This blog is written in response to the decision made at the General Conference meeting of the UMC February 23-26, 2019 to maintain the exclusive language in the Book of Discipline regarding homosexual persons.Read More
A Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church took place February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The purpose was to act on a report from the Commission on a Way Forward, authorized to examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and to explore options to strengthen church unity. Our own Pastor Dan Martin has written a response to this decision seen below. You may also read a reflection about next steps written by Joe Iovino.
Dear West Market Street United Methodist Church Family,
The cat is out of the bag, so to speak. I have always known that when I speak, I speak with words that are interpreted as being the words of West Market Street United Methodist Church. I have openly shared my beliefs and opinions in private conversations but have not used the pulpit or my position to take stands without understanding that I speak for every member of this church. I have been measured in my responses and words. The words that follow are not words for the casual Christian. If the radical grace of Jesus Christ is not in your heart then skip to the last paragraph now and do not read what is in the middle. I will always be your pastor and will judge you only with the merciful heart of your pastor and will walk with you all the way to hell because I love you. I am honored to be your pastor.
The last four days have been excruciating days and nights for the United Methodist Church. In the late 1960s and early 70s several denominations came together to unite into the United Methodist Church. The object of that time was to unite. For the past few years there have been movements in the United Methodist Church to produce a division. Now the division is in place and there are many decisions to be made over the next months and years as to who we will be as a church. It appears we have been given this opportunity to be who we believe God needs us to be as opposed to being who others have decided for us. For years we have tolerated open attacks on God’s children from within the church and now the self-justified police have become known as to the nature of their true hearts.
Today, as the dust settles we begin to look around the remains of the United Methodist Church and to put out the fires that burn around us, to see if relations can be salvaged, and to decide what parts need to be torn down for rebuilding and what parts need to be salvaged for renovation. The landscape is not easily recognizable from the same vantage point as a week ago and the future landscape is to be determined.
This morning, as the words remain strained in our fixed and raw throats as they have cut us like razors, as our ears still ring from the shrill sirens of attacks and bombardments, as our eyes still burn from the tears, as our breaths are very shallow, and as our spirits call us to get up and move into the day: we know we will be greeted with a new and vocal landscape of intolerance. The final words have been spoken, voted upon, and decided. We have let our own fears, desires, hatreds, and personal internal struggles to speak as if they are God. We have listened to these voices, joined them together, and believed they are sacred. We have a new self-proclaimed golden calf that stands right in front of us all.
I am fully aware that it is hard for a denomination to span beliefs that truthfully represent faithful Christians in West Africa, California, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Denton, NC, and Greensboro. I understand there are differences and beliefs in each place that are real and must be understood with tolerance. I also know how to live in faithful support and tolerance as an eternally broken family of God. I know we have some level of belief that we are perfect and our church is perfect. I have always found it humorous that Jesus was ridiculed for eating with sinners. My question is, whom else could he eat with? It is the United Methodist Church is the church that nurtured me from my beginning breaths, Baptized the very first Sunday after my birth, in front of my church family who received me in faithful solidarity of all other Christians, in spite of our differences, around the world. This is the church where I found my faith, where I received my call. This is the church of my ordination. We all have our stories as to how we found the Lord in the United Methodist Church and moved into becoming disciples, ministers, and missionaries from that foundation. We have thrived in our church home with our church families. In our lifetime we have weathered the evils of our culture involving racism, the sin of sexual suppression as women have been offered opportunities, the great understanding that special needs children of God have rights, and in our understanding that the declarative statements of “man” and “woman” are not as clearly defined as we would wish. As in all tempting evil we have believed ina simplistic, while imprisoning, truth that presently cannot stand the test of truth. Life is not black and white and God’s children do not fit into two boxes. Actually, WE do not fit into easy boxes.
Today, Pharisees, who want to protect the Word of God, while at the same time oppressing the Children of God, have had their way. The reasons for this are foreign to me but from personal conversations I know that many people are trapped in a sexual identity they cannot accept for themselves and have been forced to live in a lie that has robbed them of their God given identity, that some live in fear that they will be discovered, that some have never received the grace of God allowing them to extend the same amazing grace to others, that some have allowed hatred and intolerance to become their truth, and some actually believe due to many unknown reasons that God hates the very children that were uniquely and amazingly crafted into their identity, without the permission of the child, and this hatred has to be acted upon in the name of “God.” Thousands of individuals have confidentially and secretly told me of their horrible pain while believing God is punishing them and hating them due to their sexual identity. Now the church believes we have the sacred duty to impose our little fearful and self-made truth on others. Has this become our identity as a people of God? Am I a disciple of the Risen Lord to spend my time accusing others of what I believe are their shortcomings.
