Now is the time
Two thousand eleven was without a doubt MIND’s most exciting and successful year yet. With the launch of our marriage initiative – We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality – we helped inspire a new pastoral movement nationwide and created a way to transcend the UMC’s discrimination and extend our ministries to LGBT people. At annual conference, we passed a milestone resolution that carries the message of welcome and reconciliation directly to LGBT communities. We also moved our work on hate crimes forward. Subscription to MIND’s weekly newsletter increased by 50% and we continued our investment in organizational infrastructure to both deepen and broaden our outreach and organizing capacity.
We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality
MIND’s marriage initiative, which was developed over nine months of discussion and discernment and is co-sponsored by MFSA, is an organized, conference-wide project to make weddings available to all people in the New York Annual Conference on an equal basis through a network of individuals (both clergy and lay) and congregations pledged to offer weddings on a non-discriminatory basis. It is grounded in A Covenant of Conscience, which is a pastoral and theological reflection on how we together can and must address the spiritual crisis in the United Methodist Church caused by its requirement that clergy and churches deny ministry to their LGBT parishioners.
Throughout 2011 we gathered signers on A Covenant of Conscience. A team of two dozen clergy initiated one-on-one conversations with fellow clergy, asking them to sign. The result was not just 169 signers, but also renewed energy and excitement as people discussed the issues, the meaning of their vows and the prospect of a collective endeavor to transcend the crippling effects of official UMC prejudice. Meanwhile, MIND’s lay leadership recruited lay people by the hundreds – 770 as of this report, from 77 different congregations. Six churches also undertook congregation-wide processes and decided to sign the covenant as congregations.
In October, we held a powerful covenanting service on the eve of the official public launch of We do! We did intensive media work, a first for MIND (made possible by help from GLAAD and RMN), and generated dozens of news stories about the project. Virtually every major LGBT blog in the country covered to We do! launch, as did local media throughout the conference’s regions. MIND also reached out directly to LGBT groups and community centers and continues to ask everyone throughout the covenant community to carry We do! flyers and palm cards with them to leave in bars, bookstores, cafes and other spaces.
The New York Annual Conference has for decades expressed its belief that LGBT people ought to be included in the full life of the church. Within that broad witness, it has repeatedly said that pastors should be allowed to minister to all couples and that the UMC’s ban on gay marriage “inhibits appropriate pastoral freedom in grace to respond fully and completely to God’s call to inclusive ministries.” We do! has taken the words of inclusive ministry off the pages of our resolutions and brought them to life in the world. It has moved the conference’s witness from the confines of the Hofstra arena, where we vote on resolutions, to the pews and pulpits, the papers and public spaces of our towns and cities.
Our marriage initiative has also helped inspire a larger national pastoral movement: During 2011, over 1,100 clergy nationally in 13 annual conferences pledged through similar initiatives to extend their ministry to LGBT couples who want to get married in the UMC.
Ministry to the Marginalized
It took two years and a detour all the way to the Judicial Council, the UMC’s highest judicial body, but in June we passed our Ministry to the Marginalized: Welcoming LGBT people into NYAC resolution at annual conference. The resolution calls on the conference to take out ads in LGBT publications that state that our conference disagrees with the UMC’s prejudiced views and policies and that we are working to change them. It is another way that we are moving the conference from words affirming the inclusive gospel to actions living it. For the first time ever, the conference will reach out to LGBT people to tell them what we have resolved year after year in our legislative deliberations.
Because of the anti-gay funding prohibition in the UMC Book of Discipline (which prohibits conference funds from being used to “promote homosexuality”), the Ministry to the Marginalized resolution stipulated that the funds to pay for the ads would be provided entirely through voluntary contributions, to be collected by MIND. In November we kicked off a special campaign to collect those funds and raised over $3,800. An implementation team (appointed by the bishop, the Conference Board of Church and Society and MIND) is now working on determining which publications to place the ads in, based on the available funds. The goal is to have the ads running during Gay Pride Month 2012.
Greg Dell comes to MIND
Our work to pass the Ministry to the Marginalized resolution was just one part of our annual conference witness in 2011. As in past years, the MIND table was the center of constant attention and activity; we once again organized an armband witness during the ordination service; we promoted our annual t-shirt day; and introduced and advocated for several other resolutions and petitions for General Conference.
But the highlight of our presence was Rev. Gregory Dell’s speech to the annual MIND lunch. Dell, one of the heroes of our movement, was suspended for a year in 1999 for conducting a holy union ceremony for a gay couple in his congregation. The church said it would lift his suspension at any time if only he promised to not do it again. Dell not only refused, he issued a press release explaining that he would not “withhold a ministry from some which is available to others solely because of an unjust church law.” He brought that same fierce integrity to the MIND lunch and gave an incredibly moving speech that reminded everyone in the room why we must follow in his footsteps and how we are following in them through A Covenant of Conscience.
One of the other resolutions passed at annual conference, Witness Against Hate Violence, was endorsed by all the sponsoring organizations from My Brother’s Keeper: People of Faith Confront Hate Crimes and linked directly to the MBK work. Following the successful November 2010 event, which MIND was centrally involved in planning, organizers of the project committed to producing a video, congregational study guide and resource packet. That work took place during the spring and summer of 2011, and the study guide packet has been available on the MIND website since Labor Day. The Witness Against Hate Violence resolution, among other things, encouraged local congregations to deepen their awareness and witness against hate crimes through congregational study and mandated that the conference publicize the availability of the MBK study guide packet. It took a significant effort on the part of MBK organizers to get the conference to comply with this mandate, but starting in January 2012, the conference did indeed let people know through its weekly newsletter that this resource is out there.
Growth and challenges
MIND’s continued growth can be measured in many ways. Our ability to craft and pass legislation that ensures concrete steps towards justice is one of them. A much more fun measure in 2011 was the record turnout at our annual picnic – 40 people – and a more traditional measure was the growth in our mailing list for our weekly Do you MIND?? newsletter, which is now just shy of 1,000 people. As in past years, we marched in the New York City Gay Pride March and celebrated Gay Pride services at multiple churches.
In 2011 we continued our effort to develop and strengthen our organizational infrastructure, in particular through building a new database, something made possible by the incredibly generous donation of time and expertise of two of our members. As 2012 began, we were in the final stages of importing all our data into this new database.
Two thousand eleven was a year of gains and renewed energy that we couldn’t have imagined, but it was also a year with a loss we are still having trouble imagining. Rev. Richard Parker passed away in July. Dick was a founding member of MIND and a longtime advocate for LGBT rights, among many other things. He brought wisdom and grace to everything he worked on and there is not a week that goes by that MIND does not miss his presence in our movement.
Looking forward, 2012 will be an exciting year. With the launch of We do! we are in uncharted territory as we live out the commitment to minister to all equally. Rev. Amy DeLong, who, like Greg Dell, was convicted in a church trial for performing a same-sex wedding in 2011, will be our annual conference speaker. Her presence with us will follow the quadrennial General Conference of the UMC, where the church’s continuing prejudice and discrimination in its Book of Discipline will once again be hotly contested. MIND’s national affiliate, the Reconciling Ministries Network, is working with MFSA and Affirmation to spearhead the witness, and many MND members are deeply involved in it. The challenge for all of us afterwards will be how to respond and move forward.