For those who do not know me, I had been a candidate in The UMC for deacon’s ordination in service ministry with the homeless and addicted individuals since 2008 until Annual Conference in June of this year. The first six years of that journey were joyful years. I completed the required work, was commissioned in 2012 and began the 2 years residency, all while pursuing the life’s work of Christian education and . in 2014, I applied for ordination. The Board of Ministry of The Alabama West Florida Conference had, I was told, undergone about a 40% turnover in the prior year. The retirement of many pastors with whom I had worked and been involved through Conference activities for 20+ years and the rise to leadership of many with whom I had no experience led to a particularly jarring ordination interview in February 2014, in which I knew absolutely no one in the room. Conversely, it seemed they did not know me, either. I was told repeatedly by the chairman that “You don’t need ordination for what you do. ” I could not quite pinpoint if her dismissive attitude was toward the work of deacons generaly, the population among whom I minister, or toward me personally and professionally. The implication seemed to be that the work I was doing, discipleship and mentoring to homeless and addicted women at the margins of society, could be done by anyone and didn’t require the blessing of the Church and the credentials of ordination. The hour and a half long interview was surreal. As I sat there hearing their questions, the Lord gave me the sudden realization that this interview was not about my ministry….it was reflective of a larger battle within The UMC over social concerns, doctrine, educational standards, and more. I felt emotionally ambushed by the interview process, having been lulled into a false sense by many elders in the Conference of “all is good”, “you’ve got this”, and “your ministry is needed.” The rude and dismissive way I was treated was echoed by others with whom I spoke. I tried to talk to people who I thought should care about such things. No one would talk to me. I was assigned to a mentor out of the conference who, while helpful, was not what I needed. She herself acknowledged that and suggested another resource. But when I tried to secure other help, it was denied. It became a mission for me to expose the hypocrisy and politicizing of the process of credentialing candidates (especially of deacons) for ordination in the Conference. The next three years were hellish. I was delayed in 2014 asked to be continued and sat out the process in 2015, and was discontinued in 2016 but appealed and won the right to continue another year with strong support of Conference membership in spite of the Board’s desire to discontinue. In 2017 I was discontinued again and chose not to appeal again. The same individual who had clearly been so political and dismissive of me in 2014 was now in a position in the appeal process to thwart that, too. I had had enough of the battle. God finally gave me the peace and permission to walk away from the process. In the meantime, the first hand view I had gotten of the politically correct nature of the leadership of the Conference and episcopacy, the increasingly chaotic division within The UMC, my own disagreement with the direction The UMC was going with regard to the General Conference of 2016, and my now disrespect for some of the Board of Ministry who manipulated the process and lied about me and to me, led me to the conclusion that this was no longer a group with whom I could associate.
I discovered, too, that my ecclesiology had needed to be refined by God and it was. I had been guilty of excessive loyalty to the denomination and the polity of The UMC. I was a UMC snob. I had to come to the full understanding that my covenant was first and foremost with Christ, not in affiliation with a group. I matured in my faith beyond the affiliative faith stage, as Charles Westerhouse defines it. I did the searching soul work and discovered my owned faith. God cured me of needing affiliation with a denomination, even though I am staunchly loyal to the Wesleyan view of the Christian faith. It has been a hard three and a half years, accompanied by several other devastating personal losses during the same time. I was shell shocked. PTSD is not too strong a phrase for what I experienced and felt. I walked away from the process, with the blessing of the Lord who, I believe, was more than willing to have me ordained since he called me to that goal, but who nevertheless would not require me to continue to pursue it in the midst of a what was increasingly a crumbling religious institution. The lies that had been told about me, the innuendos inferred, the additional areas of inquiry and new demands made of me with each year’s interview reached the point of ludicrous. The abuse of the system and those who were perpetrating it won. And not only against me, but against others, as well. Other deacon candidates were treated with the same dismissive and rude attitude by a small group of people led by one particular interrogator with an agenda and her allies. Disgust is the only word I can use to describe my final interview and the weeks that ensued until their decision was confirmed It had, however, already been communicated through the conduct of Board members around me in my own home district. The aloofness and arrogance of the Board was beyond anything I had ever experienced in 45 years of interacting with ordained clergy in The UMC.
I am free. I am no less empowered. I am no less called by God to the work of a deacon. While I love much about The UMC theology and some of its polity, there is much that has been corrupted to the point of needing to be demolished. As I told members of a Staff Parish Relations Committee of a local congregation in 1997 when it was agitating for the dismissal of a pastor appointed there, they may have the authority to influence the vocational fate of an individual and dismiss him from ministry, but they will not prevail against the revival that God and God alone will decide.
I would say the same thing now to the entire UMC. It will not prevail if it persists in the direction it has drifted for decades. God’s faithful will walk away and the revival will manifest elsewhere.