Dear Haywood St. Congregation and beyond,
As the son of a Mexican, Spanish, and Indian mother, I was asked ten thousand times as a child, “what are you… black, brown, mixed, mulatto, mongrel, illegal, terrorist?” The only place free of interrogation was the Church. In Sunday school and worship, in youth group and summer camp, in seminary and ordination, instead of what, I was told who. You, Brian, are a child of God.
Haywood St. is a Reconciling Church. Soon after our inception, informed by the painful rejections of others and my own, we chose to officially declare our belief that homosexuality is not a sin, but rather part of God’s created goodness. With steadfast conviction, we affirm the sacred worth of every person and celebrate all relationships. Love is love.
Because of our public profession, along with countless other congregations across the country, we are now in direct conflict with our denomination. Tuesday, at a special session in St. Louis, delegates from all over the world voted to explicitly deny gay and lesbian pastors ordination and to toughen a ban on same-sex weddings. While an overwhelming majority of American Methodists affirmed full inclusion, global delegates, mainly from Africa, swayed the decision.
With a United Methodist Church no longer united, I’m uncertain what happens next. The Traditional Plan, which passed but with sections ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council, may get mired in legal challenges. The One Church Plan, which was recommended by the Council of Bishops and offered a way forward, may be reconsidered at next year’s General Conference. And, with progressive congregations and clergy now being forced to consider leaving to form a new Methodist Church, a schism may ensue.
Haywood St., however, will remain unchanged in belief and practice. The Welcome Table will continue to invite the hungry to a heavenly banquet of plenty; respite will continue to offer the sick care in a healing place of belonging; worship will continue to fling the sanctuary doors wide open for anyone to enter. And we, as a downtown congregation, will continue to be adamant about our interpretation of scripture, expansive in our embrace, and unapologetic about enlarging the family of faith.
Although I’ve experienced racial discrimination, this week’s decision is far more painful for many of you who have been rejected yet again in God’s name. As a clergyman now serving in a denomination I vehemently disagree with, I’m sorry. Grieving together, I’m devastated at how often the dysfunction of Institution obscures, frustrates, and undermines the ministry of Jesus.
While the votes have been tallied, exclusion can never finally be ratified.
Your founding pastor,
Rev. Brian Combs