So much has happened since I last wrote to you! As you are aware by now, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church met in Charlotte, North Carolina April 23 – May 3 of this year. What a conference it was, my friends. I’ve not seen anything like it in my time in the UMC. First of all, the spirit that was moving in that conference was the Holy Spirit. The Spirit blew a fresh wind into all who were there, and it is continuing to blow into all of our churches.

Prior to the conference, it seemed there was a feeling of anxiety and uncertainty clouding our vision and purpose. The media has played a role in this by playing up the numbers of churches disaffiliating from the UMC. There was this pervasive notion among some, the best days of the UMC were over. The denomination was going to dwindle and die.

What happened at the General Conference was a Pentecost moment. God’s will and leading were evident in the cooprative and collegial attitude among the delegates. There was genuine concern to act in kindness and concern for those with differing ideologies and perspectives. Many of the most conservative who were in the UMC disaffiliated and forged a new path for themselves. All who are traditionalists and conservatives did not leave. The delegates worked hard to maintain a “big tent” perspective, allowing for differing theological stances. What was achieved is not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination. What was achieved, however, goes a long way toward breaking down barriers and instituting equity among all persons within the UMC.

Almost all of the legislation that made it to the floor, was voted on with majorities of 80-90%. This was very unusual. Maybe not so unusual when you factor in the movement of the Holy Spirit among us those days. When we read the Pentecost story in the Acts of the Apostles, we find an overwhelming and overflowing desire of all present to hear and be caught up in the Good News being promulgated. That wind was carrying those persons to new understandings and a new way to carry on into the future.

No less, the wind of the Holy Spirit blew into the Charlotte Convention Center and brought a fresh breath of what the future might hold. Those present caught on fire, and they have carried that fire to each of us. We have a bright future ahead of us, my friends. Barriers and restrictions have been broken down. We will be a welcoming and accepting church for all persons. Writing in Galatians 3:29 Paul says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Today, my friends, we are living into what Paul has said. We are drawing no distinction nor boundary around who is in and who is out. ALL are welcomed into the fellowship of believers.

Some might say it was a victory for the LGBTQ+ community. I would take exception with that. It is a victory for all who know Jesus, and know Jesus stood on the side of those who were oppressed, who were marginalized, who were abused, who were deemed unacceptable. Jesus taught us to “draw the circle wide,” so that all are included and no one is excluded. In John 8:36 Jesus tells us, “So if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.” Jesus has indeed set us all free to love with no exception, to give freely of our love and acceptance of all God’s children.

I’m praying for this wind and fire to continue to blow into our hearts and minds, transforming us into the beloved community Jesus envisioned for us. A beloved community will not draw distinctions. A beloved community will not erect barriers. A beloved community will not hate. A beloved community will love and care for all, and work to bind all hearts together in a common purpose. That purpose is to spread love, mercy, forgiveness and grace. A beloved community will know they all were saved by grace and love, and now their duty is to reach out to others in grace and love.

Oh happy day, when Jesus washed my sins of exclusion, oppression, degradation, and all other ways I have allowed others to be marginalized away. “Oh happy day, he taught me how to watch, fight and pray, fight and pray and live rejoicing every, everyday!”

Your companion on the Way,

Pastor Tom

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