This year I am a Jurisdictional Organizer for Reconciling Ministry Network, the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and Affirmation's coalitional campaign Love Your Neighbor (to read about last year's campaign, I have a reflection here). I organize United Methodists in the Greater New Jersey and Upper New York (RMN and MFSA sites) Annual Conferences for a more inclusive, more loving church. Our strategy to transform the church is through building relationships, which we do through stories. This is one of my public narratives (you can read another one here) that answers the question of why I am a Reconciling United Methodist and why I am committed to change the church.
My parents always taught me welcome and acceptance as the way Jesus was calling us to treat everyone. We weren't perfect of course, but I'm sure many of us learned about Jesus' love for even our enemies in Sunday school. Jesus is that guy who loves you no matter what you do. Except the church often acts the opposite of that. Though I love my home church, I still do not feel that I can always be authentic there in worship, sometimes because of the expectations placed on me as a preacher's kid and sometimes because churches are often just such judgmental places. Especially after I started college I heard over and over about how many people liked Jesus but just feared the church, perceiving it as this place where too many people are phony. I didn't know why I kept going back to church--- it felt dead. It was not a place where I saw the body of Christ at work.
I began to go to a church in Washington D.C. where I found a community that embraced Jesus' call to love everyone, to welcome everyone. It was a Reconciling United Methodist Church, so every Sunday people of all sexual orientations and gender identities were expressly welcomed, but more than that I felt welcomed because of the community prayer in worship. This was a place where anyone could lift up personal prayer concerns and joys in the same moment one could plead for prayers for far away war-torn countries. It was a church where people could open up their hearts and use their hands and feet to do the work of Christ in the world.
An ordained elder attending the church who was working at a faith-based, non-profit invited me to Student Forum's MOSAIC service, which in that year was held in DC. MOSAIC is the young adult extension ministry of Reconciling Ministries Network working for a fully inclusive church for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. It was there that I could no longer deny God's call on my life.
The lights were dim, the chapel small but filled with warm bodies swaying slightly to the music from the guitars. And my friend walked up to the altar where communion lay and she took the bread and broke it. It was rainbow challah bread. And at that moment I felt like I belonged, I felt that this was home. It was a feeling of completeness that I wish for everyone. And it is a feeling that is not accessible to everyone in the church. The woman who broke the bread that night is a lesbian. She has a wife and a beautiful baby boy. And yet the church polity tells us that she is incompatible with Christian teaching.
The Christian teaching I know in that moment of communion is that Christ's body was broken for me and for my friend. And as United Methodists, our open communion table reminds us of that. I worked at a church in Delta, PA, where an artist in the congregation drew a picture one Sunday of Jesus in which Jesus' body consisted of the faces of each person present in church that day. It is a picture that shows us that we are all the body of Christ, as we learn in communion. Yet our Church's exclusionary policies are erasing faces from the picture of Christ's body, choosing who and who is not worthy to live out God's call on their lives.
As a church we need to make a choice. And this isn't just a choice that will be made though polity changes we hope for in 2012. No, this is a choice that each of our churches makes every day. Are we going to be churches that live as the Body of Christ in all it's colorful splendor? Or are we going to continue to erase faces from that body?