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Altar at First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara, CA Adorned by Julie Hayward

Altar at First United Methodist Church, Santa Barbara, CA
Adorned by Julie Hayward

Our congregation has been engaging in learning and conversation about what the Bible and the Christian faith say about hospitality and welcome within the Body of Christ, specifically as these relate to LGBTQ persons. It has not been an easy process thus far. We have looked at the words of Scripture related to same-sex activity and tried to understand their cultural and historical context. I have led a teaching forum on the United Methodist Church and the LGBTQ community, specifically addressing how our denomination has characterized homosexuality as sin and yet many of us experience a deep tension between institutional loyalty and obedience to Jesus’ teachings in the gospels to love our neighbors. We have gathered in a worshipful setting to listen to the personal stories of what our experience and reason tell us about same-sex attraction. I have preached sermons on the necessity of changing the United Methodist stance on marriage equality, ordination, and the full inclusion of our LGBTQ neighbors, friends, and families in the life and ministry of the church.

After a time of Holy Conversation recently, in which over fifty people gathered prayerfully to listen to one another’s stories, I shared my heavy heart about a few matters. A day or two later, someone in the church sent me the following poem/prayer. It was an encouragement to me, so I share it now with you. The words below are not my words (though I wish they were). I hope you find them meaningful for whatever paths God is leading you on today.

May I become at all times, both now and forever,
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those without shelter
And a servant to all in need.

Jesus is the one who illumines my spiritual path. When others assign false motives to my leadership, I keep my eyes on Jesus. When they question my fidelity to the gospel of Christ, I keep my eyes on Jesus. I let the bigger picture of those who have been marginalized and excluded in church and society remain in my sight, and I remember the pain this has brought to their lives. I pray that in some small way I can give voice to Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Words (c) 2015 Mark Lloyd Richardson