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Annual Conference Special Session News

This past Sunday your pastors and lay delegates (Marcy LaViollette and Jim Odiorne) attended a special called session of the Annual Conference. As you may remember, our local church is part of geographic cluster of churches known as a "district" (we are Crest to Coast) overseen by a district superintendent (ours is Rev. Kathleen Weber) and districts are further grouped into an Annual Conference (we are Pacific Northwest Annual Conference) that represents approx 250 churches in Washington state and a portion of Idaho. Each year an equal number of clergy and lay people from these churches gather together to vote on matters that affect all of the churches across our connection. Occasionally, when there is pressing business that cannot wait until the annual gathering there is a "special called session."

As you also may know, our denomination's decade long disagreement over the inclusion of LGBQT+ persons in the life of the church, is leading some churches to choose to leave our denomination rather than be fully inclusive. This past Sunday, the voting members of the Annual Conference, voted to allow thirteen churches to "disaffiliate" from the denomination. The names of these churches along with a recording of the voting session and other information can be found here. None of the churches are from our district, the majority are from the districts that represent eastern Washington. The three hour meeting included prayer, discussion and information from the Annual Conference about the process of disaffiliation. In short, each of these churches contacted their district superintendent in the past year and expressed a desire to explore disaffiliation. Once voted on by the local church, the discernment process began. In each of these churches this included prayer and extensive conversation until another vote was taken where members could make the decision to stay or leave. In each of these churches over 90% of the membership voted to leave (keep in mind most of these churches have 10-50 people in their membership). The next step was the voting approval of the Annual Conference, which took place on Sunday. All 13 dis affiliations were approved. These churches now have a window of time in which to settle their debts to the conference and other transitional matters but will no longer be United Methodists by the end of May.

As we are reminded in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, "If one member suffers, all suffer together with it." We are a connectional system and disaffiliation is a painful process for everyone involved. In our world today where people move regularly, there are those who are hurt that their childhood or "home" church has chosen disaffiliation. Clergy who served those churches are hurting. There are those within those congregations (the brave one or two) who voted against disaffiliation who are being cared for by the conference until they transfer their membership to another UMC. Additionally, frustrations were raised in the meeting that these churches were allowed to keep their buildings when those properties could be used to further the missions of the UMC (such as affordable housing). For those of us who have chosen the path of inclusion it is painful that our siblings in Christ were unwilling to open their hearts to the inherent belovedness and goodness of all people. We pray that the grace of God that moves through all people, times and places, is at work in this moment.

What can we do here in the local church in response to this news? The road to justice is long and there are many ways we can enter into and continue this important and holy work. First, we can pray for and reach out to our siblings across the denomination. We can pray for our clergy and lay delegates as they prepare for the Annual Conference gathering in June and continue to advocate for full inclusion in our denomination. Second, we can do the internal work necessary to free ourselves and our loved ones of our homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. Finally, we can strengthen our witness as inclusive United Methodists through our participation in Capital City Pride, advocating for LGBTQ+ inclusion on the legislative level and volunteering throughout the year in our many local nonprofits such as Pizza Klatch, PFLAG, Sound Alliance of Older LGBTQ+. OlyTransFam and others. As we do the work of justice may we continue to lovingly hold each other accountable as we partner with the Holy Spirit to co-create the beloved community that Jesus describes in the Gospels.

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