Read more below about how the global United Methodist Church responds to issues of human sexuality and governing church rules, and how this affects St. Paul's UMC.
Last year, we launched a journey of exploring whether to be identified and live into the understanding of a reconciling congregation. After an 11-month-long discernment process and the preparation of a congregational Welcoming Statement, we are now at the place of making decisions as a congregation.
The Special Church Conference was held Sunday, Oct. 18 at 3:00 p.m. There were two votes on two questions:
1. Whether to adopt the Welcoming Statement for use by St. Paul's.
2. Whether to join the Reconciling Ministries Network.
More information about these two topics can be found in the sections immediately below - please scroll down.
Our District Superintendent Rev. Green deputized Rev. Dr. Pat Allen to oversee the proceedings. Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton managed the Zoom seminar, with Bill Butz and Travis Stalcup giving a brief presentation and answering questions. The voting was carried out by secure online form or by phoning the church office. Membership Secretary & Administrator Erin Steele tabulated the responses and confirmed voters' church membership status. Both votes showed a decisive percentage voting in favor. The detailed breakdown is:
Adopting the Welcoming Statement
(98% voting in favor)
Becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network
(94% voting in favor)
If you have questions, the FAQs in the section below may be helpful. For more information, you can contact Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton (firstname.lastname@example.org, 301-933-7933 ext. 103).
As part of our Reconciling journey, lay leaders from across our congregation collaborated to create a "Welcoming Statement," which will appear in our bulletin and on the St. Paul's website. The comment period for feedback on the statement from the congregation closed on July 31, 2020 and the Church Council reviewed the statement. The Special Church Conference with voting to approve and adopt the Welcoming Statement was held on October 18. This statement is meant to be reflective of our community values. While the wording is entirely our own, a welcoming statement for churches who are members of the Reconciling Ministries Network must also demonstrate an explicit and intentional welcome to members of the LGBTQIA+ community and other historically marginalized groups. This statement does not replace any other mission statement, but serves as a new way to express long-standing values of welcoming all who seek God's grace.
“We, the community of St. Paul's United Methodist Church, Kensington, welcome you in love. Jesus Christ accepts all, excluding none.
So we welcome and affirm you who are gay, straight, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or queer. We welcome you without regard to your sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, culture, race, ethnicity, ability, education, or age. We welcome you no matter your immigration, marital, or economic status.
Wherever you are on your spiritual journey, we welcome and affirm you as one of God’s children into our community of God’s unbounded love. All are celebrated here and all are safe."
The following information is also covered in the handout from 2019 "Reconciling Process FAQ's" (see the section below for more background and to download the full FAQ document).
What is Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN)?
The Reconciling Ministries Network is a network of over 40,000 United Methodists and over 1,000 churches and communities seeking the inclusion of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities in both the policy and practices of The United Methodist Church.
Who can join the RMN?
Any individual, small group, or whole congregation can join RMN. A number of individuals and small groups from our congregation have already joined, including St. Paul’s Youth.
Can we be part of the RMN and still be part of The United Methodist Church?
Yes. Joining the Reconciling Ministries Network does not affect our status as part of The United Methodist Church. Congregations of The United Methodist Church that are also members of RMN must still abide by the UMC's Book of Discipline, but are committed to change from the inside.
Will the RMN dictate the type of worship or other programming we can offer?
No. As a member of RMN, St. Paul’s UMC would retain complete authority over our worship, programming, logos, and all other aspects of our shared life and community.
What is the process for joining RMN?
Churches are encouraged to undergo a discernment process prior to a vote that includes Bible study, sermon series, small group discussion, and prayer. Churches must craft a welcoming statement that intentionally welcomes those of the LGBTQ+ community and other historically marginalized groups. To join, RMN congregations must then hold a church vote resulting in at least 75 percent in favor of membership. Furthermore, congregations must craft a welcoming statement that explicitly references LGBTQ inclusion.
Do we pay a fee to be part of the RMN?
Congregations are encouraged, but not required, to make an annual contribution to RMN.
Click here for the *pdf of the Reconciling Process FAQs, addressing many of the questions raised during and after the Reconciling Info Session (Sept. 22, 2019) and Samoan Circle Panel (Sept. 29, 2019).
