Message from Pastor Carol
Light of the World
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falselyon my account. (Matthew 5:1-12)
For the Jews in the first century, being blessed was evident based on lifestyle and social positioning. If you had health, wealth, notoriety, power, and/or popularity, you were obviously in God's favor. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus leaves the wilderness after being tempted, calls his disciples and begins to redefine favor. You were blessed when you were poor, mourning, meek, hungry, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers and persecuted. What a radical word for these first students! Blessedness was to be understood from the position of insight drawn from deprivation or suffering or meekness. What!?!
How does that translate today? It means we must not allow ourselves to believe the notion that our lives are to be defined by external accrual but rather by internal maturation. We run after much in our lives that we allow to become the indicators of our blessedness - fitness, lifestyle, social/political credence, and even religiosity. Our mantra can often be, "When I have '_____', I will be successful." Based on the scripture above, Jesus would call us into correction. Our blessedness is experienced when we are being grown and stretched. In other words, we will experience deep and sustaining joy, satisfaction and peace when we focus on our process more than our agenda; our journey more than our destination; our living more than our accomplishments. We are called to pay attention to the daily experiences of life and allow ourselves to grow in wisdom, insight and capacity. These are the attributes that give us the greatest blessings in life and the only gifts that cannot be diminished, lost or destroyed.
When we are focused on the lessons we are called to learn, the growth we are given the opportunity to experience, and the relationships we are given to deepen, we cannot lose. Our blessedness comes in the discovery found through living instead of through the mastery of a cultural, religious, or political rightness. Jesus' redefining of blessedness calls us from a potential perspective of narcissism to evolving perspective of righteousness. We move from needing to have the right answer, the right opinion or the right agenda to seeking ways of being merciful, opening our heart, and offering peace. I pray when we engage in debate, share on Facebook, blog and tweet, we can share our "blessedness" and not our "rightness" so that God's grace shines through our spirits.
14 "You are the light of the world...let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good [process] and give glory to God." (Matthew 5:14-16)
Welcome to Holy Covenant UMC in Carrollton, TX!
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Reconciling Ministries Network Affiliation
From the beginning, Holy Covenant United Methodist Church has very intentionally chosen to be formed as a community of faith through the language and directives found in the questions asked of our baptism initiates.
Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races? (UMH pg. 39)
We are a church that stands wholly and earnestly on the foundation that Jesus is the Christ who is our reason for being. We are a community of disciples seeking to feel loved by God, to love God in return, and to love our neighbor. This is manifest in all we do and all we are! We have matured from a group of people looking to create a community to becoming a refuge and sanctuary for others.
I am the Lord, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations. (Isaiah 42:6)
God has given the people of Carrollton, North Texas, and the world a community through whom all persons can feel the love of God, the justice of Jesus, the redemption of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.
We, as free and committed members of Christ's body, a community that proclaims the living presence of our Lord, are striving to express our love and our hope, our acceptance and our dedication to the principle of Christianity. Because we are a Holy Covenant, we are receptive to all persons, advocates of those in need, and committed to serving through action and acceptance, as Christ served and accepted all people. (HCUMC Affirmation of Faith pg. 1)
It is coded into our DNA as a body of Christ to be a community who not only welcomes all of God's people into the church but affirms that each is a expression of the creative plan of God. With Jesus as our guide, we have identified ourselves communally and denominationally as a church prepared to challenge social, political or religious practices obstructing this affirmation, in word or deed, of the inherent goodness and acceptance of all. Needless to say, this has often put us in contentious relationships with our local, state and national policy makers as well as our legislative and doctrinal leaders of the Christian and United Methodist Church. There was a day when this congregation granted sanctuary to El Salvadorian refugees through an above ground railroad to the dismay of our political and religious associations. Being a disciple of Christ means allowing the anointing of Christ to be manifest, individually and communally.
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, [and] 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:16-19)
Holy Covenant is a church that bears the scars born of the anointing of Christ. With each act of good news, proclamation of release, work of recovery, freeing the oppressed and/or announcing of God's favor comes the pain, anxiety and sometimes abandonment possible in the process of discernment. What is the good news? Who needs and deserves to experience it? Who should we prioritize for relief?
