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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 special Post-Leadership Institute September 2019 Issue:
  • Our Stories: National Coming Out Day; Topeka First UMC members form "Moving Ahead"
  • Resistance: First Rural Reconciling Congregation in GP; Ash Wednesday Repent & Resist
  • Resources: Faithful and Inclusive Study; Anticipate Charges?; LGBTQ+ Missional Leaders Grant
  • UMC Polity Q & A: What happens when someone files charges against a clergy person?
  • Across the Connection: UMCNext; Mainstream UMC
Each and every day United Methodists in Kansas and Nebraska are living out the commitments of UMCNext. If you have a story to share about your own context to share with GP UMCNext supporters, let us know!
Churches Celebrate National Coming Out Day
GP UMCNext invited Great Plains Churches to recognize National Coming Out Day in worship or in church communications last week. Here are some of the stories of how churches in Kansas and Nebraska celebrated.
Omaha Area Churches
In celebration of National Coming Out Day, Hanscom Park UMC in Omaha invited Nicole Guthrie to be their guest preacher for the day. Nicole shared her story and a message of hope for the repairing of the world as we stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ+ siblings. Her whole sermon can be read on the Hanscom Park website
St. Paul Omaha marked coming out weekend with a celebration of the congregation’s recent decision to become a Reconciling congregation and worship that emphasized the beauty and richness of the diversity of affirming a broader understanding of “we,” moving from welcoming to affirming people of all gender identities and expressions.
The Urban Abbey celebrated National Coming Out Day for the Fifth Year in a row. We welcomed four diverse voices to share form their place of experience about hope and hurt. Each one shared the pain of coming out and the hope of National Coming out day to honor each sacred soul. We had a delightful community of witnesses at all three services on Sunday and this year…NO Protesters! We were able to welcome new folks into community, strengthen relationships, laugh and cry together. Earlier in the Month we hosted an Open Mic Preview Worship service where folks between 14 and 22 shared their poetry about the fierce work of coming out.
Wichita Area Churches
written by Joy Lenz, Grace UMC, Winfield, KS
The Wichita area National Coming Out Day service was held in the rainbow bedecked sanctuary of College Hill United Methodist Church on a beautiful October evening. The crowd entered quietly, a little hesitantly. There were people of all ages, alone and in groups, from many congregations, gathering here to honor and celebrate the LGTBQIA community and the incredible courage of coming out to live lives that are authentic. As the crowd grew and people greeted old friends and everyone was welcomed warmly, the tension lessened and there were smiles all around. This was a safe place.

The service opened with a welcome and introductions. There were clergy and lay people from seven different churches helping to lead the service and around twenty pastors, active and retired, sitting in the pews. 

Everyone had been handed a slip of paper when they entered the sanctuary. These had the prompts “I felt at home when…” and “I breathed a sigh of relief when…” printed on them, with room to write a personal response. Just before the service began these were collected and now some of them were read aloud. “I felt at home when people said my name. When I walked through God’s doors to the church. When I felt loved and accepted for who I am and I was able to offer that same acceptance for others.” “I breathed a sigh of relief when my parents accepted me for who I am. When I realized I could love my gay friend and my Jesus. When my child decided to go public with her ‘secret’. Love wins!”

The Call to Worship celebrated the lives and love of all people, reminding everyone that our common life is enriched when LGTBQIA people can come out and that we all suffer when queer people are oppressed, excluded, or shamed by religious people. Love does not exclude. We are all worthy.

Wichita Calvary Arise Worship Band led everyone in singing Child of God, which included the beautiful lyrics: No matter what the world says / says or thinks about me / I am a child, I am a child of God.

Two different men read poems about their coming out. They were incredibly moving, both for the content and for the courage of their authors. Sometimes listening is holy, and it certainly was as the words “I choose to live the truth...I choose to be the best me that God made” rang out across the room. 

