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Highlights of our September 2019 Issue:
  • Our Stories: One pastor's journey leading from friendly to affirming
  • Resistance: Celebrate National Coming Out Day on Sunday, Oct. 13
  • Resources: LGBTQ+ Missional Leaders Grant
  • Across the Connection: Institute for Discipleship Launches new study
The Journey from Friendly to Welcoming to Affirming
 by Rev Stephanie Ahlschwede
About twenty years ago I went to a UMC welcoming training and had a revelation. Every church I have ever encountered has claimed to be friendly, and yet when asked, "how do visitors know you are are friendly?" few have a specific answer. Ever since, I have worked with the congregations I serve on the specifics of demonstrating a warm welcome in a way that visitors are able to understand and recognize. 

When I returned home from General Conference 2019, I found myself having a similar conversation with the congregation I was serving in Lincoln. Our Church Council perceived that our congregation could, would and already did welcome members of the LGBTQ community, and yet we did not have a specific way to demonstrate or state that welcome. Church Council members wanted to know, "what can we do?" 

A working group formed and researched the steps and scope of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and quickly realized that becoming a Reconciling Church would be a way to offer a specific, accountable and actionable welcome. The working group followed the steps provided by our regional organizer, and shortly after I departed for Omaha St Paul, they became an official Reconciling Church. 

Meanwhile, St Paul Omaha had been working since before General Conference towards becoming Reconciling. Their path included guest preachers and multiple book studies and last month we were pleased to become a Reconciling Congregation. 

October brings with it National Coming Out Day, and at St Paul Omaha we will mark this date in worship the weekend of October 12-13, inviting our congregation members to consider how they might "come out" as allies in the community.

When I think back on that long-ago welcoming training, I see how important it is for us now in the United Methodist Church to be specific not just in our welcoming but in our affirmation of all of God's children. For the church I currently serve, and I think for others that have chosen to become Reconciling, the decision to be a common and verifiable credentialing process to designate a specific will to affirm the LGBTQ community is a significant choice on the way towards a recognizable and intentional welcome. 

Rev. Stephanie Ahlschwede serves St Paul UMC Omaha, located in historic Benson

Do you have stories to share about how you are living out the four commitments of UMCNext right here in the Great Plains? Send us your story!
Churches across the Great Plains are participating in National Coming Out Day (Oct. 11) by naming it in worship on Oct. 13, newsletter articles, Facebook posts, and special events. To be LGBTQ+ in the UMC is an act of resistance all by itself. National Coming Out Day is an opportunity to offer our affirmation, celebration, and support when our denomination does not. We also know and lament that there are people who remain closeted because of UMC polity and social principles. So we celebrate National Coming Out Day and also grieve that we are part of a church that keeps people in closets.
  • For all of those who are out and proud - we see you and love you and support you.
  • For all of those who have yet to be out - we see you and love you and support you. 
If your church is interested in participating in National Coming Out Day, the Resistance Team has compiled some resources below.
Resources for Observing National Coming Out Day
This summer the Great Plains Annual Conference approved a new grant opportunity specifically to support LGBTQ+ missional leaders. Rev. Christine Potter, Countryside UMC in Topeka, presented the legislation and reflects here on its launch this week.

“How long, O Lord?” has been my most authentic prayer since GC2019. And waking up this morning, I heard God speak a word of hope. This week the grant money approved by the Great Plains Annual Conference is being made available for ministries lifting up LGBTQ+ persons as missional leaders. Yes! Finally! The “Action for Inclusive Ministry” is ready for action! 

As United Methodists, we pronounce “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” All are invited in, and all are called to be disciples, to follow Jesus, and to lead others to a relationship with Jesus Christ. We actually are of one mind on this matter of mission! And that means that even though churches can’t seem to agree on ordination and marriage for our LGBTQ+ siblings, we cannot argue that all disciples are called to share the Gospel. It is a deep Wesleyan commitment that both laity and clergy are missional leaders for this indeed holy task. 

The resolution provides money 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.
I do not know where our denomination will end up a year from now or twenty years from now. But I do know that we are called to follow Jesus. And following is an action. It is not enough to passively let our LGBTQ+ siblings come into church doors and sit in the pews. It is time to say openly and invitationally, “You are a person of real worth, and the church affirms your role in the priesthood of all believers as missionaries for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” It’s time for a stronger message of inclusivity. We have much work to do as a church in order to follow the person of Jesus with our actions instead of just the name of Jesus with our words. This specific action is just a start. Let’s get moving!
LGBTQ+ Missional Leaders Grant Application
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! Stay tuned for its October launch.
Faithful and Inclusive: The Bible, Sexuality, and the United Methodist Church six-session study launched last week 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. It was launched by The Institute for Discipleship located in Winfield, KS. 

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.

Leadership Institute - The theme of the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection's Leadership Institute this year is "Discerning the Future of the United Methodist Church." We look forward to connecting with many of you here next week.

Mainstream UMC - Mainstream UMC and its director, Rev. Mark Holland are located right here in the Great Plains.
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