Dear Friends in Faith,
My heart is aching over the decision this week by our General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The top legislative body of the UMC met on the subject of human sexuality and inclusion. This world-wide gathering of delegates adopted what was labeled “The Traditional Plan” –an even more restrictive set of rules than we currently have that was designed to prevent churches, clergy and annual conferences from full inclusion of people who identify as LGBTQIA. The plan is a step backward for the church because it includes more punitive provisions for violations of our Book of Discipline. It sends a message that is antithetical to the welcoming love of Jesus Christ for all persons. I have received many calls and emails from members of our church who are angry, disillusioned and considering leaving Paradise Valley United Methodist Church. I will confess that all of those thoughts and emotions have run through my mind as well.
But I want you to know this truth: our commitment to be a church of inclusion is unchanged. Our call to share the abundant love of God is now more urgent than ever. The Invitational Statement we share on our Welcome page at pvumc.org/welcome/ tells our desire to be a church that does not push anyone away but graciously opens wide our doors. This is our invitation to the world:
We invite you to join us on a shared journey of life and faith, open to all, regardless of age, ability, economics, color, race, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, politics, theology or anything else that might separate us from each other. Whoever you are and wherever you may be on your spiritual journey, you’re invited to walk with Christ in community with all of God’s children, and embrace the endless possibilities of God’s unconditional love. (Adopted by Church Council 2/18/17)
Together, we are God’s love in action. It is our past, present, and future. It’s what defines us as a church. In a culture where it is easy to be divisive and judgmental, we are united in a love that crosses all barriers and embraces all people.
Our world continues to do damage to human life by creating barriers of exclusion and by offering judgment instead of grace. I know in my heart that God is calling us to be a witness to the broad and transforming love of Christ. Whatever your reaction to this news about the UMC, we are all called to love one another, to be the face of Christ for one another. God has asked us at PVUMC to show the community how we can be a diverse church, loving one another in our differences, claiming and sharing the power of faith that allows every one of us to grow more and more in the likeness of Christ.
If you are discouraged and considering giving up on the church, I understand but ask you not to leave yet. There is much to sort out. There are many elements of this “Traditional Plan” that are being reviewed by the UMC’s Judicial Council to determine their legality. This will take some time. People have asked me if the church will now divide and split. I do not have an answer to that question but I do know that at PVUMC we are called by God to faithfully continue our mission and ministry to each other and God’s world. Now more than ever, we need you to help us share God’s grace, to speak to places of harm and injustice in our world, to help all who enter our church become disciples of Jesus Christ.
Finally, I would say there is much work to be done. You probably have many questions on the future of the church. We will know more in the weeks ahead and promise to share that information with you. In the meantime, continue to pray for the United Methodist Church and pray for our congregation and ministry at PVUMC. Be a witness of God’s love that responds with compassion to hurting people. Continue to live the way of Jesus.
On Saturday, March 2, you are welcome to join the Called Together By Grace gathering at St. Matthew UMC, 2540 Baseline Rd, Mesa, AZ, from 10 am to noon. This meeting will include a video feed and conversation with Bishop Bob Hoshibata on what happened at General Conference and our next steps. You’re also invited to watch this video created by the Western Jurisdiction, to which our church and the Desert Southwest Conference belong:
Please join us in worship on Sunday, March 3 as we finish our worship series on the Book of Job called Broken. God helps us to overcome suffering in the world and in our lives. Oh, how we need this now! Please know I hold all of you in my heart.
Here is a prayer I ask you to pray with me and the whole church:
Move through our church with your Holy Spirit so we can be healed, strengthened and sustained in the days ahead. Help us all to value one another and trust in your caring ways. Grow a hope in us that is grounded in the life-giving love of Jesus Christ. Where the future seems uncertain, help us to walk by faith, not by sight. As you have worked in our past and present ministries, O God, invite us into your future that we may become the church you want us to be. In the gracious name of Jesus, Amen.
Pastor Dave Summers
If you are hurt and frustrated by the actions of General Conference, please email me or one of the other pastors. We want to be in dialogue with you and offer a way for you to voice your concerns and questions. We are here for you.