An Historic Annual Conference

Let me provide a bit of context for the past few days in the North Texas Conference. It’s just my one perspective on what felt like an extraordinary few days. (So, take it or leave it…)

First, the NTC ordained the first openly lesbian woman in the South. (Meaning: In any conference in the Southeastern or South Central part of the nation…) My dear friend, Jane Graner, who I have been honored to watch journey through this process, like the Jackie Robinson of North Texas.

Today, we elected a slate of clergy delegates that was decidedly more to the “center-left” than previous delegations.

We elected a virtual *sweep* of progressive lay delegates. It is, without question, the most progressive group of lay delegates in our conference…and, therefore, almost certainly the most progressive in the South as well.

Approximately 50 of us —lay and clergy—attended an impromptu prayer vigil and press conference, lamenting the spate of murders of African-American Trans Women in our city. This was led by an African-American clergywoman, and attended by a beautiful spectrum of queer and straight, and people of all races. (News story link in the comments…)

And finally, by a stunningly high margin of 80% in favor, the North Texas Conference approved a resolution stating its intent to live NOW as a “One Church Conference.”

Among other things, we have said that we wish to be a conference that:
“grants space for traditionalists to continue to offer ministry as they have in the past; space for progressives to exercise freely a more complete ministry with LGBTQ persons; and space for all United Methodists to continue to coexist without disrupting their ministries.”

And we have agreed that we intend to:
“allow for contextual ministry and pastoral care and not impede the work of others in ministry. We will seek to find common ground and actively be in ministry with people who are different from us. We will not speak ill of one another and model that all people are of sacred worth .”

Again…and I want you to pause on this for a moment…this resolution passed not by 51% percent…or even 65%….but by 80%!!

It literally exceeded all of our expectations for an outcome.

Friends, only three years ago did we ever pass our first resolution that spoke positively about the LGBTQ community.

Now, three short years later, we have exceeded a supermajority.

It’s Pentecost on Sunday.
I see God’s Spirit at work here today.

After General Conference, I wrote a blog asking “What do we know now about General Conference?”

Tonight, we can ask: “What do we know about North Texas?”

It seems to me we know the following:

— Our delegation is more progressive than ever, and it was already the most progressive in the Jurisdiction.
— That you can ordain a lesbian woman and the sky will not fall. In fact, that most folks will be happy about it.
— That you can hold a press conference to support Trans people, and 50 folks will show up.
— And finally, that 80% of us are interested in finding some way to live together.

Of course, the “devil is in the details” as to what this last point means.

Over the past weeks, I have heard from many progressive friends who believe this resolution does not go far enough.
My answer to that has been to say…I agree.

African-American friends, and other People of Color, have justice and equity issues that must be addressed in any future Methodism that were not at all mentioned in this resolution.

The LGBTQ community and allies are right to note that this resolution does not nearly go far enough in working toward a fully inclusive space for them. The language is not as strong as statements coming out of Minneapolis or Kansas City.

Therefore, we must see this resolution is a *starting point* for conversation over the next weeks and months, as we continue to imagine the “new thing” that is coming in Methodism. Many of us have been saying for some time that a “new thing” is coming in Methodism.

Many observers have conjectured that as many of 70% of American Methodist might desire to live together in some future alignment.

Today, we showed, with data, that this number COULD BE as high as 80% percent here in our area.

Hopefully, what happens now is an ever-broader table of up to 80% of North Texas Methodists who wish to live together in some way. This should be a inclusive conversation that takes places over the next few months, as we look toward GC 2020.

We should get down to brass tacks, and start asking tougher questions like…

What will it mean to *really* include all of our people of color as full partners in a church of the future?
What will it mean to fully support and welcome our LGBTQ brothers and sisters?
What will it mean to potentially still be in different theological places, and yet maintain that very Wesleyan desire to “walk hand in hand” with those whose hearts are the same as ours?
What will it mean to support our rural churches, which have different contexts from the city?
What could it mean to listen to the feedback of the Minneapolis and Kansas City gatherings, and incorporate some of the values and goals from those gatherings into our future dreaming in our conference?

We here in North Texas now have some GREAT data to justify swiftly engaging this bold and robust conversation with as many has 80% of North Texas Methodists.

Don’t you think?

We continue to also know that it will continue to be a chaotic time, with many possible ideas being tossed around.

That has to continue to be OK for a while.

Just know, it’s a broad swath of folks who appear willing to keep talking and dreaming together.

And for now, that’s an interesting conversation that I look forward to having.

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He is Senior Pastor of Kessler Park UMC United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas. Previously, he was pastor at Northaven UMC in Dallas for seventeen years. Eric loves to write on topics of spirituality, social justice, music/art and politics. The entries on this blog reflect that diversity of interests. His passion for social justice goes beyond mere words. He’s been arrested at the White House, defending immigrants and “The Dreamers,” and he’s officiated at same sex weddings in his churches, in defiance of what some believe is Methodist teaching. Eric is an avid blogger and published author, and 2017 recipient of the prestigeous Kuchling Humanitarian Award from Dallas’ Black Tie Dinner. (Human Rights Campaign) Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He’s a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named “best judge” by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County, and is currently the longest service district judge in that district. She was re-elected for a fourth term in 2018. They have the world’s best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. Find links to Eric’s music-related websites, at the top of this site’s navigation menu.

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