22 June 2014

A Charge to Keep I Have...

During Advent I received a letter from the Wilmington District Committee on Ministry of the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. In that letter I was informed that I would not be allowed to continue in the ordination process if I held to my current beliefs on a solitary issue. Specifically my profession that I would not turn away same gender couples meeting all the same requirements of opposite gender couples, seeking a legal marriage in Delaware and Maryland. I had requested the DCoM deliberate now on whether I should continue my journey before I spent additional years in the United Methodist ordination process only to be turned away from ordination in the end because of this single issue.

Annual Conference and District leadership, both clergy and laity, encouraged me in private to just leave this issue alone. They told me just to keep quiet while I completed the ordination process, as they had done and then work against oppression. They pleaded with me to not cry out for justice in public, but work behind the scenes with them. They extolled me to suppress my views until I was finished this journey and not openly proclaim Christ’s welcome to all. They explained to me in private what they feared to say in public; that they agree that The United Methodist Church is wrong on this issue and that they were being secretly subversive. I was invited by members of the committee to recant of my views, at least publicly, in order to continue my ordination journey. But I could not join them any longer in the dark corners of an annual conference closet.

My issue is that I actually believe in the church’s mission to evangelize and make disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world, but I also believe that our silence and inaction on issues of equality continues to drive people away from God and the church. I believe the Articles of Faith, but also believe that a public affirmation of the church’s discriminatory words enshrined in the Book of Discipline, in order to keep jobs and protect pay checks continues to contribute to the oppression, abuse, and suicide of hurting LGBT people. I believe this is literally a matter of life and death, and I therefore, must choose life. Public silence and private affirmation while working in the shadows does real harm to the least among us; those hurting, scared, and scarred. Those who need most to hear about God’s love, healing, and light. I was reminded, when being asked to not speak publicly, of the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said; “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Let me affirm, I will always be a Methodist. I love John Wesley's teachings and Charles Wesley’s hymns. While not perfect, they represent to me a firm foundation for Christian faith formation. I believe in scripture, I believe in tradition, I believe in reason, and I believe in experience. I believe in the prevenient Grace of God that justified me and is helping me move on toward perfection through sanctification. I believe in connectionalism, I believe in personal and social holiness, I believe in the ministry of the small rural church, and I believe in the work of large urban churches. It is because of these beliefs that I also believe in marriage equality and full inclusion of LGBT believers in all aspects of the life of the church.

In 2012 I intentionally moved back to the east coast and began working on my Masters of Divinity degree in order to take part in the ordination process in the Peninsula Delaware Annual Conference. After the 2012 General Conference in Tampa I transferred my membership from West End United Methodist Church in Nashville, where I had attended and served while working for almost a decade at the United Methodist Publishing House, to the small rural congregation in Maryland that I called home.

The Peninsula–Delaware Annual Conference was my home; it is there that I was baptized and confirmed in the rural three point charge named West Cecil Parish, It is there where God first spoke to my heart and it was strangely warmed, it is there where at Camp Pecometh I spent weeks of my youthful summers growing in my love of the God who created this wonderful world, it is there that I experienced African-American churches working alongside Anglo-American churches teaching me to seek deeper justice and work harder for diversity, it is there I became a disciple of Jesus Christ moving on toward perfection, it is there that I first experienced the Call of God on my life to vocational ministry, it is there that I preached my first sermon in morning worship when I was a teenager at Zion United Methodist Church, and it is there I hoped to continue to serve, lead, and grow with others in these types of experiences and more.

However, a few months ago I was told that the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church did not want someone like me. That solely because of my public and direct refusal to follow one set of discriminatory laws in our Book of Discipline if ordained, my candidacy process would not be supported any longer. I was told that the Peninsula-Delaware Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church was no longer my home if I was to pursue my God given calling. I had been publicly honest, and for this honesty I was cast out of my home.

After much prayer along with council with friends, family, and spiritual advisors during Advent, Christmas, and Lent; I met with the Rector of the local Episcopal Church during Easter to begin the official move to a tradition seeped in historic liturgy, common prayer, and the central influence in the lives of many Wesleyan/Methodist forerunners. Today I was welcomed into the Episcopal Church by The Right Reverend Robert R. Gepert with a service of Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation at the historic and vibrant Saint James Episcopal Church in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Here I have begun to find a supportive home again. A home in which to live out my charge, my call to vocational ministry; to publicly proclaim the love of God in Jesus Christ, both crucified and risen, to all people! 

"A charge to keep I have, A God to glorify,
A never-dying soul to save, And fit it for the sky.

To serve the present age, My calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage To do my Master’s will!"

~ Charles Wesley, 1762

Asa David Coulson
The Feast of Saint Alban, martyr

June 22, 2014