Hoosier United Methodists Discuss Future of an Inclusive Indiana Conference
By Daniel R. Gangler*
More than 60 United Methodists, both lay and clergy from across Indiana, participated in one of three Zoom online dialogue sessions in late March affirming an Indiana United Methodist Conference fully inclusive of LGBTQIA+ people in the life of the church and openly discussing their opinions about the church.
The 90-minute events called “Visioning for Resurrection Conversation,” sponsored by the Room For All Indiana Coalition (RFA Indiana), were divided in three segments including an introduction, breakout groups and final comments. Each event included a half-hour breakout session led by six individuals during the three sessions, which gave each participant an opportunity to express him- or herself on a variety of topics including laments, dreams and comments about the current state of the United Methodist Church (UMC) as a denomination and the Indiana Annual Conference of the church in particular.
The Rev. Mary Dicken, associate pastor of Meridian Street UMC in Indianapolis, opened the first event stating to participants that the goal of the event was not to fix anything but to have a conversation about dreaming who we want to be as a church. She also emphasized that coming legislation in the church will be important to the future of the denomination. Participants were assured of confidentiality in what they expressed.
The Rev. Cyndi Alte, a retired clergyperson and participant, gathered comments from the 17 breakout groups that met during the three sessions and shared the following comments. To the question, “what do you love about being United Methodists?” responses included: the theology of grace, the Wesleyan quadrilateral, the connectional system of the church, the global emphasis on justice issues and emergency assistance and the inclusive nature of the church.
In discussions about what participants lamented about the church, they responded: the divide in the UMC which seems to be inevitable due to a lack of civility and the inability to sustain conversation with those of differing opinions. Other laments included a loss of denominational leadership due to fear of those with differing opinions, the UMC being stuck in survival mode and for clergy, the inability to be open with inclusive theology, to marry gay people in their own congregation and the vocational risk of being inclusive.
When asked about the church they dreamed about, participants touched on: amicable division, focusing on love of God and neighbors with hope and joy, being totally inclusive of all people, removing the language (concerning homosexuality) from the United Methodist Book of Discipline, celebrating diversity, and a focusing on justice, equality and diversity.
When asked if they had any other thing to express, some participants responded, don’t wait until after General Conference to be an inclusive church and have courage to reclaim the church as leaders not followers of society. One participant asked bishops to be definitive, clear and powerful about the direction of the church.
In response to the three online events, the Rev. Jerry Rairdon, lead pastor of First UMC in Noblesville and chair of the RFA Indiana steering committee commented:
“Room for All Indiana believes there is a visioning void that needs to be filled for those United Methodists who want to be part of an inclusive and future oriented church. That work needs to begin now so there is a clear, exciting and powerful picture of what the UMC in Indiana will be after the denominational divide. Our recent Zoom sessions are the start of that visioning process in Indiana and we look forward to expanding that conversation in the months ahead.”
Due to the success of these listening-discussion sessions, the RFA Indiana steering committee plans more online events in the future.
The discussions are part of the “Visioning Discussion for Indiana Room for All Visioning” inspired by the “Out of Chaos… Creation” statement and study guide available online at www.umc-outofchaos.org. That statement invites United Methodists to envision a renewed denomination. In its visioning statement, RFA Indiana “dreams of an Indiana Annual Conference faithfully inspired by our Wesleyan /Methodist tradition. We recognize we have no other home but the Wesleyan home of the holy and perfecting love of God.”
The statement continues: “We desire an Annual Conference in which ALL people are welcomed on the basis of Jesus Christ’s reconciling acts and in which ALL people are engaged in transforming community by the power of the Holy Spirit in dynamic dialogue with God and one another. In that spirit, we prayerfully seek a future for Indiana Methodism which is defined by the Wesleyan characteristics of celebration, grace, justice, connection and dialogue.”
If you wish to add your voice to this important work, please check out the RFA Indiana website www.roomforallin.org where one can subscribe to the Room For All Indiana e-mail newsletter. More information about RFA Indiana is also available on Facebook at www.facebook.com/RoomForAllIN.
*Gangler is member of the RFAC Indiana Steering Committee