Everyone rose to read a litany together. It began “For our queer, transgender, bisexual, lesbian, and gay siblings, as we mark this National Coming Out Day, that you may have the strength to claim your experience; the space to be imperfect, vulnerable, and in process; and the courage to embrace your power.” Each stanza ended with the refrain “No matter what people say, you are a child of God.”

There was an offering and more music. The money collected was to be split between the National Reconciling Ministries and First UMC Moheto, the first reconciling congregation in Kenya.

Rev. Elizabeth “Liz” Evans gave the message. Liz grew up in Wichita and now is a provisional Deacon in the Northern Illinois Conference. She is also living openly as a member of the LGTBQIA community. Liz preached on the story of Lazarus, framing it as another sort of coming out story, of moving from the dark cave of death into the light of life. She spoke of how like Lazarus, LGTBQIA people know what it is like to be a community in conflict with the religious leaders of the day, know the sting of death, know the tension between resurrection and the finality of death. “Anyone who comes out,” she said, “will tell you there is a moment when you first come out to yourself...but before you share this knowledge with anyone else, the moment at which you are standing in the liminal spaces between two worlds: the world as it is and the world as it could be. The world where you are trapped in a cave and the world where you have stepped into the light, alive and sharing your authentic self with the gathered community.” Coming out is a kind of resurrection, but like Lazarus, LGTBQIA people cannot do this alone. LGTBQIA people answer Jesus’ call, yet come out of the closets of death still bound in the garments in which they were buried. Straight and cisgender allies are called to help loosen those bonds because resurrection demands something better of us and for us. “Jesus has empowered each of us to come out,” Liz concluded, “to unbind and set free those still weighed down by the garments of death, and to bridge the world as it is and the world as it could be.” 

With the hope and excitement of Liz Evans’ message running through everyone’s mind, the worship band launched into "We Are Family" and soon everyone assembled was clapping and dancing, joining in joyful celebration. 

The service ended with everyone holding hands with their neighbors and looking around at the faces around them, gay, lesbian, transgender, bisexual, intersex, asexual, queer, questioning, ally, son, daughter, parent, friend, neighbor. All of them beloved children of God.

After the service there was a time for fellowship, with cupcakes and hot chocolate, rocks to paint, and a tie dye table. People stood around and chatted, greeting old friends and making new ones. The whole evening was a time of such hope and joy and celebration that touched everyone there. Services like this need to happen again and again, to help unbind our LGTBQIA siblings, to welcome them into their new lives, to take the step from the world as it is to the world as it could be.
Topeka First UMC Launches "Moving Ahead" Grassroots Group
This story was submitted by Topeka First UMC Moving Ahead Co-Chairs, Nancy Lewis and Grace Morrison, MD. Moving Ahead is a grassroots group of people connected to the Topeka First UMC working for justice and inclusion that emerged out of a conversation between Nancy and Grace. Their first meeting was April 7, 2019 and now has over 80 passionate, energized, gifted and involved Christians on their email list. 
Moving Ahead signing their statement.
Nancy’s Story
During the month of April, some concerned Topeka First UMC members who were hurting with the passing of the Traditional Plan felt it was so wrong that they organized a prayer vigil for the month of April, praying for a loving and inclusive outcome at the Judicial Council later that month.

On April 16, I was completing my two-hour prayer vigil in the Chapel, when suddenly my voice became loud. Looking at the cross, I said, “This is not right. We must do something.” I walked to my car and called my friend, Grace Morrison, MD, whom I knew felt as I did: we would not be able to remain United Methodists if the Book of Discipline was not changed and if LGBTQ+ persons couldn’t be welcomed in the fullest extent into our Methodist Church. Since the 1980’s, I have worked and volunteered with, attended the theater with, cried with mothers of, and hugged LGBTQ+ persons. The Mathew Shepherd brutal murder awakened me to the social injustice. I prayerfully commit to follow the commandment of Jesus: to love one another equally.

