Pastoral Letter Part II
Dear Members and Friends,
Last Sunday, February 10, I preached about the unity of the church in light of the special session of the UM General Conference that will be held in St. Louis from February 23-26. An earlier message (“Part 1”) explains what that conference is, why it important, and how you can learn more about it. This message is more personal and reviews some of the themes from last week’s sermon, which have to do with Brunswick’s specific ministry and my own call to ministry. If you are not already informed about the upcoming General Conference or its purpose, please begin with my previous message.
In Essentials Unity, in All Things, Charity
Brunswick strives to be a place where people with different cultures, perspectives, values, and viewpoints can come together to know one another and serve God together. This is incredibly important in our world today, when media and other forces continually push us into more homogenous groups. Your pastor will always strive to treat you with respect, no matter how stringently we may disagree on any issue.
Brunswick is a Local Church
We are called by God to serve all of God’s people starting at the corner of 42nd Avenue North and Colorado. On a day to day basis, there is nothing about the love we share, the meals we serve, or the hope we proclaim that will be changed by any decision made at General Conference.
Division and Splits Are Nothing New to Methodists
Hearing about division is scary, but the church has always faced schism. There are literally dozens of denominational divisions and conflicts in the history of Methodism just in the United States. We argued and split most dramatically over the issue of slavery. We have also argued over prohibition, enforcement of labor laws, theological issues, styles of worship, types of music, participation of women in leadership, over scientific developments and medical procedures, over wars and weapons. We have argued (and split) over the issue of whether there should be bishops or not, and even whether rent should be charged for the use of particular pews. Sometimes we have come back together, merged, and unified. Often this has been as difficult and unjust as our splits have been. In 1939, for example, Methodist churches in the north and south reunified, but the price paid for “unity” was the racial segregation of all historically Black congregations and their pastors. In every era, we seek God’s graceful will and we strive to love others as Christ has loved us. We often fall short of the mark.
Pastoral Experience that Informs Me
The church where I served for 8 years prior to coming to Brunswick (Woodbury UMC, now The Grove UMC) was badly harmed and split over poor handling of issues of sexuality in the years prior to my appointment there. I grieved deeply for and worked closely with a number of members of that congregation, some of whom had six generations in that church, who felt ridiculed and abandoned by their faith community because of their traditional views on sexuality. In this case the problem wasn’t that gay people were being harmed, but that traditional people were. Neither one is okay with me.
Why Marriage for All Matters to Me
As a pastor I often work with couples. Some are married, some living together, and some planning to marry. Whenever a couple is in a particular time of trouble - emotional problems in the relationship, financial struggles, external problems - one of a pastor’s biggest challenges is helping that couple to stay together long enough to explore new ways of working through old hurts. Married couples who are challenged in this way face several advantages over unmarried ones: marriage is a religious and legal contract that makes splitting up more difficult; a couple who considers their marriage sacred has an especially deep well of strength for working through conflicts. Marriage contains a host of legal and financial advantages for couples working through any medical or social agency. I have counseled same-gender couples who have been together for decades and even raised children together, only to have one partner suddenly turn away. Typically this is the financially advantaged partner. A pastor in this situation cannot say “you made a promise before God.” There is no court procedure slowing things down. Depending on how property titles have been managed, one partner may be left financially destitute and homeless. A life-long parent may have no legal protections and no claim to custody or even visitation. I don’t want anyone to suffer through a break-up without moral and legal protection, especially when there are children involved.
Minnesota Seeks Unity
Although the UMC in Minnesota is not "of one mind” with respect to issues of sexuality and justice, the Minnesota Annual Conference is deeply committed to the unity of The United Methodist Church. There will be no radical or secessionist movements coming out of Minnesota. It is also my intention to uphold and follow the mandates of the UM Discipline with regard to human sexuality, marriage and all other matters, even when I disagree with it. My focus will always be on compassionate care for the people in Brunswick’s community, in whatever ways they are hurting.
Pray for God’s Abiding Presence at the General Conference and Beyond
Please pray for The United Methodist Church, for its leaders and General Conference delegates as they come together to do the work of the church in St. Louis. Please pray for Brunswick’s ministries to continue to grow in joy and vitality. Pray that we may be kind to one another, and that we will be a people who think carefully, who listen/read broadly, and who engage in significant conversations.
Grace and Peace,
PS - I am scheduled to be on vacation this Sunday, February 17 until I return on the 24th. After the General Conference, Bishop Bruce Ough will be gathering all UM clergy in Minnesota on March 11. Any formal conversations or meetings about these matters will be held after that time. Other than my vacation days, I am happy to discuss these matters personally with anyone.
Ruth Ann Ramstad