More than 200 United Methodists braved near-freezing temperatures early May 4, to kneel or stand in prayer in front of the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh in silent witness to their desire for inclusiveness.
The witness came during the 2004 General Conference of the United Methodist Church. The denomination’s legislative assembly is meeting April 27-May 7 at the convention center.
"I am here this morning trusting in God’s spirit to work. Prayer is the way to tune into the spirit," said Bishop Susan Morrison of the Albany (N.Y.) Area. "How could I be anywhere else?"
The silent protest supporting the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the United Methodist Church was sponsored by the grassroots group Common Witness. It is made up of people from the Methodist Federation for Social Action, Reconciling Ministries Network, the Parents Reconciling Network and Affirmation: United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns.
The group gathered at 6 a.m. at Smithfield United Church in Pittsburgh, several blocks from the convention center. Morrison led the march to the convention center with a prayer for "a bodacious spirit of gentleness."
Several of those present expressed an appreciation for the spirit of peace that prevailed, claiming that the time for tension and confrontation has passed.
"It is important to have a witness of prayer for inclusiveness," said the Rev. Diane Summerhill of the Baltimore-Washington Conference. "Prayer connects us with a power that can change the world. Things won’t change quickly, but like drops of water, prayer can erode the hardest rock."
The Rev. Lee Williamson of the California-Nevada Conference, agreed. "A witness of presence is important," he said. "Showing up demonstrates that you care. It goes back to relationship and our essential relationship with God."
But whatever its form, a demonstration had to be made, said the Rev. Gilbert Caldwell of Denver.
Caldwell was present in a similar demonstration in 1964 when the General Conference met in Pittsburgh. "The issue then was race," he said, and abolishing the racially segregated Central Jurisdiction.
Standing in prayer outside the convention center once again, Caldwell said, "This is part of my ministry, my calling. The church is continuing to hurt people."
He said he regrets that the church seems to be lagging behind society in justice issues. "In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated ‘separate but equal,’" he said. "Until 1968, the church remained segregated." The church is also behind in accepting the sacred worth of those with different sexual orientations, he said.
Caldwell is reluctant "to compare the faces of bigotry. It is a waste of time to say my oppression is more difficult than yours. Comparisons are irrelevant," he said. "It is still human pain."
That pain manifests itself in a countless number of small ways, said Sue Laurie of the Reconciling Ministries Network, an unofficial United Methodist group advocating more inclusiveness in the church. "Ordination is not the most important form of exclusion.
"Many times the church says, ‘Welcome, our doors are open,’ but lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people know when people don’t want their family photos in the church directory, or their flowers on the piano, or them teaching Sunday school. It is condemning."
Throughout the day the delegates continued to pray, rising in prayer when issues of homosexuality were brought to the floor of General Conference.
"From a faith perspective, we must begin with prayer," said the Rev. Monica Carsaro of the Reconciling Ministries Network. "Our prayer is that we live together. We’re United Methodists; we don’t have to be of one mind, but of one heart. Our prayer is for justice. It is a prayer of wholeness and holiness."
*Lauber is a staff writer for the United Methodist News Service. Sue Whorl contributed to this article.
News media contact: (412) 325-6080 during General Conference, April 27-May 7. after May 10: (615) 742-5470.
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