How do I deal with the way we have self-justified the Biblical words concerning adultery? Are we to honor those words and offer the punishment demanded? How do we justify our current acceptance of divorce and remarrying? How do we justify our views on Sabbath? How do we honor God by our personal greed as others go hungry? We have certainly found our way around the inconvenient words of God that interfere with our life. Then we somehow pointto others who are not like us, who we can claim are different from us, who we justify by our self-assumed belief should be “fixed” to be a part of the cruise, presently the LGBTQ community. Is the God created LGBTQ community of individuals required to graduate from a course of re-identification on exile island to be a part of the church (by the way, the Wesleyan Covenant organization under the name of the Good News Movement has a program where members of the LGBTQ community can be sent to be transformed into a heterosexual through a Jesus based program). Is this to be our future as a church? Who will be called out to be the next group of “sinners” who do not belong on the boat?
Today I feel like a Martian in the church that has forever felt like my spiritual home. Maybe you feel the same. We have fallen to the place of picking on each other rather than dealing with the real evil in our culture including rampant abuse of individuals held captive as sex-slaves, the continued slavery of people caught in an endless and bottomless depravity of cyclical financial captivity, the financial expectations of a culture that are out of control driving us to divorce our soul for the sake of getting ahead, the dissolution of the family, the continued increase of narcissistic attitudes by those who govern us, or the deadly relations between our law enforcement officers and our public who are pitted against one another in what has become a nightly news bite. All of these are sacred needs that we ignore as we believe we serve God by claiming his unique genetic creation in an individual is to be called, “bad.”
We believe it would be wonderful if we were all from “Kansas,” so to speak. We think if we were all black, or white, or brown, or green life would be wonderful. We believe if we made strong borders so we are all boxed off in our little hotels then everything would be great. We want all food to taste like the amalgamation of “American food,” all clothes to be the same, all dancing to be decent, all visual art to be monochromatic, all music to be at best harmonic, all education to be one size fits all, all church to be people who are just alike, and all people to be practically perfect in every way. Then we think this is what God wants and we make it a church. Sinners who do not resemble this should not come in and are certainly not welcome.
So who will we be as a church? West Market Street United Methodist Church will be who we have always been. We will welcome all who come to us, will offer spiritual growth opportunities that will expect the development of mature disciples, our worship of the living and all saving God of grace and mercy found in Jesus Christ will be proclaimed, our members will love each other with graceful and merciful hearts, and our outreach to the broken world will be without question and without limits. I have always known that when I speak I speak for the church. I have always measured my statements and comments due to this place of power and responsibility. I have been a pastor to all and will continue to be such a pastor. I am sorry that I cannot have lunch with everyone so we can talk personally on any issue. I am available at 336-708-6015 for calls and will be as available as I can be for any drop by or scheduled conversation. I will, however, not stop attending to the duties of the pastor (administration, pastoral care, outreach, and worship) that take a lot of my time every day. We will continue to be “church” and there will be no noticeable changes in how we do ministry on West Market Street. No one’s belief or stance will keep me from being their pastor, I believe in the redeeming grace of Jesus Christ, and I am available, as long as, you will allow me, the opportunity to serve as your pastor. As always, I am honored to be your pastor and a pastor at West Market Street United Methodist Church.
Blessing, Pastor Dan
Please join us for prayers and conversation this Sunday,
March 3, at 1:30 pm in the Sanctuary.
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By: Dan Martin, Senior Pastor
On a cold day in December, a mother gave birth to a baby boy. Have you heard that story before? The story has been heard so many times that it appears to be old and warn out. We are too familiar with that story.
At the mall I saw a window display of three giant teddy-bears. The large male was dressed as Joseph, the smaller female was dressed as Mary, and the baby bear was in a manger, of course! If there was once a grand mystery around the Incarnation, it has long since been fully explained as three jolly bears now witness to everything we need to know. This scene is plump with emotionalism and sentiment and lacking in hope or power. This is actually very bad news.
How can a cuddly teddy bear help us to deal with our pain? How can cloth and stuffing help us with the slam of heartbreak, the tail lights driving away from a home in a just-broken family, the numb face from horrible news from a medical test, the threat of war, a pink slip on an anticipated regular day at work, or a family member being ripped away from us by eternal death? Everyone wants a “just my sized God,” fluffy and approachable without those negative commandments or transforming expectations. Then, once we get God down to teddy-bear size, we find God is powerless. A reduced God is no God at all. God cannot be less than us…but has to be more than us.
Maybe none of this is true. Maybe a giant hand spun it all into motion and then left. Maybe the horror of a thousand declining centuries will never be made right because we cannot do it and there is no power out there that can help us. Maybe the raw material of this visible life is all there is. Maybe the stars truly are far and cold.
On a cold and star-pierced night, a frightened girl in a strange city gave birth in a stable. When she carried her baby into the temple a few weeks later an old man stopped her to say, "This child will be a sign that is spoken against and a sword will pierce through your own soul also!" This is the promise of God, the heart-aching worry of a new mother, the dire life that would be lived by this child, and the sacrificial power, in our stead, to save us.
In the heart of that mother is born the greatest and most self-sacrificing earthly love in unbelievable and mystifyingly fragile blooms of a hope that could never be imagined or created on our own. This is the day of our powerful hope in Christ Jesus.