Grace and I had a long phone conversation. Over the next several days, we prayed and continued to discuss the "what" and "how." We knew the "why." We had conversations with our Pastor Jeff Clinger who appreciated our grassroots leadership and offered resources and connections. 
 
Grace’s Story
Although I followed closely the turmoil and many conversations prior to General Conference regarding the various proposed plans, I didn’t realize the depth of my own convictions until the Traditional Plan was passed. I found myself apologizing, with tears streaming down my face, to my LGBTQ+ friends for the travesty and injustice inflicted. Like Nancy, my initial reaction was to leave the United Methodist Church, as I could not have my name associated with an organization with these policies of overt discrimination and injustice. However, because of strong UMC leadership opposing this plan, I decided to stay, at least for a time. But I didn’t know what to do.

Nancy’s phone call on April 16 clarified that for me. I knew as we talked what our calling would be on this issue. We would stay, keep the conversation alive in our congregation and our community for those who would listen, and hopefully share the truth, love, and support for full inclusion for all. If nothing else, we would provide a voice of support and advocacy for the LGBTQ+ community, and regularly share informational and educational materials and programs with those who were open to the conversation.

Moving Ahead Position Statement
Adopted August 18, 2019
Moving Ahead is a group of people connected to Topeka First United Methodist Church who recognize the pain and uncertainty caused by the Traditional Plan passed by the 2019 Special General Conference.  We believe that the traditional plan, as well as the discriminatory language, restrictions, and penalties in the Book of Discipline regarding LGBTQ+ persons are harmful, hurtful, and wrong, and are contrary to Christ’s commandment to love one another.  We believe that we are all created in the image of God, and that Jesus taught us to love and be in ministry with all equally, including LGBTQ+ persons, their families and friends.  We welcome, affirm, and celebrate people of all sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expressions.
After our first meeting, we formed a Steering Committee, Information Committee and Pride Committee. Three general membership meetings have been held, open to anyone with interest, including members of other United Methodist Churches.

Moving Ahead members voted to become a Reconciling Ministry Network Community.

At our third general meeting, members adopted the Four Commitments adopted at Great Plains Annual Conference in May and adopted by UMC Next. Moving Ahead has also submitted 14 Petitions for changes in the Book of Discipline to be considered at the General Conference May 2020.

Topeka Pride event held on Saturday, September 14, was an exciting time for Moving Ahead and its Pride Committee. We were present with our Moving Ahead banner, a table for family-friendly activities and information, and members giving free hugs and engaging conversations. Members wore Moving Ahead T-shirts with our logo and name on the front, and on the back, “’Resisting evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they may present themselves,” – UMC Baptismal Vows.’”
Timeline of Programs and Activities:
  • April 28:  Moving Ahead organizational meeting.
  • May 7:  General membership meeting for Moving Ahead.
  • June 13:  Began a five-week book study, “God Believes in Love; Straight Talk About Gay Marriage,” by author Bishop Gene Robinson.
  • July 21:  Pride table set up during fellowship time at Topeka First UMC to share information, pins, books, reading list, answer questions, and have meaningful conversations. We are doing this once a month or more often as needed.
  • July 28: “Cataclysms in the UMC,” a history of social justice in the UMC, prepared by Rev. Sandy Vogel, and presented by Dr. Mike Morrison.
  • August 18: Moving Ahead General Membership meeting with speakers from Topeka Pride, and official and meaningful business actions as previously mentioned.
  • September 14: Moving Ahead helped sponsor the Topeka Pride event at Lake Shawnee and was present at our booth with activities, information, affirmation, and listening. 
  • September 18: A repeat session of a five-week book study, “God Believes in Love, Straight Talk About Gay Marriage,” by author Bishop Gene Robinson.
  • September 30: Program on “Scripture, Science & Sexuality” presented by co-authors Dr. Barbara Lukert and Rev. Lee Johnson.  Our congregation and Topeka District UMCs are invited to this special program at 7pm at Topeka First UMC.
  • October 27: “Understanding the Needs of LGBTQ+ Youth,” a presentation by Dr. Peg McCarthy, therapist, at Topeka First UMC at 12:45pm. 
Other programs are being confirmed for the upcoming months before, during and after General Conference 2020.

