Something has been weighing heavy on me for some time now, and I’ve been trying to find a way to say it. I need you to trust us when we say you are truly welcome here at Union Grove.

See, 99% of the reason for your current lack of trust is people-based. The other 1% may be based on denominational policy and/or their theology, but the vast majority of any hurt you experienced most likely came from the people in the church(es) you attended in the past, because it’s the people of a church that too often deliver rejection and oppression like homophobia, racism, xenophobia, and patriarchal misogyny and abuse cover-ups to name a few. Most times, it’s their own personal biases and lack of understanding, but sometimes it’s through what they determine are their “deeply held religious beliefs,” sometimes it’s systemic and pervasive not just in the church but in whole communities and cultures, and sometimes it’s due to purposefully promoted misinformation, disinformation, and … let’s just be honest … propaganda … spread to create division and foment hate. None of it is true to or of Christ. None of it is in any part or parcel what the people of Union Grove believe or buy into. I can’t speak for other churches, but I will speak for this one.

First, the 1% reason – denominational policy (which, trust me again, in my opinion contradicts our denominational theology). The 1% reason is specific to one group, the LGBTQIA+. 

The denominational “rules” churches and UMC clergy are to follow are created at quadrennial meetings (General Conferences) comprised of hundreds of delegates from every Conference in the UMC. During these Conferences (GCs), the delegates both introduce new business and look at what may need to be modified in the existing business. The outcome of much of their work on church policies is then published in a quadrennial “Book of Discipline” (BOD). The 2016 Book of Discipline is the most current official book of policies. There was a special called GC in 2019, but otherwise COVID-19 prevented us from having a GC in 2020 and continued to interfere with plans for holding the 2020 GC in 2021 or 2022. The next GC has been scheduled for 2024.

Within the 2016 BOD rests one paragraph that is the root of the 1% reason. 2016 Book of Discipline, Social Principles ¶161.G talks about the UMC’s Social Principle regarding Human Sexuality. Please don’t just read the linked paragraph and stop there. Hear me out. The paragraph I linked was decided on by a vote of those hundreds of delegates at the GC and is in place because a “majority” voted in favor of the wording. Key word, being a majority … not all. You should also know that it wasn’t a landslide vote. The margin between for and against was relatively small, all things considered. 

What you need to understand about the church (read people) at Union Grove is that they clearly and unanimously fall in the “not all” side of the issue. In the summer of 2021, the active (as in those individuals who actually attend and/or otherwise participate in activities of the church) voted unanimously to become a Reconciling Ministries Church. Not one person at Union Grove agrees with the paragraph in the BOD that I cited above. Not one. At Union Grove, we embrace anyone and everyone who comes through our door, accept them fully as they are with no judgment, no “love you but …”, no “love the sinner, hate the sin” hypocrisy whatsoever. The only way you can know that is to trust us long enough to find out for yourselves, but let me continue.

As the pastor of Union Grove, I am bound to the BOD. That doesn’t mean I agree with it. I don’t. So as the pastor of Union Grove, I will do everything I can to help nurture your faith formation, your spiritual formation, your participation in the church including leadership positions if that’s what you desire, and to discern and act on the calling God puts on you. There is only one thing I will not be able to do for you, and that is officiate at your wedding. Acknowledge and honor your marriage? All day long every day. Support you and your partner? Attend your wedding? Absolutely. I just can’t be the one standing up there asking you to repeat after me. I’m sorry for that. I wish it were different, and I have faith that one day it will be. But I want you to know that this is the one thing I am restricted from doing for you up front.  It’s the one line I can’t cross right now. While it might sound selfish, to do so would mean the loss of my credentials and career as a pastor, a career that is my answer to the calling God put on me.

Second is the other 99% of the reasons and, like I said, they’re people-based (not based on the policies or doctrines of the UMC) and there are a lot of really harmful, hurtful and, let’s face it, ugly people-based reasons going on in the world, in many churches around the world, and, more importantly, because of them. Again, I’m asking you to trust me when I say you won’t find those reasons here at Union Grove.

Are we racially and ethnically diverse? No, not yet, but don’t let our current lack of diversity fool you. The diversity of an individual congregation is determined by who comes to participate in the congregation. We can invite you all day long, but it’s ultimately your choice as to whether or not you are willing to trust us at least long enough to give us a chance. As this congregation becomes more diverse, so will the leadership of this church. Meanwhile and despite our current lack of diversity, we will continue to stand up against racism and xenophobia in any form.

Other things you might want to know.

  • Methodism is egalitarian. That means we see the genders as equal to one another.
  • Union Grove is a Jesus-believing church.
  • It’s okay to ask questions, have doubts, and wrestle with God. We all do, too. I’ll do my best to help you find the answers to them, walk with you through your doubts, and hold space for you while you wrestle things out. 
  • We can’t atone for the harm you may have suffered elsewhere. We can only show you that we aren’t whoever that was and try to help you heal.
  • We can’t wait to meet you!

Give it some thought. We have a very long table here at Union Grove, and we’re going to save you a seat for as long as it takes.

Rev. Val