Festooned with rainbow banners, Foundry United Methodist Church recently celebrated its 24th anniversary of affiliation with the unofficial LGBT caucus within the United Methodist Church with pomp and thinly-veiled jabs at traditionalists.
Liberal congregants in the northwest Washington, D.C. United Methodist church were jubilant during the September 23 service celebrating Foundry UMC’s anniversary of becoming part of the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). A worship team and choirs wore rainbow sashes and mantles.
The service itself was filled with constant reminders of the goals of a reconciling church and LGBTQ advocacy. Few references were made to God outside of prayer and the occasional reference in a hymn focused around themes of inclusion. Absent was any sermon message from the Bible. Instead, three LGBTQ speakers spoke from the pulpit about their experiences as LGBTQ persons in the UMC. Gen Out Chorus, a choir for LGBTQ and allied teenagers, sang at the event. Gen Out Chorus is an outreach of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington.
Though the celebration was broadly positive in tone, there was a brief jab simplistically caricaturing traditionalists during the children’s message.
“Did you know that some people think God’s love isn’t for everyone?” one of the worship leaders asked the children, implicitly denouncing those who do not affirm same-sex behaviors when the direct audience was likely unaware of the reference.
Gayle Tabor, an openly lesbian pastor from North Carolina, spoke of her experiences as a lesbian ministering in the UMC. Tabor gave a broad overview of her journey of faith, emphasizing when she and her partner felt accepted at a church with an open-minded pastor, only for the community to allegedly reject them when that pastor departed. Tabor eventually found a UMC church that affirmed her, but at GC2019 she felt a similar rejection from the UMC following passage of the Traditional Plan.
Tabor declared that she would remain a Christian, saying, “…I am compatible with my God, and I am compatible with whatever church he brings forth on this Earth.” The unspoken subtext of this declaration is that “whatever church he brings forth” refers only to churches which affirm her lifestyle.
Foundry congregants also heard from Philip Jefferson of North Carolina. Jefferson led with his family’s Methodist roots, growing up in a welcoming and wholesome Methodist environment. In graduate school, Jefferson realized he was gay. He quickly discovered the “discriminatory” language in the Book of Discipline. Eventually he located a church in Raleigh, North Carolina, that affirmed him and asked him to lead their effort to become a reconciling congregation.
“My acceptance in the Church has nothing to do with me being gay and everything to do with me being a child of God,” Jefferson affirmed, arguing for his affirmation throughout the church, independent of any repentance for his sexuality.
Tracy Collins, a gay man who currently attends Foundry, was the final speaker. Collins began with a long history of his family’s involvement with the UMC. He told of learning to “do” church in a welcoming environment, but he eventually learned that he was gay. Collins alleged that homophobia within the Moral Majority movement seeped into his local church, and he began to fall away, believing that there was no redemption for him as a man who identified as gay.
“I figured if I was going to Hell I shouldn’t beat myself up so badly on this side of the fire,” Collins recalled upon departing the church completely. Years later, while he was working in Washington, D.C. a friend led him to Foundry UMC, and Collins finally felt accepted in a church.
Following testimonies and hymns, the congregation was led in a “Reconciling Pledge,” in which the worship team made a series of statements on various Reconciling tenets, and the congregation responded “Yes, we do so affirm and agree.”
“Will you work towards intersectional justice… and affirm the vision of beloved community in which people of all ages, races, ethnicities, immigration statuses, gender identities, sexual orientations, marital statuses, economic conditions, and physical and mental abilities are welcomed fully into God’s love?” the final question asked of congregants.
The reconciliation service had few mentions of God, sporadically mentioned only in the context of occasional hymns and prayers displaced by stories of self-celebration.