BUMC has received a number of new members since the church voted to affiliate with the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) in October 2019. Many new members may not be familiar with the term ‘Reconciling Congregation’ in the context of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Moreover, the Covid Pandemic over the course of the last nearly three years has impacted many aspects of church operation, including our ability to meet in person during the period of the shutdown, the nature in which the church conducts its array of ministries, and the pace at which it has been able to implement a number of the policies to which it is committed.
This article provides background on the meaning of a Reconciling Congregation in the context of the United Methodist Church, and the manner in which BUMC has committed to implement its policy as a reconciled church, as it will continue to do so in the future.
The Reconciling Ministries Network is an organization seeking the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in both the policy and the practices of the United Methodist Church. It is one of a number of Welcoming Congregation organizations to emerge in American Christian churches in the 1980s. The Reconciling Ministries Network includes 1,180 UMC organizations, including UMC churches, church subgroups, and campus ministries, and numbers 42,161 individuals.
In 2014 BUMC began a lengthy conversation about and study of Reconciliation and what it means to be a Reconciling Congregation. In September 2015, BUMC approved a new welcoming statement affirmatively welcoming brothers and sisters of differing sexual orientations and gender identities:
“We are a congregation that welcomes all with open hearts, open minds, and open doors. Our faith is deeply rooted in the Methodist tradition of social justice, and we support the inclusion of all in every aspect of the life of the church. We are more than the sum of our parts. We are a community of believers, doubters, and seekers of all ages, from all corners of the earth. Our church family is made up of people of differing sexual orientations and gender identities and we affirm and celebrate all of them. We are socially, politically, and theologically diverse, yet we are one in the body of Christ. We welcome everyone who wishes to join us as we strive to order our lives in the way of the footwasher, Jesus Christ, to love our God, to love our neighbors and to bring peace, kindness, and justice to a world in need.”
In 2019 at the conclusion of its deliberation process the church voted overwhelmingly in favor of affiliating with the RMN. In so doing the Pastors, the Lay Leaders, and the congregation committed to the tenets of reconciliation as enunciated in the following statement:
“We celebrate God’s gift of diversity and value the wholeness made possible in community equally shared and shepherded by all. We welcome and affirm people of every gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation, who are also of every age, race, ethnicity, physical and mental ability, level of education, and family structure, and of every economic, immigration, marital, and social status, and so much more. We acknowledge that we live in a world of profound social, economic, and political inequities. As followers of Jesus, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of justice and pledge to stand in solidarity with all who are marginalized and oppressed.”
Since its 2019 decision to become a Reconciling Congregation, despite the intrusion of the Covid Pandemic and the challenges that it has posed to the routine function of the church, BUMC has moved forward in a number of ways to reflect its commitment to Reconciliation.
In order to make certain of the public awareness of this commitment, BUMC this year registered on the network of United Methodist Churches as a congregation in the Washington area that has adopted Reconciliation as its formal policy. BUMC donates annually to the Reconciling Ministries Network and to the Baltimore Washington Area Reconciling Ministries. The church also joined the list of churches that support Partners in Harmony, which supports music programs for gay men and youth in the Washington, DC area. As a result, BUMC is recognized by the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC as a Partner in Harmony, and the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC recommends BUMC as a faith-based community for members of the LGBTQ+ community. In April of this year our church extended an invitation to the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, DC to perform at BUMC. While that invitation has not yet been accepted, the invitation stands.
BUMC’s Outreach, Advocacy, and Action Committee Acts Fund has provided a donation to a Washington DC-based organization that protects the rights of and assists transgender youth, and stands ready to provide additional funding to the individuals who want to recognize similar organizations. In June, BUMC supported the local Pride Festival with its own booth, and shared BUMC’s welcoming brochures with the public. Reverend HiRho encouraged starting an LGBTQAI+ community support group, and Dennis Williams of our congregation began the group in September of this year. We are planning to celebrate National Coming Out Day on October 11.
As a visible public sign of its commitment as a Reconciling Congregation, the Church Council has approved a resolution for a visible display (likely a banner) pending determination of county requirements on signs and banners and the development of three design options to be presented to it by the Outreach, Advocacy, and Action Committee of the Council later this fall.
Furthermore, the BUMC is committed to the topic of Reconciliation as one of the “listening sessions” that it will conduct. The listening sessions are a means to transparently learn from each other and to build relationships in our Christian community around policies and issues of interest and concern to the congregation. The sessions are not a means to reassess or retract policy issues to which the church is committed. All members of the congregation are invited and encouraged to participate in the ambitious schedule of listening sessions, including the listening session devoted LGBTQAI+ issues.
Bethesda United Methodist Church has begun the challenging and exciting process of reimagining itself as a Christian community coming out of the difficult period of the Covid Pandemic, and as we move further into the third decade of the 21st century. As we do so we will refine what it means for us to be a Reconciled United Methodist Church, a policy to which BUMC is affirmatively committed and from which we will not retreat.
Reverend HiRho Park, Lead Pastor
Pat Kirwan, Church Council Co-Chair
Lynn Ricciardella, Church Council Co-Chair
Mike Mitchell, Stewardship Team Leader