At the global General Conference of The United Methodist Church, which ended 26 February 2019, delegates voted 438 to 384 to adopt a "Traditional" plan regarding church policies on homosexuality. Since 1972, the Book of Discipline has stated "self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve" in the church (¶304.3) and clergy are prohibited from conducting same gender weddings (¶2702.b). The new legislation added mandatory automatic penalties for UM clergy who would defy the Book of Discipline and created a process (now contested) for congregations wishing to leave The United Methodist Church. In its review, the global church's Judicial Council ruled in April 2019 that the new rules may stand, and went into effect January 2020.
St. Paul's lay leaders and clergy formed leadership teams to help St. Paul's navigate this time of transition. They explored the process and laid out the steps for becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network of UM churches that affirm LGBTQ+ persons should St. Paul's wish to pursue RMN membership, communicated with other local UM churches to see how they are addressing the issues posed by the Traditional Plan, and monitored regional and national developments as other possible organizational frameworks, legal challenges, and alternative plans arise.
St. Paul's convened a number of Processing Groups, aka Small Groups for Discernment. Processing Groups for Discernment included members and friends of the church and were loosely organized geographically. Each Group was led by a trained facilitator who guided the discussion. Afterwards, facilitators reported back to a Steering Committee about areas of disagreement, areas of consensus, and what next steps might be useful, without sharing confidential or personal details. The Church Council, made of St. Paul’s clergy and lay leaders, used the Processing Groups' feedback as they examined what options were “on the table” and what impact each might have on the church’s leadership, finances, and future.
In response to this feedback, St. Paul's also embarked on a new discernment process to clearly answer the question: Should we become part of the Reconciling Ministries Network? This year-long process, begun in October of 2019, culminated in a vote regarding membership in the RMN. Questions about the RMN are addressed in the handout and in the section below. The "Come to the Table of Grace" series offered intentional engagement opportunities to consider what this means for our community and included:
- Reconciling Panel – Members of the Reconciling Steering Committee held an open meeting on Thursday, January 23 at 7:00 PM where representatives from area congregations that have joined the Reconciling Ministries Network discussed their experiences.
- Faithful & Inclusive – This six-unit video study was led by Pastor Pat Allen beginning on February 2. The study, authored by Rev. Rob Fuquay, examines biblical texts regarding homosexuality using a United Methodist understanding of Scripture that honors Scriptural authority, tradition, reason, and experience, known commonly as the “Wesleyan quadrilateral.”
- Refuge - This retreat at West River offered an inclusive faith-building weekend for LGBTQ+ youth. St. Paul's Reconciling Team helped plan and sponsor the event.
- The Better Humans Book Club – The Reconciling Steering Committee and Justice & Compassion Team are co-hosting this book club which is open to everyone. Books have been chosen to challenge, illuminate, and encourage readers to explore issues of race, gender, and public policy.
- Lenten Devotional - The booklet "Come to the Table of Grace" features prayers and reflections written by members and friends of St. Paul's as they consider what it means, in the spirit of Christ, to welcome the outsider.
At the special church conference on October 18, members of St. Paul's voted to adopt a Welcoming Statement (98% in favor) and to join the Reconciling Ministries Network (94% in favor).
Since the first St. Paul's Info Session in March 2019, we have worked to make information clear and accessible. Marge Higgins, lay leader, and Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton, Associate Pastor, compiled and updated written summaries of the UMC legislation and how it impacts the local church.
Click here for the *pdf version of the Church Council's detailed letter updated 5 July 2019, following Processing Group meetings. This letter was mailed to church members.
Click here for the *pdf document "Discerning a Way Forward," updated 4 June 2019 to include information about recent activities at the Baltimore-Washington Conference's annual convention.
You are welcome to contact Pastor Kate directly (kfulton [at] stpaulsk.org, 301-933-7933 ext 103) if you have additional questions or concerns that are not addressed here.
Excerpts from "New General Conference Dates Announced"
by Heather Hahn
May 26, 2020
Organizers have announced that the next General Conference will be Aug. 29-Sept. 7, 2021, in Minneapolis. However, the organizers are still looking for ways to ensure delegates, even if they can’t meet in person, can participate online in what many expect to be a historic legislative meeting. The United Methodist Church’s top legislative assembly — postponed from this May by the COVID-19 pandemic — faces multiple proposals to resolve longtime debate around LGBTQ inclusion by splitting the denomination along theological lines.
