Oklahoma Methodists seek to promote unity, love after LGBTQ ban upheld
To some people, the results of a recent international Methodist gathering may have been disheartening.
To other individuals, they might have been welcome.
Several United Methodist pastors across the metro area expected to face a mixture of both groups on Sunday — a few days after Methodist delegates gathered in St. Louis and rejected same-gender marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian clergy.
The vote against full inclusion of gay people must be reviewed by the denomination's Judicial Council in April to determine its constitutionality according to church law.
In the meantime, Methodist preachers said they hope to share words of unity and comfort with their flock. Most sent words of encouragement via e-letters, videos and social media the day after the General Conference session ended on Tuesday.
"My Facebook page has exploded with family and friends and some of my colleagues talking about this," said the Rev. Jeremy Bassett, senior pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church, 1401 NW 25.
"There are those who are celebrating the results of this week. There are those who are mourning what happened this week and there are people who expect to go to church as if nothing happened between last Sunday and this Sunday. My task is to love and welcome and include everyone."
Other metro-area ministers shared similar comments.
The Rev. Bob Long, senior pastor of St. Luke's United Methodist, sent a letter via email to members of his prominent Oklahoma City church, which includes a main campus at 222 NW 15 and an Edmond satellite near Interstate 35 and Covell Road. He said he wanted to ensure his congregation that St. Luke's would be OK despite the decision made by delegates at the recent meeting.
"We are going to continue to be St. Luke's regardless of what the General Conference may say or do. Our church is open and respects all people, respects all races and sexual orientations. We always have and we always will," Long said.
As a delegate at the St. Louis gathering, Long said he had hoped a proposal called the One Church plan would be approved because it would have given Methodist churches and clergy more latitude to decide for themselves how they wished to act on the matter of inclusion for gay and lesbian individuals. He said many Methodist delegates living outside the U.S. saw the issue much differently than many American delegates.
"That plan would have allowed traditionalists and progressives to live out their convictions and ministry settings according to their context. The mission field in Africa is very different from the one in California," he said. "I know faithful Christians in both places who are working hard to share God's love. That's what we have done and that's what we will continue to do."
This difference in theology based on geography will be noted by Jennie Himes, senior pastor of Norman's St. Stephen's United Methodist, part of the Reconciling Ministries Network of churches working for full inclusion of gays and lesbians in the Church. St. Stephen's has an outreach program aimed at connecting with the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, which includes serving as a meeting place for Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, PGLAG and Norman Youth Safe Haven.
Himes said she plans to tell her congregation that the majority of delegates representing U.S. churches were opposed to the action taken at General Conference.
"Those who spoke in opposition to the plan that prevailed in the end were articulate, compassionate, dedicated people — some of our strongest leaders," she said. "I am happy to have such people standing with us on the side of love."
Like Bassett, the Rev. Trina Bose North, senior pastor of Crown Heights United Methodist Church, 1021 NW 37, acknowledged that there were probably people in the pews at her church on both sides of the issue.
However, she said overall her church is welcoming to everyone who walks through the door.
"There is a portion of my church that struggles with the Bible and how we interpret it. What I want to say is what we just did as a Church went beyond simple interpretations. We just picked on one group to discriminate against. What we did is just harmful to one group," she said.
North said she will preach on Sunday about finding a vision of Christ.
"As a local church, I want to push us to find the living Christ at Crown Heights United Methodist Church. The larger Church does not define our vision. We get to pick our vision of Jesus and of who we are," she said.
The Rev. Lesly Broadbent, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church of Oklahoma City, 131 NW 4, said he expects people to show up at church Sunday who are experiencing hurt, pain and despair who are on all sides of the issue.
"I think part of my job will be providing pastoral care and sharing God's love with them," Broadbent said.
"Every United Methodist church is diverse and we all have either family members or friends who are in the LGBTQ community. We're called to love them and meet them where they are and our hearts are breaking with them."