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LUMC Reconciling Church

In an overwhelming affirmation of including its LGBTQ members and churchgoers, the Lansing United Methodist Church (LUMC) Sunday voted 129 to 2 to become a Reconciling Church.  The Lansing Church joined over 1,000 other churches and communities, including 56 other in New York State.  With Sunday's vote the Lansing church became the 57th. 

"There are over a thousand reconciling churches now, and in Ithaca we're lucky because Saint Paul's has been reconciling for more than 20 years, and Forest Home Chapel is reconciling, says LUMC Pastor Alison Schmied.  "The Reconciling Ministries network, a group of churches that have joined together, are still a part of the Methodist connection, but have stood up and said we believe this to be incompatible with Jesus's teachings, and therefore something we want to resist... something we want to work towards changing."

"Dear Alison,
We will will not be present to vote on the Reconciling Statement.
If we were at church we would vote a strong yes!
I tried to write a profound statement but many others have done that already. So keeping it short and simple:
Skip says, "it's the right thing to do!"
Holly says, "if we are all the beloved children of God, then we are ALL the beloved children of God!"
Our love to each and every member of our church family,
Holly and Skip Hardie" (Long time LUMC members)
In a way that makes the church similar to Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is part of the People's Republic of China, but has its own passport and immigration channels, money, and legal system, which are somewhat at odds with mainland China's laws and culture.  We have certainly seen in current news how that has spawned conflict.  Reconciling churches are still United Methodist churches, but on the point of homosexuality they are at odds with the General Conference, which speaks for the religion and determines what is in the Book of Discipline, the book that defines the doctrine and the law of the church.

Since 1972 the United Methodist Church's Book of Discipline has stated the position that says, 'We believe that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings.'  That leads to the positions that a person who is a self-avowed, practicing homosexual can not be ordained, and same sex marriages can not be performed in United Methodist churches or property.  This was referred to as the 'Traditional Plan' when Methodists from around the world congregated in Saint Louis last February to on the matter.

"There is only one group that can speak for the United Methodist Church, and that is the General Conference," Schmied explains. "Normally it only gathers once every four years.  So every four years since 1972 it has been fighting amongst itself about this language.  Different things have been suggested,and there have been many debates.  Finally the General Conference met and said to the bishops, 'We are getting nowhere on this.  Would you please lead us?'  So the bishops appointed a Commission on Human Sexuality.  They came out with a report and suggestions about how the Church could deal with it.  The 2019 meeting was a very special call to General Conference just to deal with this one issue and nothing else."

After the special General Conference voted to maintain the Methodist Book of Discipline's traditional stance against same-sex marriage and non-celibate gay clergy, the Reconciling movement gained momentum.  Analysts say the February vote was bolstered by a large and growing contingent from conservative African congregations.  The vote also added stricter accountability and consequences for those who violate the Traditional Plan by performing same-sex ceremonies or ordaining gay clergy.  But the vote was far from a sweeping mandate.  Pastors and bishops do not have a vote in the conference, which is made up of delegates from around the world.  Keeping the traditional plan passed with 53% of the 438 - 384 vote.  That vote left a large contingent of United Methodists who want to be more inclusive in the definition of what is considered acceptable Christian behavior.

"Pastor Alison,
Even though I am not a member of LUMC, I wanted to share my support for reconciling ministries and the inclusion of all children of God into the Church. Regardless of sexual orientation.  It is not our place to pass judgement or to implement our own interpretation of the scripture.  But the one thing that the Bible makes very clear is that we are to love one another and to share his word. I don't see how we, as Christians, can do that if we are limiting people's access to the Church. As a non-member, I know my vote wouldn't count even if we were in church tomorrow, but I do hope that there is an overwhelming amount of support from the congregation tomorrow. 
God bless,
Joe Cox"
"The plan that they affirmed was not supported by a majority of the bishops," Schmied says. "The plan that was affirmed was the traditionalist plan, which keeps in all of the exclusionary language from 1972, and adds some teeth to the law -- that is, as a pastor if you break it there are consequences.  The first time you lose your job for a year.  The second time you lose your credentials and you are no longer ordained.  There is still due process in the Methodist Church. The part about that that's so awful is that has been happening.  It uses up a whole lot of church resources that really ought to be going toward doing good in the world, not just fighting amongst ourselves."

The 98.5% yes vote came after long years of consideration and conversation.  Schmied says it has been discussed during the tenure of at least three pastors before her.  Around 2017 a study group was formed, and people began having one-on-one conversations with fellow church members.  Lansing congregants spent a lot of time talking about each of the plans that were suggested and theological and church-structure reasons for each plan.  Committee members concluded that the rules are not relevant to day to day interactions and relationships.

"In this church we were having that discussion, at least, in 2017," Schmied says. "The group that was working on becoming a reconciling church really got their oomph in 2019 when that decision was made.  There had been a small group that was meeting in 2018.  So it's been going on for a long time."

The 2018 group had a handful of people participating.  The General Conference vote in February motivated the local congregation to step up their efforts to address the issue.  A committee of about 30 people, a mixture of LGBTQ and heterosexual church members, was formed and met regularly.

There was no discussion Sunday, just the vote.   Discussion had taken place in committees, in one to one conversations, discussion at Bible study sessions, and at a special table during fellowship hours each week for the past several months.  The congregation used information from the Reconciling Ministries Network, a network of more than 40,000 Reconciling United Methodists and over 1,000 Reconciling Churches and Communities, and a book from the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force about welcoming congregations for guidance in the process of discussing and acting on becoming a reconciling church.  Schmied also spoke to Pastor Rebecca Dolch of Forest Home Chapel about the process she had gone through at Saint Pauls's and, years later, at Forest Home Chapel.  She invited Dolch to preach in Lansing on October 6th, thinking it would be the time of the vote.

But the committee was ready sooner than that.  After many meetings LUMC member Sandy Dhimitri approached the Church Council to tell them the Reconciling Ministries group wanted them to schedule the vote, and they scheduled it for last Sunday.

Anna Baese, a member who joined LUMC when she was in 8th grade, and is now studying in Denmark for her sophomore year as a Rotary Exchange Scholar wrote, "What a huge step!! I am proud to be part of such a loving and inclusive church."
"The Reconciling Ministries Network requires a vote of at least 75%," Schmied says. "The day before, all of the polling or conversations led us to believe that it ought to be something like 97%.  I really didn't expect it to be 97%, but then it exceeded my expectations."

When a church votes to be reconciling it makes a statement, but puts its pastors in a delicate position, no matter what they personally believe.  Pastors have to be careful about what they do now.  Officiating at a marriage is not allowed, but Schmied says the Bishop has been clear that pastors can conduct premarital counseling, help a LGBTQ couple write their service, and give a sermon.  But the pastor is forbidden from administering the marital vows and signing the marriage license.

As for the day to day life in the Church, Schmied says not much will change.  Relationships between church members are strong, and will continue to be welcoming.  The culture of the church will probably remain as it has been.

"Right now we're figuring out how to put this welcoming statement on all our printed materials," Schmied says. "But in terms of how we actually interact with one another, my hope is that we continue to interact with one another as brothers and sisters in Christ, good friends, good neighbors... that nothing changes for us internally in the sense that a lot of us felt we were welcoming already.  To people who had heard the news reports but didn't know us personally, there's now a reason to say, 'Oh, they're not one of those Methodists!'"

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