Annual Gayla Celebration Of UM Homosexuality - Feminist-Lesbian Theologian Dismisses Bible
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6th National Convocation of Reconciling Congregations Program "Proclaiming Jubilee: Renew, Release, Reconcile, Rejoice" Celebrates 15 years of Extending God's Wide Welcome
Worship, Bible study, covenant groups, forums, training and "a Texas good time!" were the daily fare at the University of North Texas in Denton, July 29 to August 1, for the 6th National Convocation of the Reconciling Congregation Program (RCP). It was a rich feast prepared to celebrate 15 years of guiding United Methodist-related congregations, campus ministries and other groups to fully include lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and their families in the full life of the church. The more than 400 lay and clergy leaders (ranging from grade school age to great-grand parents) scripturally and spiritually primed for the regional and conference efforts that are underway to present an immense witness to the upcoming United Methodist General Conference (May 2 to 12, 2000 in Cleveland, Ohio).
Each day was anchored by worship keyed to one of the "Proclaiming Jubilee" themes. A continually evolving worship setting by Phillip Cox-Johnson (Gospel Colors) and a dynamic fusion of traditional hymns and world praise music directed by Jorge Lockwood (West End Presbyterian, NYC) set hands clapping and bells ringing. Preachers for those services were:
RENEW -- The Rev. Cecil Williams, of Glide Memorial UMC, a Reconciling Congregation in San Francisco, CA. RELEASE -- The Rev. Dr. Melanie Morrison, a United Church of Christ minister and a founder of CLOUT (Christian Lesbians Out Together). RECONCILE -- The Rev. Renae Extrum-Fernandez, senior pastor of Walnut Creek UMC, a Reconciling Congregation in California. REJOICE -- The Rev. Sid Hall, senior pastor of Trinity UMC, a Reconciling Congregation in Austin, TX.
Daily Bible study sessions on Leviticus were led by Ted Jennings of Chicago Theological Seminary and Eske Wollrad, a lesbian-feminist theologian from Berlin, Germany. The "Proclaiming Jubilee" theme comes from "Then you shall have the trumpet sounded loud . . . And you shall hallow the 50th year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee to you . . ." (Leviticus 25:9a, 10). Jennings initially complained to the assembly that Leviticus was "hard ground to till" -- and acknowledged that it contained two of the few Bible verses frequently used abusively toward lesbian and gay persons. Since great sections of Leviticus focus on ancient Israel's religious practice and have no applicability to contemporary Christians, he characterized the book as "the good, the bad and the useless." Despite the good humor, he and Wollrad brought insightful and grace-filled reflection to these often un-welcoming portions of scripture. Jennings reminded the gathering to not lose "another 're' word -- relax" and that "God has already, in Christ, completed all that is necessary -- that is the message of the resurrection." Wollrad closed the final hour of study noting the high-energy joy that infused the whole weekend -- especially the worship. "Refusal to accept victimization (by the church and society) gives Reconciling United Methodists great joy that feeds and sustains a desire to seek justice."
The Saturday evening 15th Anniversary Gala began with a "Reconciling Gallery" exhibiting a huge range of ministries in which Reconciling Congregations are active. One display -- striking and moving in a graphic simplicity - was a long wall and tree, filled with actual copies of welcoming statements crafted by each of the 160 Reconciling Congregation and 25 campus ministries. The "Crystal Anniversary" Banquet interwove the creation of RCP as an organization and Mark Bowman's involvement and leadership. Bowman was present, both in the earliest brainstorming by members of Affirmation (United Methodists for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns) in the early 1980s, and when the invitations that were offered at the doorway of the 1984 General Conference in Baltimore, Maryland, to create a welcoming network. He initially served as a volunteer co-coordinator for the program (with Beth Richardson), part-time beginning in 1988 and since 1992, as full-time coordinator.
Numerous tributes highlighted the specific way Mark's visionary leadership has guided this welcoming movement. Particularly appreciated was the presence of Mark's daughters. Rachel, now completing college, noted being 6 years old when RCP began -- and shared a number of touching stories of how positive her experience had been growing up while RCP was guided by her "nearly perfect Dad". Mark accompanied his older daughter, Beth, on the piano as she sang a selection from the musical "Home" -- an original production commissioned by RCP to celebrate the 10th Anniversary. Beth was in the touring company of "Home" -- and both she and Rachel had been youth participants in previous RCP convocations.
Final expressions of appreciation and presentations to Mark Bowman were made by Dr. Gayle Felton, Chair of the Reconciling Board. His response assured all that he would never be far from the RCP or its mission. The evening closed with an invitation for participants to pledge financial support toward the General Conference campaign "Wide is the Welcome- -- Extend the Table" and introduction of Marilyn Alexander as the interim Director for the RCP. Alexander will serve for approximately a year: to guide the on-going growth of the congregational and individual members network; to shepherd the witness effort at General Conference; and to supervise the search for a permanent executive director.
Marilyn Alexander, a recent new resident of Denton, Texas, is a lifelong United Methodist. Educated at Texas A & M (BA) and Perkins Theological Seminary (M.Div.), she worked for 6 years at Perkins as Executive Director of Development, Alumni/ae and Public Relations. Most recently her work has been in consulting and development with organizations such as The Welcoming Church Movement, UFMCC Theology School, RCP, Harvest MCC Church, and the Walt Whitman School in Dallas (a high school for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender teens.) She has published numerous articles on spirituality, sexuality and religious and is co-author of the book "We Were Baptized, too."
"Proclaiming Jubilee" was preceded by a day of forums for various constituencies of welcoming United Methodists: Clergy; Lesbian/Gay/Bi/Trans Persons (facilitated by Affirmation: United Methodists for LGBT Concerns); Activist from the North Central Jurisdiction; Persons of Color; Parents and Student/Youth/Seminarians. The forum for parents was a new feature of this convocation and included The Rev. Paul Beeman, National President of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), a retired UM pastor from Washington state. A resolve from that Thursday Parents Forum was announced by Bruce Hilton at the closing Sunday worship service -- that they would identify and recruit 100 parents to be at the 2000 General Conference in Cleveland to witness their displeasure with the United Methodist Church's treatment of their lesbian and gay children.
For additional information or photos from the events at the Convocation -- contact Reconciling Congregations Program Office -- 3801 No. Keeler Avenue, Chicago, IL 60641. Voice: 773/736-5526, FAX: 773/736-5475 website: www.rcp.org.
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