CLINTON COUNTY — United Methodist Church (UMC) pastors in Wilmington, Blanchester and Sabina followed with interest the recent UMC conference regarding gay clergy and same-gender weddings, and one of them even was at the St. Louis arena as an observer.
Wilmington UMC Rev. Marie Smith traveled to the church conference where delegates from around the world voted 438-384 to keep prohibitions against gay weddings and clergy.
“I will say it has been very upsetting to many of the people here in this congregation that I can marry someone off the street that they don’t know, but somebody that they have nurtured and cared for — because they’re gay — they can’t be married in the church or by their pastor,” Smith said.
That situation makes it feel like there’s discrimination, or that the same rights don’t apply, she added.
Before going to St Louis, about two people spoke to her in favor of the traditional plan passing, as it did. The traditional plan was one of the proposals up for debate at the church convention. But when Smith came back she said about 10 families came to her and were upset and couldn’t believe the traditional stance was approved.
At the conference Smith wore a rainbow-colored stole, colors whose variety represent support for those in the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning) community.
The conference was a painful experience, she said, adding you could see pain on all sides, for the LGBTQ community in particular.
The issue isn’t just about human sexuality, according to Smith. It’s about how people see biblical writings differently, between what she described as a literal version of scripture versus scripture in context.
So now a key question is how Methodists can learn to have a mission and vision in common with one another — regardless of how they might see biblical writings, she said.
As for herself, she feels her call is to help Wilmington UMC “remain focused on the mission and vision, and remain focused on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
The issues of gay clergy and same-sex weddings are not going away, said the pastor who in July will observe her second anniversary in the Wilmington UMC pulpit.
Blanchester Grace UMC Rev. Chuck Shonkwiler said he watched a live stream of the convention and also has friends who attended. He believes the voting delegates made the right choice, a position that’s been consistently made for more than 40 years at UMC general conferences, he said.
There was talk ahead of time at his church about the 2019 special conference, and most people in the congregation are supportive of the delegates’ decision, said Shonkwiler.
Sabina UMC Rev. Joni Manson, like Shonkwiler, watched the conference via a live stream. She has talked with some members of her congregation and they are generally disappointed with the decision.
She said she is trying to be encouraging with them, communicating that while the matter is an important issue, it is not the only issue and that the church’s main mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Even with the delegates’ vote, UMC members can still be about that mission, said Manson.
For her part, she stated, “While I am deeply saddened by the division, mean-spirited rhetoric and pain that happened at, and has resulted from, General Conference, I know that we serve a great big God — Almighty God — who can and will work in the midst of all this to do more than we can ask or even imagine in order to restore hope.
“I pray and trust God — especially at the local church level — to bring healing, wholeness, peace, love, grace and acceptance to all people — regardless of age, race, income level, marital status, gender identity or sexual orientation.
“I pray that God helps us United Methodists to live what we proclaim: ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors’,” she said.
Reach Gary Huffenberger at 937-556-5768.