I have carried you in my heart and prayers these past few days. As your pastor, I would like to speak to the results of the voting at General Conference in St. Louis. You may already have read my previous postings and comments around this Conference and some of you have reached out to me personally. You need to know that the results of the Conference have been met with a lot of intense grief from many in our congregation. Some others in our midst may also believe the outcome was correct and faithful. I am addressing our local church as shepherd of our flock, with hopes that we can move ahead with grace and Christian kindness as a local community of faith. My most passionate personal response is in this note. Please read through the entire note so you can hear my full heart. But first, let me just give some clarifying information.

Regarding the actual voting, the One Church Plan, which would have created local options for LGBTQIA inclusion was defeated at the legislative committee level. This One Church Plan was then presented at the plenary session as a minority reportand was again defeated. The Traditional Plan, which keeps the current positions regarding human sexuality, same gender weddings, and ordination of LGBTQIA persons with added covenants to hold clergy and bishops accountable was the only plan to pass the legislative committee level and sent to the plenary session for a full vote. The Traditional Plan ultimately passed, 438 to 384. This Plan was reviewed by the Judicial Council and some areas were ruled as unconstitutional. Lastly, legislation was passed that provides a “gracious exit” pathway for any local church wanting to leave the denomination for any reason. All of these amended plans that passed will be reviewed and ruled on by the Judicial Council in the months ahead.

While the voting outcomes may seem unconscionable to a lot of us who are in the American Church, it is important to remember that the United Methodist Church is a global church made up of all regions of our country and throughout the world. Unlike other American denominations, United Methodism has been a global church, grown and united by our common Wesleyan heritage. And, while the church in America has had a steady decrease in numbers, the church in Africa, South America and Asia has had an exponential increase. The contexts are very different. Having personally been in mission in these areas, I am aware of the intense dependence on their faith to sustain their most daily existence within lack of food and water, disease, and war-torn villages where their people are killed because of corrupt and violent governments and gangs. Their church has literally kept them alive. And in a great number of these countries, LGBTQIA individuals face charges and death because of their laws.

For us in our country, it is a vastly different context. Having passed civil laws for full marriage rights and anti-hatred legislation in support of our LGBTQIA friends, our culture sees these things very differently. Though there are different personal stances within denominational bodies and even within our own United Methodist Church, our American experience and culture at large presents an entirely different stage for these conversations. These perspective differences underlie every experience, discussion, and vote. While there are clear differences regarding inclusion even in our own country, the One Church Plan advocates believe that most of the American delegates would have voted that way. It is hard to tell because votes aren’t accounted for this way. From a denominational viewpoint, it will take a long time for these things to unfold (years) and there will be definite reactions and twists and turns from an American church perspective (versus what happened from our global perspective at this Conference). This Monday, our Bishop Sharma Lewis is giving a “State of the Church” livestream from 10 am to 11:30 am www.livestream.com/vaumc/stateofthechurch. I will be at the church to see this, and invite anyone who would to join me at the church.

This is the information. Now, for what matters most to me.

On a personal level, though I wanted to be at this Conference for support and prayer as an Observer (I did not have a vote), I was truly unprepared for the brokenness I experienced there. I know that we have not been “united” as a denomination for years/decades (though our name would hint at it), but it was sickening (literally) to experience it firsthand. I am heartbroken and filled with sadness for all the individuals who are hurting and confused and personally affected because of this outcome.

We have family members, participants and friends within our own congregation who are within the LGBTQIA community, and we love them all dearly. Our church has always been LGBTQIA inclusive and appreciates and applauds the gifts and sacred worth of all God’s children. 

I would ask as your pastor that you will bear with us at St. Mark’s on this journey. Sunday is a communion Sunday (thank you, God, for this timing). I will address this subject in my sermon and then we will share together in a Service of Brokenness and then together at the Lord’s Table. Our church has always had an open table, and there is no better time than this for us share in Jesus’ invitation. ALL are invited. ALL are welcomed. ALL are included. ALL are desired. ALL are loved. I am committed to healing, and committed to our church and our acceptance of all people. I believe we as a church are also on this same path. Additionally, following the11am service, I will be in the sanctuary for ongoing prayer/conversation time with whoever would like to join me. Your presence could be very supportive for this if you feel led – or you may be someone who wants ongoing support and prayer. I want to be here for you.

Lastly, thank you all for your kind words of encouragement and support in these days, and especially your prayers. This is a very hard season for our church, and I need your prayers more than ever. As your pastor, here is my personal commitment to my beloved flock and our friends and family at St. Mark’s:
I claim my faith in the Healer, Jesus Christ. I know God will work things out for good – in time – but in the meantime I am struggling to hold our people together in a bond of forbearance, belief, hope and endurance (I Corinthians 13:7). I hope all will strive to take the path of patient love and can see and know true and genuine love coming from our authentic relationships with one another at St. Mark’s UMC. I am blessed to shepherd God’s people at St Mark’s and fiercely committed to THIS Body, to protecting our community, and doing everything in my power to remind everyone that they are valued and loved by God, our congregation, and especially me.

I invite you to pray about and perhaps even to write out your own statement around these 2 questions:

– What will you do to bring healing?

– How will you channel your faith focus in these days ahead?

Love in Christ,
Fran Cooper