Planning the assembly comes with multiple moving parts that must align. These include securing visas, hotel space, transportation, interpreters and a large-enough venue for a gathering set to draw 862 delegates and 66 bishops from four continents as well as potentially thousands of others. General Conference, the only body authorized to speak for the church, typically meets in late April or early May. The current proposed dates present challenges to students, teachers, professors and parents who cannot take off the first two weeks of the school calendar. The commission said it voted to gather a group of “creative thinkers, including young delegates, to explore the implications of options for accommodating full participation at General Conference” including virtual voting.
Older Articles of Interest:
by Heather Hahn
March 18, 2020
"With the coronavirus disrupting lives worldwide, General Conference organizers determined they have no choice but to postpone The United Methodist Church's top legislative assembly. The Minneapolis Convention Center — scheduled to host the 2020 General Conference — announced it is now canceling gatherings of 50 or more people through May 10. The shutdown covers the first five days of the denomination’s 10-day meeting, which was set to draw 862 delegates, 66 bishops and others from four continents."
Image below: The Minneapolis Convention Center, exterior, photo by Dan Anderson.
The Reconciling Steering Committee and Justice & Compassion Team are co-hosting The Better Humans Book Club, open to everyone as part of our congregation’s “Come to the Table of Grace” series of events designed to help us critically examine the community we offer those within and outside St. Paul’s UMC. Book club selections are provided here so anyone who wishes may read some or all of the books independently.
Discussion June 24
led by Mr. Micah Smartt
26 men from Vera Cruz embarked on a journey to the U.S. and found themselves in the deadliest region of border desert; 12 men survived and 14 others did not. Luis Alberto Urrea's recounting of their horrific ordeal was a Pulitzer Prize finalist and has been described as "the single most compelling, lucid, and lyrical contemporary account of the absurdity of U.S. border policy" (The Atlantic).
Rescheduled for May 20
email Travis Stalcup or the church office email@example.com for the invite
Divisions have been epidemic in the body of Christ from the beginning to the present. We criticize those who disagree with us, don't look like us, don't act like us, and don't like what we like. Though we may think we know why this happens, Christena Cleveland says we probably don't. With a personal touch and the trained eye of a social psychologist, she reveals the unseen dynamics that separate us, providing real insight for ministry leaders who attempt to build bridges across boundaries.
March selection Discussion Postponed due to COVID-19
Many people, even many LGBTQ allies, still lack understanding of the transgender
experience. Into this void, Austen Hartke offers a biblically based, educational, and affirming resource providing stories of biblical characters and real-life narratives from transgender Christians living today to help readers visualize a more inclusive Christianity.
Ibram X. Kendi weaves an electrifying combination of ethics, history, law, and science with his own personal story of awakening to reveal how racism, at its core, is a powerful system that intersects with class and culture and geography to create false hierarchies of human value.
Feeling the tension between his understanding of the Bible and the reality of his same-sex orientation, author Matthew Vines devoted years of intensive research to examine with care and precision just what the Bible says about homosexuality.
The Reconciling Team from St. Paul's held an information session in the Fellowship Hall on September 22, 2019 to describe what the Reconciling Ministries Network is, what is involved in becoming a member church within the network, and why the Reconciling Team recommends this as a step on St. Paul's Way Forward.
A Samoan Circle, a panel where people with different perspectives can share their views on controversial topics, was held on September 29, 2019.
A Special Church Conference convened on Sunday, October 13, 2019 to hold a vote on whether or not to begin the process that leads congregations towards joining the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). District Superintendent Rev. Gerry Green presided and all full members in attendance voted by ballot.
The vote was 205 to 22 in favor of formally exploring possible membership in the Reconciling network.
Please scroll down to the "Summary & FAQs" section to find a summary of our steps on our Way Forward and for the *pdf file with "Reconciling FAQs," clarifying many of the questions that came up in these sessions. If you have additional questions, please contact Rev. Kate Mackereth Fulton.
Excerpts from "Exiting Congregations Face Hefty Price Tag
by Heather Hahn, UM News Service
June 13, 2019
Photo at right: Rev. Derek McAleer, South Georgia Conference Treasurer
For the first time in its history, the UMC denomination has set procedures for U.S. congregations to withdraw from the denomination and take their buildings with them. Before a departure, those congregations could be on the hook for more than a million dollars. Annual conferences — church regional bodies — have the final word on what their churches owe. As U.S. annual conferences meet this year, some already are reckoning with how to calculate those costs.
For an exiting church, the biggest cost will likely come from what their conference determines is a fair share of unfunded clergy pension liability — that is, what conferences will owe retirees. A church’s pension contribution not only supports the church’s current pastor but those who previously served the congregation. Conferences are pension plan sponsors and legally responsible for paying benefits.
