A Message from our Newly Ordained Elders and Deacons
To the Clergy and Laity of the Virginia Annual Conference
Grace and Peace to you in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Since the 2019 General Conference our denomination has seen a flood of statements written by various groups. With this letter, we add our perspective to the concert of voices who have already cried out in opposition to the Traditional Plan. We also recognize our unique perspective as members of the ordination class and believe that it is important for the Virginia Annual Conference to hear about our experience over the past year.
The final year in the Provisional Journey can be nerve wracking. There is deep personal reflection that needs to be done, ordination papers written, multiple performance evaluations, psychological testing, recording of our ministry for review, all culminating in multiple hours of oral examination.
This year, the ordination class walked through these exercises while our churches and denomination experienced crisis. The anger, fear and uncertainty that blanketed the United Methodist Church over the past year was layered on top of an already anxious process. Our ordination interviews were held days before the 2019 General Conference began. In light of these denominational conversations, the ordination process seemed larger, heavier, and riskier than previous years. But those of us who identify as heterosexual know that the fear we have experienced pales in comparison to the anger, pain, uncertainty, and harm perpetrated against our LGBTQIA+ siblings.
We are also keenly aware that with ordination comes privilege. This privilege gives us a freedom to speak and a responsibility to speak on behalf of others who are silenced by our system. This privilege calls us to speak for those straight allies who fear their words or beliefs could be used against them as Provisional members or Candidates for ministry. This privilege calls us to speak for those whose ministry has been questioned, antagonized, or denied- overtly and systemically- because of their sexuality or gender identity. This privilege calls us to be an Ally for our LGBTQIA+ siblings who do not have the opportunity to participate in the ordination process because their personhood is deemed “incompatible” with our institution1.
Over the past four months, we have been asked the same question in many different forms:
Why are you being ordained in this denomination?
We have been asked: “Why would you choose to give your life to an institution that is crumbling from the weight of an internal civil war and a confusion of purpose?” Our LGBTQIA+ friends, family members, and congregants have asked: “How can you call yourself an Ally as you vow to uphold the Discipline under the new requirements of the Traditional Plan?” We have prayed, cried, lamented, and grappled with these questions. What we have found is that our answers are layered.
We have chosen to walk into something that is dying because, at the core of our faith, we believe in resurrection. Is this the church that we want to serve? Yes and No. The Wesleyan tradition is our theological home, and yet, we feel displaced.
We have chosen to stay because we believe this is one aspect of “accept[ing] the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves.”2
We have chosen to stay because Jesus sat with those on margins and calls us to do likewise within our denomination. It is clear to us the LGBTQIA+ community has been marginalized in our institution due to the Traditional Plan.
We have chosen to stay because we believe in the mission of the United Methodist Church: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The need for transformation includes our denomination. We stay to be co-creators with the Holy Spirit. To make a world where LGBTQIA+ persons are fully welcomed exactly as they are, fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.3
Though we have chosen to stay in this season, each of us will continue to discern with the Holy Spirit where God is calling us. Some may stay in this denomination for years, some may hear God calling to a new place.
In our ordination we took a vow to uphold the Book of Discipline which we intend to do with God's help, despite our disagreement with the Traditional Plan. However, we also want to acknowledge that each of us are called to serve in unique settings of ministry that will ask us to be faithful to our vows in a variety of ways.
We believe it is important for the future of the church that our conference knows the new challenges facing clergy who chose to pursue ordination in this denomination. While our perspective is unique this year, we recognize that the questions we faced represent the new normal across the denomination.
We offer this letter to the Virginia Annual Conference because we believe it is important that our story is told and heard. May the love and peace of God which surpasses all understanding dwell among us.
The undersigned ordinands,
Ashley Allen Michelle Matthews
Carl Chapman Mandy Newman
Emily Moore-Diamond Ryan Schaeffer
Ellen LaCroix Fillette Andrew Ware
Jiyeon Kim Heather Wray
1The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church. Nashville, TN: United Methodist Publishing House, 2016, ¶ 304.3
2 The United Methodist Hymnal : Book of United Methodist Worship. Nashville: United Methodist Pub. House, 1989. 34.
3 Wesley Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2009. Psalm 139; Genesis 1:17.
*Please note: A paragraph was added after the post was initially published due to a previous version being submitted. It was always the intent of the ordinands to include these two sentences. The changes made now reflect the text of the full letter.