Moving Ahead remains prayerful as we seek new ways to welcome, affirm and celebrate people of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and gender expressions. We pray our position will be helpful to the Great Plains UMC Next.
 
In Christ,
Nancy Lewis and Grace Morrison, MD
The Resistance Team does a lot of background work and on-the-ground work. While you do not always hear of everything happening, we promise we will let you know as soon as there is a collective opportunity for people to resist together. If you want to be resisting right now, the best way to do so is to make sure the conversation toward a more inclusive church is happening in your local context. You are the best expert for what resistance can happen right where you are.
Geneva UMC Becomes First Rural Reconciling Congregation in GP
We are thrilled to share this story from Rev. Doug Griger. He pastors Geneva UMC in Geneva, NE (pop. 2200) and shares here their journey to become a Reconciling Congregation. Geneva UMC has a membership of 500.

The movement here began following the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis. I was contacted by a member of our church who asked what could be done. We spoke about Reconciling Congregations and what it took to become one. I gave her a folder full of information I’d downloaded from the RMN website to look over. We talked about people who we thought would be helpful to be on a steering committee. Ultimately, a group of about twelve people assembled – from high school students to senior citizens. They met periodically and shared information in our newsletter and bulletin asking for input and conversation. They put together the following welcoming statement which was publicized for a few weeks in the bulletin in the summer:

We, the Geneva United Methodist Church, are a family of God dedicated to worshiping, learning, and serving with all people as we embrace Jesus Christ’s message of love and acceptance. We affirm that all people are created in the image of God as beloved children of God, all are worthy of God’s love and grace. We welcome all persons without regard to age, race, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, family configuration, religious background, economic status, or developmental or physical ability in the life and ministries of Geneva United Methodist Church.

We talked about the need to have a full-on church conference to vote on adopting the policy, and some feared it would cause hurt and division within the church. I was aware of two other churches in our conference which recently became Reconciling Congregations, both without the need of a church conference.

We sent out letters with an enclosed postcard survey that asked if the recipients agreed with our statement or not. The results we received were 98% yes, and 2% no. Those results were taken to our Church Council where it passed unanimously.

You can contact Rev. Doug Griger if you would like to talk to someone else in the Great Plains about what it is like to become Reconciling in a more conservative, rural area. 
Repent & Resist: Ash Wednesday 2020
Through an informal, and Spirit-filled, conversation with Wichita area clergy and laity, an idea surfaced to concretely and intentionally live into the four commitments created by the UMC Next leadership and passed by the Great Plains Annual Conference in 2019. This idea is to repent from and reject the Traditional Plan, resisting evil in whatever forms it presents itself, living faithfully as Christians and Wesleyans and affirming the sacred worth of all persons by holding and inviting you all to participate in a sit-in marked with prayer, song, and community on February 26th, 2020. This date marks both one year since the official passing of the Traditional Plan as well as Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season.

We are calling Great Plains clergy and laity and churches to resist the injustice that is the Traditional Plan with a sit-in throughout the various district offices and churches that represent the United Methodist institution that upholds and perpetuates this injustice against the LGBTQ+ community. Our primary aim is to repent and resist, but this action cannot come without the intentionality and commitment to relationship that we all have with the Bishop, Cabinet, District Superintendents and Administrative Assistants. We want this sit-in to be done in a spirit of truth-telling, compassion, and gratitude for the Great Plains District Leadership. Because of that, we will be, and have started, informing the Bishop, Cabinet, District Superintendents, and Administrators of this witness, asking for their cooperation knowing this is not targeting them as people but about targeting the institution, and inviting them to participate in whatever ways feel most authentic to their call.

