ELCA presiding bishop pastoral letter on UMC decision
2/27/2019 6:00:00 PM
This morning at worship in the Churchwide Office we sang;
God, when human bonds are broken, and we lack the love or skill
To restore the hope of healing, give us grace and make us still…
Give us faith to be more faithful, give us hope to be more true,
Give us love to go on learning: God, encourage and renew. (ELW 603)
These words speak to many aspects of our current world. Today they resonate especially with our continuing prayers for our full communion partner, The United Methodist Church (UMC), and, as they call themselves, for all “the people called Methodists.”
Yesterday the 2019 General Conference, the UMC’s highest legislative body, voted to affirm the church’s current prohibitions of “ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriage.” (You can read about this decision at https://www.umnews.org.) This special General Conference had been called for this issue only; in the end, delegates turned away from a plan recommended by their Council of Bishops, which allowed for diversity in local practice, to embrace instead this “Traditional Plan.”
Many of you today are asking the good Lutheran question, “What does this mean?” The implications of the decisions of the General Conference are not yet fully apparent: the Judicial Council must review controversial provisions later this year, and in any case the rippling consequences for ecclesial life will take much longer to work themselves out. Yet it seems clear that the conclusion of this process has not brought the greater unity for which so many longed.
What we can say with certainty is that as the UMC takes its next steps, we in the ELCA will continue to walk with our full communion partner. We treasure the joyful memories of the 2009 Churchwide Assembly, where, in a near unanimous vote, we entered into this relationship. We are grateful also for the common witness, deepened friendships and shared ministries that have been the fruits of this decision. This relationship, and our commitment, have become woven into who we are as this church. Our life together as churches is a shared life together in Christ.
We remember also that the same 2009 Assembly decided to open the way for those in same-gender relationships to serve as pastors. This week, as we watched the impassioned debates on the plenary floor in St. Louis, we recognized that these costly struggles are familiar from our own recent history, and acknowledge that some amongst us have experienced re-traumatization. In our present experience also, we have not fully grown into the commitments we have made. Yet, though a controversial decision at the time, our 2009 action has brought strength and blessings for our life and mission beyond what we could have imagined a decade ago. This church treasures the faithful ministries of those rostered leaders who help us witness to God’s love and invitation for all people. Their ministries are integral to who we are as this church.
I ask this church, then, to continue by the side of the UMC, exchanging gifts and sharing burdens. In particular, we pray for them in their continued efforts faithfully to be church in the contexts we share. As we pray for them, we pray also for this church: may we be faithful to the calling to which we have been called, willing to confess our shortcomings and to trust in the healing, challenge and surprise of the Spirit of God, who calls us always forward.
The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton