Sharing Our Stories
Being a member of Randolph-Macon's Pre-Ministerial group means a commitment to authenticity and support of those following a similar path. It also means a lot of shared stories and experiences in order to help the whole group grow and challenge ourselves in our call. When the special UMC General Conference rolled around, it was a big topic of conversation for our group – as well it should have been. While I am not United Methodist and was somewhat looking in on the whole situation, I was confronted with a very familiar set of circumstances and conversations.
As the final votes and decisions made the news all over the world, I felt the pain that my peers and chaplain felt. I had been there with my congregation and heard the nasty words and frankly, bad theology. It is immensely frustrating when you yourself feel like loving others unconditionally is what God is calling you to do.
Weeks passed and the conversation in our group stayed semi the same. General Conference kept getting brought up and I'll confess I started to get frustrated with my peers. I realized that while I felt deep empathy for the United Methodist’s situation, I was getting tired of hearing about it. I think this stems from hurt feelings I still harbor from the hard work my church put in and the hate we received in return. While I knew how bad it felt and how hopeless the situation seemed, I knew the only way things were going to change was to get up and do something about it. I had been there, done that so to speak. Others in our group who are members of other mainline denominations also acknowledged that they had in a way been there, done that too. Our denominations experienced painful splits and hard conversations, but we were always willing to put belief over affiliation (ok...most of the time). We also knew in our hearts that even though things seemed hopeless at the time, that things would get better. God was, and is, with us and God was, is, and will be with you too.
For us in a Baptist congregation, that meant going ahead with our plans to ordain an openly gay man and face the harshness from others who would likely just kick us out. And they did. They did it with sharp tongues and meetings, association votes and humiliating articles. We made national Baptist news and our pastor did interviews for newspapers. We were on the spot and willing to risk decades old relationships for the sake of loving our neighbor. And we did. Now, for an autonomous congregation we could choose to leave or be kicked out and it would not necessarily affect other congregations unless they too acted. This is of course easier said than done and I realize that it is very different for the polity system held by United Methodists.
As for the United Methodist Church, we as Baptists do so many things differently, but we both love deeply. I know it and I see it. Watching all of this go down from the outside brought back a lot of memories and a fear that the United Methodist Church would choose denomination over people. The hope I send to you is to not to be afraid of change and hurtful words. And while I know a lot less about how your church’s work than mine, leaving behind denominational affiliations and our typical denomination allowed us to live more fully into God’s call for us and it has been beautiful. I do not know how this will end up for all of you, but I want you to know that God is with you and you have the support of those in my Baptist circles who have been praying over you for a long time now. Oh, and it will eventually be ok. Better than ok. Things get messy and I have seen it firsthand. But I ask you the same question my church had to ask ourselves: What are you willing to risk?
Addison Schmitt is an A. Purnell Bailey Pre-Ministerial Scholar at Randolph-Macon College in the heart of Ashland, VA. With a major in Religious Studies and minor in Political Science she will eventually go on to seminary and pursue ordination in the Baptist Church with the hopes of beginning a career in chaplaincy. She loves God, people, and stories and that about sums it up.