We recently asked some clergy in our conference, “How are you living and leading during this uncertain time in The United Methodist Church?” Their responses were beautiful and thoughtful. All of them provide helpful wisdom for being church at such a time as this. Half of the responses are being shared this week, and the other half will be shared next week. How are you living and leading during this time? Email firstname.lastname@example.org so we can feature your wisdom in a future article or newsletter.
Rev. Brenda North, Detroit Lakes UMC:
“As a leader, I am focusing on these five things:
1. Take care of me so I can effectively lead.
2. Draw close with God's own tender care to the congregation, especially those who are hurting and especially to those who disagree with church leadership on the topic of human sexuality.
3. State, restate, and repeat our identity as a congregation—and keep lifting up the beautiful ministry that is taking place every single day through the members and friends of this congregation.
4. Talk about human sexuality and Biblical authority.
5. Empower others to do the same.
I have also been reminded that it is okay to be vulnerable and transparent with our spiritually mature church leaders, and to receive the occasional and precious gift of allowing those we minister with to minister to us. Shortly after the Judicial Council ruling, a fresh wave of grief had settled over me. When I admitted in a private conversation to the vice chair of our Church Council that my heart is heavy, she looked at me with a light in her eyes and said, “But don't you think God is doing this? This is God’s spirit waking up the church saying, ‘Show my grace—live my limitless grace.’” I know she is right. God is at work bringing new life and new opportunities for the church to bear true witness to God's grace and truth.”
Rev. Kevin Schill, Good Samaritan UMC (Edina):
“The morning after General Conference ended, I got a call from a neighbor of the church who is gay. He said he felt like we should take down the rainbow flag outside of our church, that we didn’t have the right to have it there. We had a very long, very good conversation that ended in a positive place. But that phone call prompted us to say: “We can’t allow someone else to tell Good Samaritan’s story to our community.” We set up a communications task group. We hosted open forums to inform the congregation about what happened and be as transparent as possible. We put up signage in the church that reinforces the congregation’s commitment to inclusion. We took out a couple of half-page ads in our community newspaper to say that the actions of General Conference are hurtful and harmful, and we stand against them. We’ve been a reconciling congregation since 1995, but we’ve spent time talking recently about what that means and we how can continue to live even more fully into being an inclusive church—not only for the LGBTQ community but even more broadly—as we wait to see what’s next.”
Rev. Josh Doughty, Cornerstone UMC (Marshall):
“My calling hasn’t changed, even amidst these trying times. What continues to sustain me during these past weeks and days is simply remembering my most basic call, which is to love and serve God and to reach those who don’t yet know Him in the spirit of grace, truth, and love. Everything else is secondary. I am encouraged knowing that, despite what happens within our denomination, as painful and confusing as things have become, God’s call on my life can always be lived out in whatever setting I may find myself in.”
Rev. Shawna Horn, Fairmount Avenue UMC (St. Paul):
“As a woman, I was ordained in a denomination that did not easily ordain women. I have fought the fight of inclusion in the church and will continue to do so until the vision of God is realized. In this liminal space, I trust that the founding of my call still holds true. At the core of my work are two things: Love the people and preach the gospel. This was the advice given to me at my ordination. It has been the core of my ministry and calling. As I have considered what it means to “love the people,” I am reminded that this is a call to love all the people. Love the people who are questioning their faith in the midst of turmoil in our denomination. Love the people who are ready to leave the church they love because of its discriminatory policies. Love the people who have been hurt and harmed because of these policies. Love the people with whom I disagree. Love the people who are apathetic about our denominational drama. Start with love, like God loves. Love all people, wherever they may be in their spiritual journey, and love them like Jesus would love them—including myself. And then teach others how to love the people. The second part of my call is to preach the gospel…the good news of resurrection, a new way of living, a persistence of the very breath-of-God-inspired-life that is in all parts of creation. Preaching the gospel is the work of inviting and proclaiming God’s vision for the world—a vision of wholeness and healing for all of it. This is where we both meet God and share God. It is the continuation of Jesus’ work. In this season where it has been, at times, hard to love, in this season where I have wanted to throw up my hands to the heavens and ask Jesus to just “fix it,” I must continually center myself on my call. God’s vision is not yet realized. The work continues. On every front. From within the church and outside of the church. As a follower of Jesus, the one who danced between inside and outside the institution, I will continue to do the work of Jesus, to see God’s vision for the world realized. I will love the people and preach the gospel until the work is done.”
Rev. Ralph Holbrook, Main Street Church (North Branch):
“In our congregation, we are continuing to maintain our focus on the main things—why we do what we do, and what we do. The why: We are a people called to love God and love our neighbor. The what: We are called to share the good news of Jesus Christ with one person at a time, one family at a time. Beyond that, we trust God will lead his church into the future.”
Rev. Dianne Ciesluk, Little Prairie UMC (Dundas):
“Since General Conference, I am doing two things at Little Prairie UMC. I'm unpacking a sermon series on Mike Slaughter's book “Change the World: Recovering the Mission and Message of Jesus,” particularly emphasizing that we are to be an active verb body of Jesus and not a passive noun church. I'm also leading a book study in David Field’s book, “Our Purpose is Love: The Wesleyan Way to be the Church.” Both have been especially good to help bring awareness to being church.”
Rev. Laurie Kantonen, Hubbard UMC:
“The two things I am specifically trying to do during this time are to listen to what my congregation is saying and to lift up our values that we hold in common any way I can—reaffirm that we are going to welcome all people, encourage all people to live into their gifts and callings and passions. I have had many conversations with people since GC2019, collectively and individually. We also are, and will continue to, actively work to advance our mission and vision.”
Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church