ST. LOUIS — Emotions are high around the country for those in the United Methodist Church in the wake of the greater denomination’s passing of a plan that excludes those who are part of the LGBTQIA community on Feb. 26 at its General Conference in St. Louis.
“My heart breaks over the recent decision of the United Methodist General Conference to affirm a plan that does not at all reflect the UMC motto of ‘Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” said the Rev. Diane Rehfield, pastor at Atascadero United Methodist Church. “Instead it paints the denomination as one with closed hearts, closed minds, and closed doors to some.”
United Methodist delegates from churches around the world passed the Traditional Plan by a narrow margin: 438 to 384. The plan reaffirms the church’s bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating or hosting same-sex marriages. The plan also increases the penalties and accountability for those that violate the bans.
“My family has been a part of the UMC for several generations, and this is not the way I have ever experienced the church,” Rehfield said. “I want the community to know that at the Atascadero United Methodist Church, nothing has changed. All are welcome here, as equal partners in a congregation that seeks to do good work in this community, and throughout the world, following the example of Christ.”
Though part of the denomination’s Book of Discipline since the 1970s, the California-Pacific Conference of the United Methodist Church has not been following those bans because of the Bishop and pastors in the conference believe it is contrary to the teachings of Jesus.
“In solidarity with what the Bishop of our annual conference, and the leaders of the entire Western Jurisdiction have said, we will continue to be the loving and welcoming church that we have always been here in the west, while we work towards the new thing that God is calling forth,” Rehfield said. “We look forward to the day when all will know that they are fully included in God’s kingdom and in our churches.”
Before the General Conference was also the One Church Plan, which would have left questions such as weddings up to individual clergy and congregations and gay ordination up to individual conferences. It would also allow churches in Africa, Europe and the Philippines —which are Central conferences — to determine their own policies. The purpose of the One Church Plan was to keep the UMC unified as one body as it would have removed restrictive language from the Book of Discipline. The plan was defeated 449 to 374.
“We have been living the One Church Plan for decades, and I don’t see why we should change that about us,” California-Pacific Conference Bishop Grant Hagiya said during his sermon at a worship service at the First United Methodist Church in Pasadena on Sunday. “We live and let live and it is totally consistent with the theology of John Wesley. We cannot turn back at this point.”
During the worship service, Hagiya encouraged clergy in the conference to continue doing what they have been doing: loving and including all God’s people.
“With this conservative turn, I have been deeply conflicted,” Hagiya said during his sermon. “The question is, ‘can I stay in a repressive and oppressive church with integrity?’ After a sleepless night, I came to a new resolve. I believe I must stay in the UMC and lead our people within the geographical context we find ourselves in the West.”
According to United Methodist Communications, before the General Conference closed a motion was passed to request a decision from the denomination’s Judicial Council about the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan’s legislative petitions. It will be addressed by the council when it meets April 23 to 25 in Evanston, Illinois. Anything ruled unconstitutional will be addressed at the next regularly scheduled General Conference, which will be held May 5 to 15, 2020, in Minneapolis.
The communications office clarified that LGBTQIA people have not been banned by the United Methodist Church and the Book of Discipline still contains, “The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons without regard to race, color, national origin, status, or economic condition, shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection.”
“You are welcome here regardless of your age, race, ethnic origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic situation, marital status, physical or mental ability,” Rehfield said.
To view the sermon delivered by, Rehfield about the decision made by the General Conference and what it means for the local church, go to AtascaderoUMC.org.