With community comes varying and numerous answers to these questions. The challenge for the members of the community is to give each person a voice while finding a unified mission of the collective. In other words, a church has the unique work of coming to consensus in identifying the prioritized people to serve as well as the efforts of relief, justice, healing and liberation. This is hard work and requires a community devoted to maturing spiritually in order to place the good of others (including the church as a whole) over the desires of the self. The process of discernment is the very wisdom of God.
26 Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world [over what is great and celebrated]. God did this 29 so that no one [person] might boast [he/she is the knower of all the truth and will of God.] (I Corinthians 18: 26-29)
It is only when we seek together the will and heart of God that we come to experience the power and vitality of God's blessing. "Together" must always be the definitive foundation of our process for discernment. No one person, small group, leader, or even preacher can claim to have all truth as offered from God. It is when we honor one another by "heartfully" listening to and learning from our fellow disciples that we can, over time, come to discover our unique expression of Christ's anointing on us for the people needing to experience God's favor.
The United Methodist Church (and as a subset of the UMC, the North Texas Conference) was and is still discerning what we, as a denomination, are called to do around the lives of people that have been excluded from marriage, ordained leadership and are the only categorized group of people to be identified in our polity (church law) as living a life that is incompatible with Christian teaching - people of same sex orientation.
¶ 304.3 Qualifications for Ordination
The difficulty for many is how to reconcile the view of homosexuality with our statement of inclusion also found in the Book Of Discipline.
¶ 4. Article IV. Inclusiveness of the Church
How can a church be affirming of the sacred worth of all persons and yet exclude only one group of people by name due to "behaving" in an unchristian manner? This original question has opened up decades of further questioning, theological (knowledge of God) debates, doctrinal (church statements of faith) discernment, biblical study, scientific ponderings, and relationship witness. This has been the process of discernment of the United Methodist Church for more than two decades.
The proponents for change in the language and exclusion within our polity are primarily petitioning our General Conference (This is our legislative body comprised of half clergy and half lay people who meet every four years to amend, add or remove laws and language from our Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions.) to remove the language of homosexuality being "incompatible with Christian teaching" while also affirming people's, of same sex orientation, personhood and relationships as blessed by God. (This is a very simplified explanation but my hope is to shed light on this legislative items and process.)
Because of the character of Holy Covenant, our church has been embroiled in this work for as long as the greater United Methodist Church. Holy Covenant has sought for years to sort through the biblical, traditional, personal and social proofs to find an authoritative "truth" regarding God's love towards, acceptance of and affirmation for people of same sex orientation. What I have come to understand in my two years as the spiritual leader of this community is that we have not claimed or penned a formal and representative "truth" that serves as our encyclical (statement of belief) to define our church's polity (law/practices) within our community and to ground our advocacy in the greater United Methodist Church.
So what does Holy Covenant believe about persons of same sex orientation and the church?
This understanding comes from years of small group studies, prayer, biblical study, holy conferencing and personal relationships with people from the LGBT community. As a result, this church took an explicit and bold step to state its polity-informed vision of openness in "plain speak" by naming the socially categorized people who are welcome here.
We are welcoming and open to all people; black or white, yellow or brown, you are welcome here; rich or poor, young or old, you are welcome here; gay or straight, citizen or sojourner, you are welcome here.
When I arrived in July of 2013, I was encouraged by the reputation of Holy Covenant United Methodist Church as generated from her rich history of mission and advocacy work, her bold public statement of inclusion and her legacy of raising up a multitude of anointed leaders both lay and clergy. I jumped in the deep end of ministry and began to sort through our processes of "doing" ministry. I was meeting with all of the ministry team chairs and asked all ministry teams to proceed with business as usual.
During this period of assessment, the Advocates for Justice and Peace, presented a desire to do the work of communal discernment in regards to our church becoming affiliated with the Reconciling Ministries Network. The Reconciling Ministries Network is a group that began as a formal effort through the afore mentioned process of discernment engaged by the United Methodist Church addressing the language and polity that effects the members of our churches who are of same sex orientation. This group's plan of advocacy includes strategic planning for denominational polity change, writing of legislation for General Conference, developing relationships with Annual Conference Bishops, leading education for the local churches, and providing plans for communal discernment and holy conferencing. (http://www.rmnetwork.org)
Affiliation with Reconciling Ministries Network allows the local church seeking to change the language and restrictions found in the Book of Discipline to find a voice in the greater United Methodist Church's work of discernment. We were and are a church that openly welcomes and affirms members of the LGBTQ community so this next progressive step of anointed servitude seemed right on point. We, as a community foundationally rooted in acceptance of all God's people, were and are uniquely equipped to give witness to the power of inclusiveness.
