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Welcome to Great Plains UMCNext!

UMCNext envisions a reformed United Methodist Church that welcomes everyone into full participation in the life and ministries of the church, addresses the systemic issues of the current institution, relentlessly focuses on making disciples of Jesus Christ, and equips our members to live as salt and light in the world. Reclaiming the spiritual zeal and creativity of our Wesleyan heritage, with its union of both the evangelical and social gospel, UMCNext empowers United Methodists to move into the future with new vision, missional alignment, and self-determination.
Highlights of our November Issue:
  • Our Stories: Wesley KU student shares why inclusion matters; Topeka woman shares "Tarnished Silence: A Story of Betrayed Obedience and the Spiritual Growth that Comes with Being You"
  • Resistance: Letter Writing Campaign; Mosaic Invitation; Ash Wednesday Repent & Resist
  • Resources: Website Launch; Anticipate Charges?; LGBTQ+ Missional Leaders Grant
  • UMC Polity Q & A: What about a US Regional Conference?
  • Across the Connection: Rev. Anna Blaedel "Just Resolution;" UMCNext; Mainstream UMC
Each and every day United Methodists in Kansas and Nebraska are living out the commitments of UMCNext. We are honored to share the stories of LGBTQ+ people and allies. If you have a story to share about your own experience and context to share with GP UMCNext supporters, let us know!
Wesley KU Student Shares Why Inclusive Campus Ministry Matters
This is a reflection from KU student, Kailie Hamilton. Kailie grew up in Hesston (KS) UMC and was a part of CCYM. You can learn more about Wesley KU and all of their incredible ministries like Queer Faith, Noodle Night, the Food Pantry, and worship by visiting their website or contact campus minister, Susan Mercer.
Attending a university is generally going to be difficult for students, no matter the level or topic of study. There is an endless amount of time-fillers; managing the price of higher education, writing papers and studying for exams, and attending to friendships that are just beginning to bloom leaves little unoccupied mental space.

For many students, faith is an important part of their lives that they don’t want to drop to make room for everything else. But when they try to attend a worship service, they hear messages that go against essential parts of their being or belief system. With all of the other weight students carry on their day-to-day, it is crucial that our place of worship accepts who we are as we struggle with our identities on top of being a student.

At the University of Kansas, there are four fully inclusive campus ministries. Wesley KU, the United Methodist ministry, is one of the inclusive ministries on campus. We operate with the Lutheran ministry under the name “Westwood House.” Our ministry is focused around the core message of “God loves you, no exceptions.”
Physically, Westwood house is decked in rainbows, equality signs, and is promoted with language that is inclusive in terms of sexuality, gender, and race. But inclusivity goes beyond that, it is found within the way students are fed before they are preached at. Our leaders encourage personal faith exploration by generating difficult questions, and our worship services are centered around group discussions that give room for students to tangle with these mysteries of faith. The goal of our church is to foster community that is available for everyone, and in doing so countless students have found a home where they feel completely valued and loved.

Romy is a student who got involved in Westwood House last spring and has been an active leader in the ministry since. I asked Romy “Why Westwood?” and this was his response:
 
“Having someone to spiritually connect with was something I had given up on based off of the rejection from my first experience with campus ministry at KU. Attending Westwood House gave me faith in the possibility of there being a place for me within the church as a queer person. After I met Susan [Wesley KU’s campus minister] I knew I had found a home for my spiritual journey to continue.”

The call we see as students of faith is to love beyond scripture, beyond the walls of conventional Christianity. Young people don’t want flashy stage lights and hip music; we want to feel welcomed and cared for. Westwood House continues to pursue a church that sets the standards for pursuing justice; one that is constantly re-defining what it means to uphold the dignity of all people and things.

We call the Great Plains to join us as we redefine what it means to be a church for all.
Tarnished Silence: A Story of Betrayed Obedience and the Spiritual Growth that Comes with Being You
Caroline Morrison (she/her/hers) is a wife of 1 and parent of 4, soldier & combat veteran, and child of God since before she was born. Her call is to serve and bring the Love of God to the world… and that call hasn’t changed, even as she has. Caroline and her family attend Countryside UMC in Topeka.
Under Attack
When I first sat down to write my thoughts and feelings, I learned that they were simply too raw. Losing my candidacy was too recent.  All I was writing was a painful recount of everything the church had taken from me. I was falling back in to the victimhood mentality that is all too familiar to so many marginalized people when the subject of the Church is brought up.

I decided that I needed to give myself some time, so, it only seemed appropriate that the point in which I was ready to finally start writing was during Pride month, June 2019. So many of us have similar stories of how we were shunned or shut out of our church communities as soon as we reached our conversion moment, and we cast aside the idea of who we were told to be in favor of who God knows us to be. 

For me, that moment began in 2017. I was half way through my first year as a licensed local pastor in the Great Plains and my third year in ministry overall. I had been wrestling with how to respond to the call to authenticity that had been placed upon my heart. After a lot of prayer and discussion, my wife and I understood the only way to answer was to be me in the fullest sense of the idea. 

It was a life-altering time, and a time of theological explosion for me. I read scripture with an authentic lens and listened to God with a new understanding. I had been baptized in the Southern Baptist Convention a couple of times, but it wasn’t until I began to be me that I truly experienced the strange warming of my heart that John Wesley famously wrote about. I found conversion in finally being authentic.

So, feeling freshly empowered, my wife and I made an appointment to meet with our District Superintendent. On February 9th, 2017, I came out to her as a transgender woman over a wonderful lunch. The tone shifted slightly from a light fellowship to a surprised but affirming tone. I was asked by my Bishop to tell no one else until the end of the appointment year — not family, not friends, not my congregation — and an attempt would be made to find a new appointment for me. So, I agreed. 
In July of 2017, I found myself with no appointment and a lot of bitterness. I was open to the world and the Army, though that was the month of President Trump’s tweets announcing his ban of transgender soldiers in the U.S. military. So, even that was in question at the moment. 

It’s interesting the impact that relocating your family from their home, friends, schools, and support systems can have. I found myself unable to listen to sermons without hearing only hypocrites. I could not find God in the sanctuary or during worship. 

The punishment of the Church led my oldest daughter to reject the teaching and God. She now professes to be an atheist because she “cannot understand how God could allow the church to do that to us.” My wife has experienced the same disillusionment with the church as the whole. Perhaps more disappointing was the lack of care given to my family in all of this. We quickly discovered that often those in the collateral damage of the fallout are forgotten in the support. Spouses and children also lose pieces of their identities, and they lose the security of a stable income and respected position.

On top of the rejection of the Church, we dealt at that time with the rejection of the government I served for 17 years. Because of the agreement made with the Bishop, I was unable to tell the Army that I was transgender until May of that year. I sat my commander down, told him, and again found professional support. After coming out, I was denied the ability to help with worship services due to my chaplain’s denominational endorser. I also found some hesitancy among the chaplain corps to my service, however, unlike the Church, that was really all that I experienced when I came out to the Army. 
 
Since 2017 I have lost the following things as a transgender soldier in the Army:
  • Nothing
 
Since 2017 I have lost the following things as a transgender person in The UMC:
  • My appointment
  • My pastoral license
  • My ability to answer my call as a Methodist chaplain in the Army
  • My ability to answer my call to be a pastor in the local church
  • My ability to be a candidate for ordination
  • My status as a certified candidate for ordination
 
Not the End
My therapist once told me, “Caroline, you know the army isn’t your problem right? It’s the Church.” Friends warned me not to come out until I was ready to lose everything. They all understood that inauthenticity is a condition of employment within The United Methodist Church. Now I sit in disbelief, realizing that they were correct. 

However, losing my ministry and affiliation is not the end of the story. See, I learned that the prejudices of humanity cannot stop the call of God. Since losing my appointment, I have been involved with the United Methodist Queer Clergy Caucus. I was involved in promoting the Simple Plan. I have advocated for transgender inclusion in discussions about a way forward. I have written theologies and spoken to congregations. My ministry with transgender people who are trying to reconcile a hateful God they were taught about with a love for who they are has only just begun to gain traction. 

I also learned that individual congregations have resolved to be better. After losing our sending church, my family and I found a new home at Countryside UMC in Topeka. They were more than accepting: they were affirming. My call was affirmed, my life was affirmed, and in that setting, my family and I found a safe space to heal and grow and listen for new directions being drawn for our lives. It was from there that I watched the implosion of our denomination and the resultant resolve to resist and start something new.