If you are interested in participating in or being a point-person for this witness in your own districts, please reach out to Ashley Prescott Barlow-Thompson or Maddie Johnson. We will be providing resources here in the newsletter, schedules and locations per district, templates of letters to GP leaders and churches, potential itineraries and bulletins to make this witness as easy as possible for churches to participate in.
GP Repent & Resist: Ash Wednesday 2020 Facebook Page
The Resource Team is currently gathering all kinds of tools to extend the work of inclusion in our local churches. Book recommendations, discussion guides, worship resources, youth group guides, and a GP UMCNext website are all in the works! Our launch day has been pushed back a bit (volunteers over here!), but we promise to get it to you soon.
Faithful and Inclusive: The Bible, Sexuality, and the United Methodist Church
This study from the Institute for Discipleship in Winfield, KS allows you to gain an understanding of how United Methodists can be both obedient to God’s Word and fully welcoming to LGBTQ persons in the church.This six-session resource for Sunday schools and small groups has been designed for participants to develop their own perspectives on the Bible’s passages related to homosexuality.

Rev. Rob Fuquay, pastor of one of the largest United Methodist congregations in the country, creates a safe space to navigate through this thorny issue, relying on the biblical-interpretation approach of Methodism’s founder, John Wesley. Each video session also features the faith journeys of members of the LGBTQ community and their families. Leader guide and closed captioning included.

The six 50-minute video sessions cover these subjects:
  1. How United Methodists Interpret Scripture
  2. Old Testament Passages
  3. The Influence of Culture on How We Read the Bible
  4. New Testament Passages
  5. The Jesus Ethic: What Did Christ Say?
  6. Where Does the United Methodist Church Go From Here?
Explore "Faithful and Inclusive" Study Here
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.”
  • 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: What happens when someone files charges against a clergy person?

A: First a formal, signed letter must be sent to the Bishop claiming misconduct and listing one of 12 “chargeable offenses” found in the Discipline in paragraph 2702.1.

The clergy person will be notified as well as the chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry while the Bishop investigates the complaint. The Bishop can ask for a 90 day suspension for the person charged, though all pay and benefits remain. The executive team of the Board of Ordained Ministry has the sole power to grant or deny this suspension of the clergy person.

The Bishop then investigates the complaint and can either dismiss the complaint (with consent of the cabinet), come to a “Just Resolution” (basically a mediated settlement between clergy person and complainant) or pursue a judicial process against the clergy person. One of these must happen within 120 days.

If the Bishop must choose the third option, judicial process, the Bishop appoints another clergy person to act as “counsel for the church.” This person prepares documentation (no timeline is specified) and then forwards it on to the “Committee on Investigation” which has 60 days to convene after receiving the paperwork from the Counsel for the Church. This committee is composed of lay and clergy people and is elected by the annual conference. They act like a grand jury, hold a hearing and decide if there is enough evidence present to proceed. They can also dismiss the complaint and they can decide to suspend the clergy person if they are not already on suspension.

If at least 5 members of the Committee on Investigation agree there is enough evidence of misconduct, then the complaint is forwarded to trial. A presiding officer is chosen (another Bishop usually), a jury pool is created of clergy in the annual conference, and a date is set. Preparation for a trial is a lengthy and costly process and is clearly an action of last resort in the eyes of the Book of Discipline. If the jury convicts they also determine the penalty. The whole process is subject to appeal.

The only change to this process with the “Traditional Plan” on January 1 is a mandatory penalty after conviction by a jury. First conviction by trial for performing same-sex weddings requires a 1 year suspension. A second conviction by trial requires removal of credentials.

Do you have a question for the UMC Polity Q&A? Send it to Rev. Amy Lippoldt.
 
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. Check out the series on Church Trials in their blog.
Great Plains UMCNext Newsletter Archive
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