Our first year
Methodists in New Directions (MIND) is a grassroots organization working to end discrimination and prejudice against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (LGBT) people in the United Methodist Church (UMC). We believe in living the loving, radical, inclusive Gospel. We believe that Christians are called to follow the example of Christ in proclaiming the all-encompassing, extravagant love of God and that the church has a special obligation to welcome the poor and the marginalized. We believe that the church has no business mimicking the prevailing prejudice of the society around it.
Building on grassroots momentum
MIND was officially founded on November 5, 2006, when reconciling activists throughout the New York Annual Conference (NYAC) came together, elected officers and a steering committee, decided to become a Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN) affiliate and a membership organization, and adopted a set of by-laws. That date marked the beginning of our formal existence as an organization, but it was also the culmination of two years of growing reconciling activism. In fact, our meetings had grown too big and our actions too visible for our ad-hoc structure.
We believe that the transformation of the church will—must—come from the bottom up and that living our faith means each of us taking the next steps in the reconciling ministry in our own congregations—whatever those steps are, however big or small. MIND has focused on nurturing this kind of faith-in-action and local activism. It is one reason we chose to be a membership organization: every reconciling Methodist in NYAC can take the step of affirming their belief that the church’s bigotry is wrong and can strengthen our nascent movement by adding to our numbers. Beginning with a big kick-off meeting in January 2007, we spread the word about MIND and asked people to join through local churches, through articles and ads in our conference newspaper, Vision, as well as RMN publications, e-mail lists and our own listserv. The conference affiliates of the Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) and the Board of Church and Society gave us visibility and support. In April, MIND was invited by a group of churches on Long Island to speak at a session of their discussions of the United Methodist Study on Homosexuality; it was a model for outreach and personal witness we hope to replicate elsewhere. In this initial membership drive, over 200 people joined MIND in its first half year.
A brush with the Spirit
In 2005 and 2006 reconciling activists in NYAC had staged powerful, visible witnesses at the conference’s annual meeting, including the distribution of blue armbands to clergy and laity for the conference’s culminating ordination ceremony (the armbands symbolize tears: tears of joy as we celebrate with those being ordained, and tears of sorrow as we mourn with those who are also called by God but rejected by the church). This year as we began to organize once again for the ordination, we received an invitation from our bishop, Jeremiah Park, to meet with him to discuss our plans. We accepted, welcoming the chance to put before him again the agony and pain to the body of Christ that the church’s exclusion of LGBT people inflicts, and the opportunity to discuss faithful ways to witness against this injustice.
Rev. Joe Agne, Dorothee Benz, Jorge Lockward and Rev. Richard Parker met with Bishop Park on May 17. The bishop indicated he was seeking a conversation about how to “contain” the armband witness. We responded that the armbands have been a faithful response to the call of the Gospel to welcome all and witness against exclusion, and that they were a sacred expression of hope for a future of the beloved community that the bishop spoke of: a future when all who are called by God are also welcomed by the church. By the time the meeting ended, there was no further suggestion that we contain or curtail our witness; there was only a presence of spirit that made the urgent necessity of this witness clear to everyone in the room. What had been intended as tactical discussion aimed at scaling back specific actions was transformed through spirit-drenched testimony—through both the courage to speak and the willingness to hear—into something entirely different. It was an incredibly powerful experience.
We followed up the meeting with a hand-delivered thank you letter, an armband with a personal invitation to wear it and an invitation to MIND’s luncheon during annual conference.
An unavoidable witness
Dozens of MIND activists, some who were lay or clergy delegates and some who came as volunteers for one or more days, turned the 2007 meeting of the New York Annual Conference into an unavoidable reconciling witness. Helen Andrew and Kareen Canora coordinated the volunteer corps. Over 200 people attended the MIND luncheon on June 8 to hear Beth Stroud give a talk entitled “Loving a Broken Church.” Bishop Park did come as well, and offered a few, gracious words, thanking MIND members for their faithful presence in the church. On June 9, we handed out 1,000 armbands and 1,000 flyers as part of our witness at the ordination ceremony. Notwithstanding the bishop’s presence at our luncheon and our personal appeal to him, he did not wear an armband. Many, many others in the clergy did.
At the end of June, MIND fielded the biggest contingent ever of United Methodists at the annual Gay Pride March in New York City. Over 50 people participated in the march after two special Gay Pride services that morning at local reconciling churches, St. Paul and St. Andrew in Manhattan and Park Slope UMC in Brooklyn.
There’s more on our MIND
Planning for the fall and the coming year began even before the exhausting organizing efforts of annual conference and Gay Pride were over in June. We made a decision to focus our effort this year on the issue of marriage. That work will include a big public forum on November 11 headlined by Bishop Joe Sprague; an open letter to the church calling for an end to the exclusion of LGBT people from marriage and an effort to collect hundreds of signatures on the letter; a year-long project of gathering people’s personal stories testifying to how the body of Christ has been wounded by the UMC’s refusal to marry LGBT people; and specific calls to action that will emerge as this work unfolds.
Throughout the year, we continued to sell the t-shirt that inspired the organization’s name: “broken hearts, closed doors, we mind” they say in response to the UMC’s woefully unfulfilled slogan “open hearts, open minds, open doors.” We sold three dozen t-shirts at the Beth Stroud luncheon alone, and there was a constant flow of the trademark purple shirts on the annual conference plenary floor all day during our designated t-shirt day. The shirts are a constant reminder that in the face of our church’s sin of homophobia we MIND…and we’re doing something about it.