Beloved, September 20, 2019
Ten years ago, we at HopeGateWay made the decision to become a Reconciling Congregation, and ever since, we have been faithfully striving to embody this vision as a faith community where people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions are celebrated and affirmed. We have long hoped that our denomination, The United Methodist Church, would eventually acknowledge that the discriminatory language in the Book of Discipline is antithetical to Christian teachings and change its official stance to one which upholds the dignity and sacred worth of each person.
Unfortunately, rather than move toward acceptance, the United Methodist Church has intensified its efforts to discriminate against LGBTQIA+ clergy and laity.
As you are probably aware, United Methodists held a Special Session of General Conference in February 2019 to address the status of LGBTQIA+ persons in the church. In the end, the United Methodist Church voted to not only uphold their prejudicial position but to tighten restrictions and increase penalties against those who refused to live out these harmful policies.
For several months, I have been working with a small group of United Methodists in New England who are exploring possibilities for churches who feel they cannot abide by our denomination's prohibitions and punishments aimed at LGBTQ people. We have been working to create a discernment curriculum to prepare congregations to make a decision about whether they will remain part of the United Methodist Church, or whether they feel called by God to disaffiliate from our denomination. The curriculum is being designed to inform everyone about the implications of the decisions made at General Conference, to discuss the actions that have been taking place around the country in response, to examine our own congregation's commitment to LGBTQIA+ equality, to learn how disaffiliation could be accomplished and how it would impact our ministry together, and to explore possibilities for a new expression of Methodism. At the end of our discernment process, we would decide what, if any, action to take.
Since no one knows what will unfold at General Conference 2020, or elsewhere in the UMC, we feel it is important to keep our options open by beginning this process now. The HopeGateWay Leadership Team voted in September to embark on this journey of discernment.
It is important to note that deciding to begin this discernment process is NOT a decision to leave the United Methodist Church. Rather, it is a decision to commit ourselves to a deliberate learning process, in collaboration with other congregations. It will be a time of focused and prayerful reflection designed to discern the best path forward for each individual congregation.
I notified Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar, spiritual leader of the New England Conference, of our intention to enter into this discernment process alongside many other UM Churches, on Thursday, September 26, 2019. This date was chosen because of its historical significance for New England Methodists: It is the day 232 years ago when the Methodist movement came to New England — the day the Rev. Jesse Lee, an early Methodist circuit rider, held the first Methodist Class Meeting in New England.
Please join us for our a series of eight learning and listening sessions — watch for dates and details. This is an important season of questions, of discernment, of uncertainty and hope, and we trust that God is with us, guiding our discernment and leading us forward in faith.
Grace and Peace,
HopeGateWay is one of 9 churches in New England to start this discernment process. To learn more please read this Press Release
Dates of our Discernment Process Meetings + Links to Recordings:
- Session 1. October 27, 2019 – Understanding the polity and structure of the United Methodist Church
- Session 2. November 24, 2019 – The Methodist Movement
- Session 3. December 29, 2019 – An Intersectional Analysis of Oppression and Liberation within our Church and World (We watched this video about "An Intersectional Analysis of Oppression and Liberation within our Church and World. It is a sermon by Jay Williams from the New England Annual Conference 2019. We started watching at 30:23: video)
- Session 4. January 26, 2020 – The Role of Clergy
- Session 5. February 23, 2020 – (recording - lots of sharing from many voices; our last in-person gathering): Reporting from Conference Groups (including Annual Conference Trustees, Board of Congregational and Community Development, Treasurer, and Chancellor)
- Session 6. March 29, 2020 – Financial obligations and options (recording - at 30:00 the conversation moves from logistics to feelings and desires for HGW's path forward)
- Session 7. April 26, 2020 – Community Partnerships (recording)
- Session 8. May 24, 2020 – General Conference (recording)