In the past two months, I have been able to travel to Kansas City, Missouri and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on two trips – both related to my vocation as a pastor, but each very different in its focus.
In September, I joined with 35 other folks from the East Ohio Conference, many of them clergy, to attend the Leadership Institute at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection. COR is the largest church in the denomination with approximately 20,000 members. Their lead pastor, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, is the author of many books and studies, including FAITHFUL: CHRISTMAS THROUGH THE EYES OF JOSEPH, which will be our Advent study this year. The Leadership Institute is an annual conference for church leaders held at COR.
This year, given the current crisis over human sexuality in the United Methodist Church, the conference was limited to 2400 United Methodists, with a maximum of two from any congregation. The conference, entitled “Bright Hope for Tomorrow: The Future of the United Methodist Church”, centered on the history and the future of the church. We heard talks about the history of racial relations, of the status and role of women in the church. We watched videos showing parents of children who had died by suicide due to their understanding of the church’s stance on LGBTQIA persons. We discussed the proposals coming to General Conference 2020, and then we met in annual conference groups to talk about what to do next.
I left the conference heartened by what I heard. I am encouraged by the number of folks in our conference who are as opposed to the Traditional Plan, which places severe punishments on LGBT+ clergy and those who perform LGBT+ weddings. It was a difficult week, as I saw many examples of the harm that the church has done to minorities and to women. But I also saw a church that is committed to moving forward into the future, a future where all means all.
In mid-October, I spent a week in Pittsburgh at the St. Paul of the Cross Retreat Center with my Order of St. Luke family. To many of us, the retreat center, and this annual gathering, are home. We planned and discussed the work of the Order, including worship books, psalmody, three periodicals, liturgical practice, and sacramental living. We worshipped together, in six services, or “offices” a day, from Morning Prayer to Compline (night prayer), and shared in the Eucharist (holy communion) each day. On this retreat, our focus was on the practice of iconography. Two artists joined us to explain their craft, and then we spent ½ day writing our own icon. We also took an afternoon trip to the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, where we met with a rabbi and then spent time at the Tree of Life synagogue where 11 persons were killed on October 27, 2018, during Shabbat services. We prayed portions of the Transitus prayer (for those who have died) and sang Dona Nobis Pacem in a beautiful round as we stood in front of the building. Two weeks, both “religious” in nature, but very different in content and style. Two weeks, helping me to remember why I do the work I do, and encouraging me on my journey.
Two weeks, and I am excited to share with you all I have learned in the months ahead, as we journey together and remember to Fear Not Pastor Dianne