Since writing this initially, Countryside has once again affirmed my call. The SPRC unanimously supported my petition to begin candidacy, and, the charge conference have overwhelmingly voiced their support of my candidacy in the Mountain Sky Conference and through that shown their stance on the call of everyone. They are a beacon and model of what Christian Inclusivity can look like...I just wish they were reflected more in the Great Plains.  

Sadly, I have watched progressives gain hope that they could regain the denomination. I watched as queer people were once again told to wait. I am personally done waiting. Since coming out, I have retained my status in the US Military, while losing my status in the United Methodist Church. I survived the Military’s Transgender ban, but, could not survive the United Methodist Book of Discipline without going through a rebellious jurisdiction first. What does it say about the state of our denomination that we are once again behind the military in regards to inclusion of LGBT+ people? What does it say that I have to answer my call to ministry through a long distance candidacy because my local conference was unwilling to be a supportive witness of what is just?

Throughout Pride Month in June 2019, I watched as our denomination patted itself on the back because it has finally done something. I do believe in separation to enable growth. I do believe that more needs to be done than just the election of delegates. And I do believe that we must not rest upon the relatively small progress made at annual conferences, and that we must begin to work on a contingency plan so that, no matter the outcome of the 2020 General Conference, we do not find ourselves again telling oppressed people to be patient. We can instead offer a future of hope and progress for all of the people called Methodist.
 
The Resistance Team is made up of a team of clergy and laity from Kansas and Nebraska. If you have questions about how to resist where you are or if you'd like to get involved, reach out!
Letter Writing Campaign
We ask you to write letters sharing your voice and respectfully disagreeing with the Bishop’s recent decision to follow through on all charges and complaints submitted to him.
 
On Monday November 11, Bishop Saenz issued a letter to the Great Plains conference regarding LGBTQ ordination, same-gender weddings, and the implementation of the Traditional Plan beginning January 1.  He wrote about the process of charges, complaints, and trials to provide clarity and information.  He does see the process of complaints and charges as divisive, having adverse impacts, and drawing us away from the mission.  Even so, he writes that he is bound by the discipline and will “respond to all complaints that are submitted” according to the church processes he vowed to follow in his consecration. 
 
We respect his episcopal authority.  We empathize with the difficulty of guiding and pastoring the entirety of the Great Plains, the whole divided, beautiful, painful, transformative, and tense bunch of us.  We also disagree with his decision to process complaints submitted around LGBTQ ordination and same-gender weddings.  He asks all sides to have patience.  He asks for folks to prayerfully consider before filing any charges and for folks to “wait with hope until after General Conference to celebrate same-gender marriages.” In twenty years, 5 months may feel like nothing.  But we know it won’t really be 5 months. Most GC 2020 legislation submitted involves another called GC in the following years. Which General Conference are our LGBTQ siblings supposed to wait for to get married in the church that baptized them?  Which General Conference is our LGBTQ siblings called into ministry supposed to wait for to have the permission to exist authentically?  To quote the Rev. Dr. King, who knew the pain of the word ‘wait,’ “we must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”
 
We ask you to write letters respectfully disagreeing with Bishop Saenz’s decision.  We believe the least harmful path and most fruitful use of time is not having trials and not receiving complaints centered on same-sex weddings and the sexual orientation of clergy. We have included a sample letter and writing guide for your use.  While making the ask, the most important thing you can do in this letter is tell your story.  Share your narrative.  Give the Bishop your voice to hold in his heart and mind.
 
Please send letters to the address below, postmarked by December 20.  The letters will be kept safe at that central hub and then hand delivered when the conference office opens after the start of the new year.
 
Letter Writing Campaign 
c/o Countryside UMC
3221 S.W. Burlingame Rd.
Topeka, KS 66611
Sample Letter & Guide
Invitation to Contribute to "You Are Set Free" Mosaic
This invitation comes through collaboration that is happening with Reconciling Church pastors in the South Central Jurisdiction. Our Great Plains contact for more information is Rev. Jill Sander-Chali of College Hill UMC in Wichita.
What is “You are Set Free”?
 