Exiting churches also must pay for transferring the building title or other legal work. They additionally must pay two years of apportionments — the amount conferences apportion to their churches to support regional, national and international ministries. Still, pensions are where the dollars can add up. Generally speaking, the larger a church and more pastors on staff, the larger its pension obligations are likely to be.
The South Georgia Conference acknowledged this challenge at its June 2-5 meeting when its members approved its own pension and disaffiliation policies meant to augment what General Conference passed. The Rev. Derek McAleer, the conference’s treasurer and benefits officer, told those gathered that the conference has to make sure it can pay the promises it has already made. “The amount of money is so huge that everybody has to stop and take a deep breath,” he said. “We’re talking about 586 churches and $30 million bucks. There is no way to divide $30 million into 586 and get a small number.”
The Special General Conference of the global United Methodist Church met February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri to review language about human sexuality and issues of LGBTQ+ inclusion in our governing Book of Discipline.
1) The Traditional Plan, as amended, was adopted by a vote of 438 to 384. This language affirms existing church policies on homosexuality and strengthens enforcement. As it stands right now – and as it has been officially in the UMC since 1972 – 'self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve' in the church (2016 Book of Discipline, ¶304.3). In addition, the church prohibits its clergy from conducting same gender weddings (¶2702.b). (http://www.bwcumc.org/news-and-views/umc-seeks-a-way-forward/) Delegates further referred the Traditional Plan to the Judicial Council for determination if it is constitutional. The Judicial Council addressed the request at its next scheduled meeting April 23-25 in Evanston, Illinois, and found the majority of the new language to be legally sound and enforceable.
2) The One Church Plan, which was endorsed by the Council of Bishops, including Baltimore-Washington Conference Bishop LaTrelle Easterling, was not adopted at the Special General Conference. The One Church Plan would have removed restrictive language limiting LGBTQ+ participation, while also protecting those who disagree by not requiring any annual conference, bishop, congregation, or pastor to act contrary to their convictions.
3) On Saturday, March 2, 2019, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling led the people of the Baltimore-Washington Conference in a time of information sharing through a live-streamed video feed, viewable at numerous church locations throughout the conference and online platforms. Leaders from St. Paul's met at Hughes UMC (Georgia Avenue, Wheaton) to watch and listen.
4) On February 27, 2019, the pastors of St. Paul's released a letter recognizing the challenges and questions that the General Conference rules pose for members and friends of St. Paul's. A copy of the letter is available to download in *pdf format.
As the church works to understand what this means for St. Paul's and tries to articulate how this Conference decision will affect our church family, our bishop has invited us to reflect on the words the Apostle Paul wrote: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord." ~Romans 8:38-39
Getting ready for what The United Methodist Church decides about human sexuality and church policy.
On Saturday, May 19, 2018, St. Paul's held the Way Forward at St. Paul's Workshop. The free workshop included 75 people, from youth age eleven to adults in their nineties.
Through breakout groups, activities, and discussions, this group attempted to ask and answer questions about essential beliefs and values of the people of St. Paul's. Our objective: To explore how our St. Paul’s congregation might respond to and address the United Methodist Church’s eventual decisions, not then known, regarding policies addressing sexual orientation and homosexuality.
Our gathering was guided by three main questions:
- As Christians and United Methodists, what do different people at St. Paul's believe? Among these varying beliefs, which ones would all of us at St. Paul's agree on? In other words, what makes up the shared bedrock of our faith? This question was further divided into sections focused on what people believe about God's relationship to us, the Bible, worship, how people relate to each other, and how we address differences.
- What, concerning human sexuality and our church, might members of St. Paul's disagree on?
- Of the different ways decisions are made at St. Paul's, what might be a good way to proceed when choices related to human sexuality arise?
The goal was not to focus on debating individuals' personal opinions, but rather to fathom and report on the diversity of beliefs and thoughts that might be found across the congregation.
A longer summary of the workshop and details about our discussions are available as *pdf files for download here:
The Way Forward Workshop was organized for the St. Paul's UMC community by Bill Butz and Emily Sama-Miller. We give special thanks for these Breakout Group facilitators: Meg Baker, Alison Clark, Jay Codner, Rich Higgins, Steve Lillie, Martha Lipscomb, Phil Rush, Ray Ruskin, Susan Schwarz, Micah Smartt, and Travis Stalcup.