collective spirit of resistance. Even as we left annual conference to go home, we found that we carried with us a momentum and a sense of shared commitment and community forged through many prayers, tears, and hugs.
There is much to grieve, but our faith tells us that the story does not end in grief but in resurrection hope. We see that hope right here in each of you—in this congregation of Silver Spring United Methodist Church.
We will continue to proclaim God’s all-inclusive love.
We will continue to welcome our LGBTQIA+ siblings and celebrate their sacred worth as children of God, made in God’s image.
We will continue to celebrate the gifts and graces of our queer siblings who lead in countless ways as both clergy and laity in this congregation.
We will continue to officiate weddings for loving couples without regard to gender identity or sexual orientation.
We will continue to work for systemic change in our denomination.
We will continue to be who God has called us to be.
And we will continue to need your help, your prayers, and your commitment as we persist in our work for full inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the United Methodist Church.