The Rev. Dr. Jennifer Browne writes a heartfelt thank-you note to The Michigan Conference for the spirit of maturity, forbearance, and kindness she witnessed during Annual Conference this year.
Clergy Assistant to the Bishop & Director of Clergy Services, Michigan Conference
Dear Michigan Conference,
I write to thank you for a faith- and joy-filled Annual Conference. Our time together at the Grand Traverse Resort last week made me proud to be a Michigan United Methodist. I know how very hard so many of you worked to pull this together, balancing safety with the desire for fellowship, efficiency, and inclusion. It wasn’t perfect, but in the spirit of “the perfect is the enemy of the good,” it was very, very good.
Thank you to those who spoke in respectful disagreement with others, thank you to those who allowed grace and humor to infuse our conversations, thank you to those who danced, sang, laughed, and cried when the Spirit moved you.
Thank you to those who have chosen to remain with The United Methodist Church as a denomination, even though you may have doubts, questions, and criticisms. I hope and pray that we can work together to build a better, more faithful church that more clearly reflects the love of Jesus for the world.
Thank you to those who have chosen to leave the United Methodist Church with prayerful consideration and integrity. I hope and pray that we can work together even from “across the aisle.” Other conferences have not been as peacefully conducted as ours was.
On June 9 at the Florida Annual Conference, 16 persons approved by their Board of Ordained Ministry to be commissioned were rejected by a vote of 27.8% of the Clergy Session, just missing the necessary 75% majority. The recommended candidates were presented to the Clergy Session as a group, as has been Florida’s process for the last 31 years. The group was rejected because some of them are members of the LGBTQIA community.
My colleague in Florida, Director of Clergy Excellence Rev. Sara McKinley wrote: “The harm that this decision has caused to this provisional class is immeasurable. Harm has also been done to the BOM [Board of Ordained Ministry] itself, the DCOMs [District Committees on Ordained Ministry], the local churches and pastors who supported these candidates. The depth of grief is profound. The level of hatred expressed to LGBTQIA persons is simply staggering.”
There was no commissioning at the Service of Recognition, Commissioning, and Ordination. Instead 5 Provisional Deacon robes and 11 Provisional Elder robes were placed on the seats that would have been theirs in the RCO service.
My heart breaks for those 16 candidates, for the members of the Florida Conference, and for our church. I cannot comprehend how this act of angry rejection was justified as the right thing to do by those who voted “no” to the group. The moral and theological disagreement in our denomination has led to our divorce. But how is burning down the house we once shared an acceptable act, much less a Christian one?
So thank you, Michigan Conference. I pray that the spirit of maturity, forbearance, and kindness that I witnessed two weeks ago will continue to grace our conversations and our ministries, even as some of us separate to become different expressions of Methodism.
And I ask for your prayers for our United Methodist Church family in Florida, in the United States, and around the world. May God continue making a way, even when we cannot see it.
Yours in faith,