Open hearts, open minds, open doors. So says the United Methodist Church. And then, seemingly, it shuts all three. On Tuesday, February 26, the global body of the second largest denomination in the United States voted to adopt a plan that restricts participation of LGBQI people in the life of the church. I say seemingly because there are plenty of us Methodists who remain as committed to inclusion, love and openness today as we were yesterday. I say this because there are very specific reasons to be hopeful. I say this because the rule book of the denomination is not more important than the teachings of Jesus or of our founder John Wesley, and neither of them would condone the moves toward schism that played out in St. Louis and before the world yesterday.
The vote taken yesterday to exclude our LGBTQI siblings from the life of the church may seem final. It is not. By church law, much of it is unconstitutional and will not stand. It is a terrible blow, but not a killing shot. For argument’s sake, let me lay out the worst-case scenario: the church splits. Those of us who seek inclusive justice are forced to find a new way to organize ourselves. We lose some of our material wealth. At the same time, if we do not panic, we gain a clear and cohesive voice bent toward love. We gain an opportunity to refocus on truly living as Wesley suggested, focused on doing the work of justice, which is love shown at the systemic level. We will be able to do that work without distraction or structural limitation. We have an opportunity to let go of ideologies, past habits, financial constraints, all of which may have been holding us back. We can, in short, be what church is actually supposed to be: a place of love and inclusion, healing and vision. Pretty awesome, right? This is not a future to fear!
Here in New Paltz and in the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, we have made and will maintain a commitment to inclusion and justice. That will not change. We will continue the work and the witness. We are not going anywhere. The church on the corner of Main and Grove streets will continue to be the place of love it has always been. On Fridays, our hall will continue to fill up with a wonderful cross section of people — old and young, rich and poor, Black and white, gay and straight. The conversation will be just as animated, interesting and filled with love. The soup will still be delicious. Our mitten tree will still warm heads and hands with wool woven into love. We will continue to restore community and heal the environment through Repair Café. We will still offer the Carleton Mabee lectures, highlighting the unique role our community has played in struggles for justice. We will continue to be committed to the work of the Reuse Center and ensuring that no food in New Paltz goes to waste. We will continue to fly our rainbow flag and be a space where everyone is welcome, no exceptions.
There will be struggles, uncertainty, and pain in the days ahead. We will need to grapple honestly with issues of bias, bigotry, colonialism and racism — for we know that no injustice exists in isolation. We know that truth, even painful truth, sets us free. We know that freedom is joy, and we will not rest until joy is there for each and every one of us. Our doors are wide, wide open. Come on in.
Rev. Jennifer Berry
New Paltz United Methodist Church