Lord, I will give allegiance to You and will trust in the power of the Savior, Jesus Christ, as I humbly bow on this great day and faithfully give thanks for Your sacrifice and hope…for me…and all those I love. I believe in the fragile blooms of hope. Amen.
Share your photo representing HOLY FAMILY and add the hashtag #westmarketchristmas.
By: Dan Martin, Senior Pastor
This is the Annunciation. Mary, a common woman, takes center stage this time of the year. Mary is venerated by some Christians, ignored by some Christians, and misunderstood by other Christians. At times, Catholics have transformed the peasant Jewish teenage girl into an otherworldly queen. At times, Protestants and Evangelicals have pretended that she never existed, or they have missed the truth that she was the first disciple, that she displayed radical faith and trust in God.
Mary hears the call of God and she responds. She models faith, obedience, servanthood, discipleship, and hospitality.
Mary has been told that she has found favor with God. The Power of the Holy Spirit will come upon her. She will give birth to the Savior. She questions how this can be. She is told that nothing is impossible with God! An ordinary woman has been told that she will do something extraordinary.
Once there was a man sleepily watching a Sunday football game on TV when his children invited him to experience a play they had put together. He came up from his slumber to witness his older son, an obvious Joseph with a broom handle and a robe, his daughter, an obvious Mary with a pillow under her shirt, and the youngest daughter adorned with all the jewelry she could find. The youngest proclaimed that she was all three wise men and that she was bringing “gold, circumstance, and mud!”
The father did not correct her but took some time to reflect on the truth of this proclamation. God loves us for who we are: our gold ~ where we are at our best, our circumstance ~ where we are right now, and even in our mud ~ where we are when we are most human. Mary tells us that God can take our gold, circumstance, and mud and make something glorious with it.
Almighty God, Teach us that what is impossible for us is possible for you. Give us courage to hear this great teaching at Christmas. Amen.
Share your picture representing CHILD and add the hashtag #westmarketchristmas.
By: Jill Alventosa-Brown, Pastor of Congregational Care and Older Adults
As a child I’m sure I made promises to my friends that were, shall we say, less than heartfelt. At times I may have even made promises to my brothers in order to get what I wanted. How easy it is for us to say, “I promise I’ll call,” or “I promise I’ll come see you…” to friends and family; acquaintances near and far. And they usually respond, “I hope so!” Sadly, both parties are fully aware that such promises have an air of flimsiness to them and the likelihood of them being fulfilled is questionable. We have good intentions, but our follow through is often weak. In today’s scripture, Mary is promised in marriage to Joseph. Such a promise had meaning and consequences which depended on the character of each party fulfilling their obligation. Yet even that promise is weak when compared to the promise that the angel Gabriel delivered to Mary. ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you!’ That may sound rather frightening at first, but Gabriel makes it clear that this is a promise Mary will be able to hang on to—not just in the moment, but for the future as well. Still, Mary wondered what it all meant. We don’t hear the questions running through her head, but Gabriel senses them and offers her another promise, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” This is a robust promise which only God can offer to us. The conversation continues between Mary and Gabriel, but it has been established that the generator of this promise, the Most High God, will keep the promise now and through all the days of Mary’s life. The promise of Advent is that God favors us and chooses to become like us in order that the image of God might be restored in us.
Gracious God, we are grateful for your promise to us of salvation and life abundant in Jesus Christ. Help us to fulfill our promise to let Christ be born in us once more this Advent season. In the name of Emanuel, God with us, we pray, Amen.
Share your photo representing PROMISE and add the hashtag #westmarketchristmas.
By: Erin Althaus, Director of Children's Ministry
With Christmas just days away, I bet you have presents on your mind. Either you are finished with your shopping or still trying to come up with some ideas, we are all in the thick of buying gifts right now. I don’t know about you but I have a really hard time keeping the gifts that I buy secret. Its so much fun to pick out something for someone then hide it until Christmas. But sometimes I can quite stop thinking about that perfect gift that I’m waiting to give. I’m like a kid in a candy store obsessing about the present and wanting so badly to just give it to them right now!
Today’s verse reminds us that we have Good News to share. This Good News was a secret whispered by the prophets for ages and fulfilled when Jesus came to us as a baby and lived among us. He ate with sinners and loved those that no one else did. He healed the sick and cared deeply for the broken. His world is an upside world where the first is last and the last is first. And we know that he came to save you and me. We are the sick and the broken and the lost. He came to give his life for us that we could be worthy to spend forever with God.
This Good News is so amazing and so hard to believe. It’s the perfect gift! That someone would love us so much that they would die for us so we would have eternal life. But this Good News that was once a secret is not anymore. We don’t have to keep it to ourselves! In fact, we need to share the Good News with everyone we love, know and meet.
So don’t worry about having to keep this secret, in fact, spread it like wildfire.
Loving God, Please give me the courage and excitement needed to spread your Good News. Amen.