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General Conference Reflection: Grief tempered by Joy

Talk by Judy Cayot, co-Lay Leader of Epworth UMC Berkeley.

Grief tempered by Joy

Downtown St. Louis was cold and desolate the day after GC ended, reflecting my mood. As I walked there, our pastor, Kristin texted me asking how I was. I replied, “sitting with grief and joy. They are old friends.” That is where I am still.

Great joy at seeing many long-time friends from across this country whom I have known because of our connectional church – in fact Anna Blaedel, who was an intern here at Epworth in 2005-6, asked me to give her love to EVERYONE at Epworth.

Grief at what feels like the breaking apart of the connection itself – that connectionalism which makes United Methodists unique.

Joy in walking this journey with the 10 United Methodist Pacific School of Religion students and other auditors in Filipe Maia’s Special General Conference immersion class. We came from varied backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives on LGBTQIA concerns but we were church for each other throughout the week…and I am grateful to them for their openness.

Grief for a broken church that talked the words of “holy conferencing” but nowhere in the General Conference embodied it.

Joy and gratitude for the messages from the Epworth community here in California – the prayer beads given by our youth that I wore every day to remind me of home and church. Ironically, as I walked into the final meeting with our Western Jurisdiction bishops – while taking off my coat – the tender threads holding the beads broke and beads fell to the floor. I scooped them all up to bring home with me but that moment felt like I felt about the United Methodist Church – broken and falling apart.

Coming home with a heavy heart – I turned to distractions on Thursday and (being a movie junkie) watched all the Oscars shows. Two things stood out for me:

The long years of perseverance on behalf of women rights and other justice issues by Ruth Bader Ginsberg – as reflected in the documentary, RBG. And the presence of U.S. Representative John Lewis.

Despite what you may think about his appearance at the Oscars or what film should have won Best Picture, I found myself thinking about what it must have taken for Rep. Lewis and so many others to stay in the fight for civil rights through decades/centuries of oppression and violence; and for him to persevere as a representative working within an often fractious system of government (not unlike the UMC General Conference). When asked by a reporter what he would say to young people in America today, Mr Lewis replied without hesitation, “Never, ever give up or give in. You must continue to stand up, speak up, speak out, and get involved.”

I don’t want to get into comparing oppressions. What I do want to do is take courage from others’ persistence in their struggles for a more humane, just world. For a genuine beloved community.

I am aware of how much privilege I have – including in this particular fight. We have what Susan Willm has rightly called ‘Western Jurisdiction privilege’.

Yes, our bishops made a powerful statement of inclusion, offering sanctuary and a commitment to carry on as we are…but many folks both within and outside of the U.S. are left behind in that statement. We can want to be sanctuary for others – but we cannot expect them to “just move” as one person said she’s been told to do many times. So my question, is how do we extend the table? How do we be part of making it safe for LGBTQIA folk and their allies everywhere?

At the Love Your Neighbor Coalition closing worship on Wednesday, there were several speakers. A white gay student from upstate New York who hopes one day to be ordained in this church he loves; a queer African-American woman from New England who is in the process of certification for ordination but with an uncertain future; our Western Jurisdiction Reconciling Ministries Network organizer, Issy Alvarez, who talked about being from a conservative family in the Philippines – a place that is still home for him but where he cannot go. And finally, an African clergyman, the Rev. Kennedy Mwita, a District Superintendent in the Kenya-Ethiopia Annual Conference who identified himself as an ally. I wondered what difficulties or threats he may have endured because of his work for Human Rights and especially on behalf of LGBTQ people in his country. I was so grateful to him for taking time to be with us that I sought him out to say thanks. He leaned forward to hear me over the crowd and reached out his hand in a handshake of solidarity that I will not soon forget.

Sitting with grief and joy. That is where I am still.

Yet the activist in me is saying – stand up, speak up, get involved. Here’s my list so far:

  • Talk with Church Council about how Epworth can effectively use our unique talents and resources when so many human rights concerns are before us

  • Attend the General Conference debrief meeting with our bishop on April 7 (here at Epworth)

  • Become more intentionally aligned with other Reconciling Congregations around Cal/Nevada Conference and beyond to be more effective in our witness and/or strategy

Who knows, maybe we can even…

  • Reach out to folks in the Kenya/Ethiopia Annual Conference – start some kind of on-going communication – a connectionalism that is truly Wesleyan.

There is grief, there is joy, there is anger, and then there is action.

And always there is singing!

Blessed be.

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