Monday, April 20, 2009

Can I Get a Witness...

Jim and Molly each preached powerfully and wonderfully yesterday about how the church can be radical in its welcome of all people -- something the United Methodist Church struggles with,
something we all struggle with.

After her sermon, Molly led us in a ritual asking us to prayerfully consider those we most struggle to welcome and to remember times and places we have felt unwelcome or excluded and to prayerfully work to heal those hurts within ourselves. She asked us to recognize that we sometimes are those who struggle to welcome and at other times are those who feel unwelcome.

Introducing the prayer ritual, Molly showed a photo of Marian Anderson singing outside the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 because the Daughters of the American Revolution had barred her from performing at Constitution Hall. She was invited, instead, to perform from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial,
where 75,000 people heard her sing.

As we walked to the baptismal font, we drew out a stone to represent those times of struggle in welcoming or feeling welcome and our hopes for healing within the church, within our hearts, within all of humankind, and Molly played "Would You Harbor Me?" -- a litany in song performed by Sweet Honey in the Rock, an a capella group of women who have been part of the soundtrack of my life since 1986.

As we walked forward together, the litany repeated:

Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you?

Would you harbor a Christian, a Muslim, a Jew a heretic, convict or spy? Would you harbor a run away woman, or child, a poet, a prophet, a king? Would you harbor an exile, or a refugee, a person living with AIDS? Would you harbor a Tubman, a Garrett, A Truth a fugitive or a slave? Would you harbor a Haitian, Korean or Czech, a lesbian or a gay?

Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you?
Would you harbor me? Would I harbor you?

It was a powerful witness to a glorious hope for the future not only of our United Methodist denomination but for our own church, for our own hearts and for all of God's kin-dom.

It was also a powerful privilege for me to get to consecrate communion immediately after that ritual since Molly feared she might have a cold. I love the welcome table of the United Methodist Church. No matter what our constitution says, no matter what we struggle with as a people, our communion table is open to everyone. Our sacrament is a means of grace shared with anyone -- anyone -- desiring to receive it.

After worship in Water's Edge, two different families talked to me about exclusion within the church. One couple loves worship and fellowship at Water's Edge at First UMC but is taking a social justice stand not to become members until the denomination changes its policies and fully includes lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Molly's sermon (and Jim's) talked about upcoming denominationwide votes on the UMC constitution that would change the language to make clear that all people are welcome as members. That change, itself, would be welcome and celebrated by many.

And there is hope, though not certainty, that a change in welcome in membership might lead to changes in the denomination's current prohibition on lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy. (Transgender clergy are currently included.) The UMC has its own version of "don't ask, don't tell." The denomination bans "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" from serving as clergy.

I went to seminary with United Methodists who identify within the LGB community and who love the church and are clearly called to ministry. Some are caring ministers gifted in pastoral care. Some are powerful preachers. Some are visionaries with a hope for the future of the church of Jesus Christ. All must remain silent on their true sense of self through their candidacy, commissioning and ordination process. Even people who care deeply about them coach them not to name who they are if they want to pass their written and oral Board of Ordained Ministry examinations.

For me, asking these ministers to remain silent about who they are is not unlike trying to silence Marian Anderson. Marian Anderson could not hide the difference for which she was discriminated. These pastors can. But should they? My prayer is that someday someone within the church is brave enough, prophetic enough, to see the human rights reasons to provide an open pulpit so that these pastors can preach from the steps of freedom rather than be bound in silence.

Only then will our hearts, minds and doors, truly, be open.

May it be so.


1 comment:

Jeri said...

May it be so.