The 2019 Special Session of the General Conference further restricted the rights of LGBTQIA clergy and the rights of churches or pastors to host or perform same-sex marriages. The approval of the Traditional Plan deepened the divide within the United Methodist Church and stirred churches to respond.
Following General Conference, the Linworth UMC Administrative Council approved an outreach effort that would pursue how Linworth could be more welcoming to all people, specifically the LGBTQIA community. The council approved a digital sign display that welcomes all and approved a committee led by Lay Leader John Stephen that would seek to explore ways to continue this effort.
As the pastors considered this recommendation from the lay leadership and spoke with leadership around our district, a pathway emerged to explore becoming a reconciling church. Within the United Methodist Church, the Reconciling Ministries Network is the preeminent group that seeks equality and justice for LGBTQIA individuals. Becoming a reconciling church would position Linworth as an inclusive community in a very public and intentional way and would unite Linworth with many other central Ohio UM churches who are reconciling congregations. Across the United States, there are over 900 reconciling churches within the denomination.
How to Become a Reconciling Church
Becoming a reconciling congregation calls the church to go on a journey together to consider the total impact of what reconciling status means for the local church. Becoming a reconciling congregation consists of three steps – 1) Crafting an inclusivity statement that “explicitly welcomes lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons, 2) Adopting the statement as a church, 3) A $500 annual donation to RMN for advocacy work across the denomination.
There is no one blueprint or timeline for following this process. It may take churches several weeks, months, or even years to come to a place where the church decides to become a reconciling congregation.
The Process at Linworth – Thorough & Transparent
As Linworth considers becoming a reconciling congregation, the process needs to be thorough and transparent. What follows is a step-by-step outline for the church to follow through this process of exploring reconciling status. These steps will consistently be communicated in newsletters, social media, on our church website, and on Sunday mornings so that the entire congregation is given the opportunity to participate in the process.
Lay Committee (March-April) – A lay committee on reconciling exploration shall be established to represent the church and work with the pastors to lead this effort. This team should meet regularly and guide the exploration process through their support of events and group meetings and by openly communicating with members about the exploration process.
Survey (Early April) – A broad survey that captures the congregation’s open-ended thoughts on diversity and inclusion both at Linworth and within the United Methodist Church. This survey will accomplish two things – 1) show where the church is at on these issues as a baseline and 2) provide an opportunity for each member to have their voice heard.
Open Forums (April-May) – At least 1-3 open forums should be scheduled to continue to provide church members space to process General Conference and next steps for Linworth.
Small Group Meetings – Throughout the process, existing Linworth UMC small groups should be encouraged to explore the topic of reconciling ministries with one of the pastors to further engage in meaningful and open dialogue.
Sermon Series (Summer) – A summer sermon series should focus on the subject of diversity and inclusion to provide a Biblical and cultural context that compliments the exploratory process and provides Scriptural insight on the topics of diversity and inclusion.
Letter Writing (Summer) – The pastors and lay committee will craft the inclusivity statement that will possibly be voted upon at a charge/church conference. Upon its crafting, the letter will be sent to Reconciling Ministries Network for approval.
Site Visits – Visits by the lay committee and pastors to local reconciling congregations can provide further context for the process and for the impact on the church community.
Discipleship Groups (Summer/Fall) – At least one of our short-term discipleship series will be focused on the reconciling process. The content of such series will be decided upon by the Youth + Discipleship Pastor and led by members of the lay committee. At least one discipleship group should be focused on the Scriptural interpretations of this issue.
Guest Events – Throughout the process, at least 2-4 events should be scheduled featuring guests from reconciling churches. These could include pastors and lay members who can explain what it means to be a reconciling church from their perspective. At least one guest should speak to Administrative Council and at least one should be open to the congregation.
Church Conference (Late 2019 or Early 2020) – If after this process Linworth is in a position to move forward as a reconciling congregation, a vote will be taken at a charge or church conference to adopt the inclusivity statement and establish Linworth as a reconciling congregation. A $500 donation to Reconciling Ministries Network will be included in the LUMC budget annually beginning in 2020. This will be the final step to becoming a reconciling church.
By following the outlined steps, Linworth will efficiently and effectively study becoming a reconciling congregation. The final church conference step should only be called if the pastors and lay leaders feel as though Linworth is fully ready to become a reconciling church after the exploration process has been completed so as to not emulate the divide that is currently present within our global denomination. This process will allow for enough time to pass after the General Conference decision to ensure that it is Linworth stepping into a new vision and identity instead of making a reactionary decision to General Conference. Given this decision is something that can impact the church for generations to come, this process must be done prayerfully and with careful discernment.