“You Are Set Free” is a multi-media project to bring to clarity that faces and stories of those that have been kept bent over by the UMC through its stance of incompatibility.  The word of Christ to us, as it was to the bent over woman in Luke 13, is “You are set free”.  Free from that language; free from that burden; free from that definition!  In your freedom, we are asking you to stand up tall in your identity as beloved children of God and tell the UMC: “We belong to God!  We belong in the church!  We are set free!”

A photo mosaic (like the example) is being created of the story of the bent over woman from Luke 13, using pictures of LGBTQIA+ and reconciling community members within the UMC.  The goal is to print an image large enough to be seen from any seat within the bar of any annual conference session.  The scale required to accomplish this means that upwards of 13,000 images are needed.  The photo mosaic will be created and assembled in Houston and is being designed to break down and travel.  The goal is to have it ready in time for GC 2020, after which it will travel to Houston for display at the Annual Conference of the Texas Annual Conference.  The piece will then be available to any church (conference/group) wishing to display it in support of full inclusion in the church.  We have requested it for Great Plains Annual Conference and are waiting to hear if that is a possibility.  However, 13,000 images is a massive number and we need your help!!
 
What We Need From You

The creation of this piece rests on the faces of those we are hoping to see within it.  We are asking you to send in a picture of yourself, a loved one, a friend. The goal is to gather the faces of those who have been affected by the harmful stance of the UMC and put them together so that all can see the beauty that is Christ’s church on earth.  Send in more than one!  Selfies, portraits, directory photos, holiday photos, vacation snapshots.  Show how you are living your free self.  If you like, there is also a place to tell your story.  You can write about your journey within your faith and the church.  Tell about the wedding you wanted, but didn’t get to have.  Tell about your joys and sorrows.  These stories will be gathered into a book that will travel with the piece.  Lastly, you are invited to send a donation of $1 per picture to help offset the cost of the project.  Don’t have a dollar?  That’s okay, send us your picture and story anyway.  Don’t want to share your story?  No problem, just send in a picture.  Have more than a dollar?  Fantastic!

Use this link to send a picture, donate a dollar (or more) and share your story. 

For those wondering:
Last names will not be used in the story book; only first names. Names of children will only be used if you give permission.  If you have foster children or children but you want to keep their faces anonymous, take a picture from the back and let us know in the comments so the artists can protect their identities.
 
Repent & Resist: Ash Wednesday 2020 - District Organizers Needed!
As Advent draws near, Great Plains Repent and Resist Ash Wednesday is looking to solidify leaders from each district who will be willing to help lead this important action in the new year! A District Organizer is someone who is willing to: 
  • Find a location for this act of repentance to happen on Ash Wednesday
  • Find individuals and churches to participate on Ash Wednesday
  • Host or find leaders to host the act of repentance
  • Be in touch with Rev. Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson as needs arise
District Organizers will receive a welcome packet at the end of November detailing how to get started on finding locations and welcoming people to sign up. In January, they will receive a resource packet with worship ideas, hourly themes for each hour of Repent and Resist and more information on hosting this powerful event. 
 
Check out our facebook page to find out more about leading in your district and contact Rev. Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson at ashleypbt@gmail.com to sign up. We'd love two organizers in every district and many of our districts are in need of one or more leaders!
GP Repent & Resist: Ash Wednesday 2020 Facebook Page
The Resource Team works to gather tools to extend the work of inclusion in our local churches. GP UMCNext is currently applying for a grant in hopes of offering some trainings and support in the GP!
Website Launch
It's here! Bear with us as it comes together, but Great Plains UMCNext has a website now. On it you will eventually find links to most of what we share in this newsletter. It will be a great tool for you to share with friends who want to learn more, and it will also hold the archives to each of our newsletters.

The Resource Team has compiled some tools and resources for you no matter where you are on this journey toward inclusion. There are books, videos, curriculum, and more. You'll find them broken down into categories whether you are clergy and laity and whether you are new to the work of inclusion, open and affirming but in a more conservative setting, or if you and your church are already inclusive and want to continue to grow. There are also links to other resources like Reconciling Ministries Network and MainstreamUMC who both have recently updated their resource list.