Within no time at all, it became apparent that our church was not practiced at holy conferencing and discernment. The process that was designed to focus and unify a community became a divisive, volatile, and alienating exploit even before our AJP Ministry team had an actionable plan. The past two and half years have been a time of conflict and privatized agendas. What I have experienced through this confused process has been people who dearly love this church caught deeply by fear - fear of change, fear of no change, fear of losing individual control, fear of trusting one another, fear of not being heard and the list continues.
Fear is toxic when it leads to communal fracturing and individualized accommodation. It is only when we seek together the will and heart of God that we come to experience the power and vitality of God's blessing. "Together" must always be the definitive foundation of our process for discernment.
In September, our Advocates for Justice and Peace offered an opportunity for every church member to have his/her voice heard in our process through an electronic and paper survey. The response of the congregation was very good. In fact, we have never had 121 responses to a congregational survey to date. The survey was presented in three specific areas - Holy Covenant Today; Reconciling Ministries Network; and The Book of Discipline. The Information that follows was presented by the Advocates for Justice and Peace during our October Ad Council meeting. The information presented below is drawn from your responses to the questions but the recommendations also take into account your comments.
Regarding Holy Covenant:
THE MARQUEE STATEMENT SHOULD REMAIN AS IS.
Regarding affiliation with the Reconciling Ministries Network:
WE DO NOT RECOMMEND A VOTE FOR SEEKING AFFILIATION WITH RMN.
Regarding the Book of Discipline:
WE RECOMMEND THE AD COUNCIL RESEARCH AND ENDORSE RESOLUTIONS FOR FULL INCLUSION OF ALL PERSONS.
WE RECOMMEND THE ADULT EDUCATION TEAM PROVIDE TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES ON BOTH THE UMC BOOK OF DISCIPLINE AND THE RECONCILING MINISTRIES NETWORK; SUCH TRAINING TO CONSIST OF BOTH CURRENT AND HISTORICAL TRAINING.
So what are next steps in our process of seeking justice for our family, friends, neighbors and church community of the LGBTQ community? Just as they were before we came to these recommendation concerning affiliating with RMN. We are to accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves and open the church for people of all ages, nations, races [and orientations.]
1.) Formalize a statement of our collective belief about same sex oriented persons, full inclusion for same sex oriented persons into ordained leadership of the United Methodist Church, and same sex relationships/marriage.
2. ) Map out a "Process of Discernment" for our community so each member will be knowledgeable and empowered to become a cooperative, honoring voice for future work regarding communal statements of belief and action. I further recommend that this process be foundationally built upon "togetherness" as expressed by the Apostle Paul as "a body with Christ as the head" which will require we identify
a.) Rules of Engagement,
b.) Communication Processes,
c.) Authority Entrusted Leaders.
3.) Act upon the RECOMMENDATIONS brought to our Ad Council by the Advocates for Justice and Peace and presented to the congregation above.
This 10 year (or more) process of discernment of affiliating with the Reconciling Ministries Network has allowed our congregation to grow in many ways. Simply by bringing the conversation to bear, we, as individual disciples, have been pushed to critically evaluate the biblical, theological, religious and social predicament of a people who do not have equal rights within our church, country and world. This is the real work of faith that John Wesley mandated. He did not believe that we could experience full personal salvation until we could realize full salvation for all of our neighbors. We are not to be blind, deaf or apathetic about the plight or oppression of our brothers and sisters.
Therefore, this process' outcome has not produced winners or losers. We are all more informed and hopefully more compassionate as a result of the work. If we hold "togetherness" as a sacred trust, then we also acknowledge that we are members of the one body of Christ. When one member of our body experiences exclusion, grief, disappointment or dejection, the whole body is impacted. If one person's heart is broken, all must feel the heart pangs of brokenness.
The recommendations thoughtfully offered to our community are not formalized to bring resolution and closure to our work of alleviating the injustices imposed upon members of our church, local, national, and international community but rather aid us in defining our next steps of work.
We are a community who seeks to "be in love with God and one another." (UMH pg 12) Let us all work together so that all may experience equality in this world and come to now the good news of Jesus Christ in word and in deed.
I am holding you all in my prayers.
Senior Pastor, Holy Covenant United Methodist Church
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