Photo Courtesy of Reconciling Ministries Network
I am the un-named woman in petition 20635-GC – ¶ 1314-G.
I was walking down the street on January 27, 2012 when I learned that the right wing had sent a petition to General Conference calling for restrictions to be placed on Deaconesses and Home Missionersserving in The United Methodist Church. John Lomperis, author of the petition, asks the General Conference to restrict Deaconesses and Home Missioners from serving in appointments that are “incompatible with the doctrinal standards or social principles of The United Methodist Church.” He names my appointment with RMN and states that “such embarrassing institutional hypocrisy shrinks The United Methodist Church.”
When I first read the petition I felt a rush of emotions. Initially I felt like a fierce activist. How many people have their ministry named in a General Conference petition? As the news spread I received congratulatory emails, phone calls, and Facebook posts from friends who saw this as a badge of honor. As the possible implications of the petition began to sink in I experienced a deep sadness and outrage which was also mirrored by many friends and members of my Deaconess/Home Missioner and Home Missionary community. The work and ministry I engage in daily as the Associate Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network is an embodiment of my call.
I still feel a mash-up of emotions, but two seem to have risen to the surface as we approach General Conference — love and confusion.
Re-reading the petition calling for restrictions on Deaconesses and Home Missioners, I am concerned that the author didn’t read the paragraph he’s asking the General Conference delegates to alter and/or has never met a Deaconess or Home Missioner. In paragraph 1314.1 of the Book of Discipline, Deaconesses and Home Missioners are given a mandate as followers of Jesus Christ to:
eradicate causes of injustice and all that robs life of dignity and worth
facilitate the development of full human potential
share in building global community through the church universal
For 124 years Deaconesses (and, more recently in our history, Home Missioners) have served in cutting-edge ministries with communities and in places the church would not, was afraid to, or didn’t think it needed to go. For 124 years the Deaconess and Home Missioner community has covenanted to live out these mandates, causing not a shrinking but an un-measurable expansion of the ministries of Jesus. For 124 years the Deaconess and Home Missioner community has called the church to be more than an institution or set of standards on paper. I step into a long line of people calling the church to embody God’s love in the church and world.
I love being a Deaconess. This deep love for my church and community calls me not to cling to an institution but to stand in solidarity with those calling for The United Methodist Church to boldly and prophetically follow the gospel of Jesus, who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. What some might call an embarrassing stepping out of line with our church standards, I know, like Jesus and thousands of Deaconesses and Home Missioners, is dancing to the long line of music that’s been calling for justice and peace for all God’s children. One day the dissident cords of injustice against my lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers will end, and like so many Deaconesses before me I will have been proud to serve with them along the journey.
I serve neither for gratitude nor reward but from gratitude and love; my reward is that I may serve. – Deaconess and Home Missioner motto
Rachel Harvey is a United Methodist Deaconess and Associate Executive Director of Reconciling Ministries Network in Chicago.