Special thanks to Rev. John Collins of Abilene First UMC (KS) for his facilitation of the website!
gpumcnext.com
Do You Anticipate Charges Brought Against You?
Complaints, charges, hearings, and trials are a risk with any acts of resistance in which we choose to participate. In our GP organizing time at Leadership Institute, we talked about being organized should that situation arise. If you anticipate officiating at a same-sex wedding or if you are queer clergy and anticipate coming out, we would love to be in conversation so that we can best support you in those decisions. You don't have to make those choices alone and having time to help resource you and organize to support you is helpful! If you would like conversation partners, contact Rev. David Livingston or Rev. Lora Andrews. We promise to hold your story in confidence.
The Great Plains conference has a grant open for “ministries that raise up LGBTQ+ persons as missional leaders in the Great Plains Annual Conference to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” They are actively awarding those grants! If you have received one, we would love to feature your story! Let us know what God is calling you to do. 
  • If you identify as LGBTQ+, think of a ministry you are interested in or passionate about, and use this money to finally pursue this ministry in some way - a new Bible study or small group idea, a new praise band or service, a fresh expression, a justice or mercy ministry for your particular city or town, a new evangelical tool, the possibilities are endless!
  • If you do not identify as LGBTQ+, be an advocate for a friend and help them pursue their gifts and passions for Christ’s work. “Provoke one another to love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24)
  • If you want to do something, but would like ideas or coaching on how you might utilize this grant, members of the Resource Team would love to help! Contact Julie Wilke, Rev. Christine Potter, or Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede
LGBTQ+ Missional Leaders Grant Application
Based on suggestions from our session at Leadership Institute, our team has started a new section to our newsletter to help explain the polity of the UMC. We have asked Rev. Amy Lippoldt to help answer these questions. 

Q: I’m hearing a lot about a proposed “U.S. Regional Conference.” If that passes at General Conference, won’t it let us change the Book of Discipline for our context and end the fight over LGBTQ inclusion in the United States?

A: No.

If only it were that simple! The Connectional Table has submitted legislation for the creation of a “U.S. Regional Conference.” It would meet following General Conference starting in 2024 and be a place to deal with legislation that only effects the U.S. (e.g. our pension plan). This “Regional Conference” would not replace or change Jurisdictions but be an additional layer of polity. It would also allow the U.S. delegates make contextual changes to the adaptable parts of the Book of Discipline. There is on-going work to clarify which parts of the Book of Discipline are Global and which are adaptable (see ¶101). That work will not be completed until 2024. But in current draft form the Global book of Discipline prohibits LGBTQ clergy as well as same-sex weddings in United Methodist Churches. Could that also change? Sure. But the global church seemed pretty clear in St Louis that is was not inclined to do so. This is not to say that a “U.S. Regional Conference” is a bad idea. But even it’s passing would not create a simple and clear pathway to full inclusion in the U.S.

Do you have a question for the UMC Polity Q&A? Send it to Rev. Amy Lippoldt.
 
Complaint against Rev. Anna Blaedel "resolved." - We lament for all the ways this injustice in Iowa has caused harm to Rev. Anna, their family, their students, queer clergy, and the connection. As Rev. Anna's counsel, Rev. Tyler, says,

"If I have one thing to say to the people of this church, it may be simply this: perhaps the most insidious harm is not outright bigotry—that’s obvious—but when people call themselves friends, while being willing to compromise our lives for the sake of “church unity.” And what has that gotten us? The promise of unity has only exacerbated division, destroying the church, as it has destroyed the lives of LGBTQIA+ beloveds. And still, we who are queer have something to teach the church. We know something of liberation on the other side of fear and trembling. We know how to celebrate life and love and tenderness and delight. We know how to make feasts out of crumbs. We know good news in our bodies, in our relationships, and in our living and loving beyond dehumanizing policies and practices. Follow our lead. We have good news for the church and world. This is messy, complicated stuff, and it matters so desperately that we get it right. Because bodies and lives and souls are at stake.”

UMCNext National - Here you will find the four commitments of UMCNext and links to what is happening in the larger connection. They also released a proposal outlining their hopes for the future of the church. They plan to add additional resources and opportunities for collective resistance.

Mainstream UMC - Mainstream UMC and its director, Rev. Mark Holland are located right here in the Great Plains. They recently called for a moratorium on trials and visited with Central Conference bishops.
Great Plains UMCNext Newsletter Archive
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