A Pastoral Letter

Here’s he pastoral letter that was read at Druid Hills UMC while I was away. It’s also been sent out to the congregation. I share it here, as well.

Dear church family,

I pause in the midst of a busy three weeks–a frantic and, in some ways, trying Annual Conference, a renewing week of sharing with six other congregations about best practices in worship, and now family vacation–to write to you.

So much has happened in the past two weeks. We started with a tragic hate crime, if not domestic terror attack. Follow that with foreign terror attacks and it seems quite a lot. But the aftermath of what has happened in Charleston, from the massive outpouring of support to the long overdue appropriating of symbols of the Confederacy to the museum, has been heartening. To hear our President share words of hope and grace was amazing. You’ll be proud to know a contingent of lay and clergy went to pay homage and give support the family of the nine deceased in Charleston. To see North Georgia’s own Jonathan Holston, now bishop of South Carolina, represent the entire United Methodist Church and greet our President was a serendipitous moment.

On the same day, The Supreme Court provided clarification about the Affordable Care Act, which advances providing insurance to everyone–a justice issue the United Methodist Church has stood for long before the current political debate. It was a hopeful word on a somber day.

And then Friday happened. Love won. As a United Methodist Church identifying itself with the Reconciling Minisitries Network, this is a day we have longed for–the legal recognition that marriage is a fundamental covenant and our government cannot discriminate who can enter into that covenant of their own free will because of sexual orientation. For all who feel included to a greater degree in our more perfect union, congratulations. The same goes for friends, family, allies, and advocates. As your pastor, I cannot be more proud and I celebrate with you for this milestone.

As much as we give thanks to God for what transpired at the Supreme Court, our celebrations need not be so loud as to distract us from a few realities. Our denominational polity remains the same. I cannot preside at every congregant’s wedding and Druid Hills cannot be the place where every marriage is solemnized. That said, I believe we have seen the trajectory of our nation and I hope our church we love so much will not be far behind.

We need to acknowledge that we have brothers and sisters in Christ who find one or both of this past week’s major Supreme Court rulings disheartening. We need to be gracious in action and demeanor. Earnest and sincere prayers for these members of our family should be lifted daily. We also need to be in deep, fervent prayer for our colleagues and friends heading to General Conference in Portland next April. They will have the opportunity to change our Book of Discipline to give every United Methodist Church the opportunity to be in ministry in a way fitting to serve its community. I believe the key will be finding a way forward that lets everyone live together in our church, affirming that though we might not be of one mind we need not inhibit ministry in any context.

So the work is not complete. Beyond our denominational prohibitions, full civil rights and anti-discrimination laws do not extend in all fifty states to persons identifying with the LGBT community. The death penalty still looms in our state. In virtually every community, homelessness abides. Hunger persists. Any conversation on reeling in our nation’s obsession with guns seems a lost cause. There are people hungering for deep, authentic relationships. The church has a role in helping people find wholeness of body and spirit. We have the commission to share the Gospel in word and deed with all which is to say we are in good standing to address this and more. The road is long, yes. We’re a little further down that road than we were even a month ago, praise God. But even more so, praise God we go together as the Spirit guides.

In closing, I remind us of the the general rules of our church: do no harm, do good, attend to the ordinances of God. May these words live in our hearts and empower our deeds.

I look forward to being among you and seeing you soon.