Dear Fellow Young Clergy,
I write you, today, in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who was, and is, and is to come. My prayers are with you. The purpose of this letter is to express my anguish of how we often relate to one another and my hope for us going forward.
Perhaps I should begin by expressing how I to becoming a clergy since many of you likely do not know me. I am a lifelong United Methodist. Born in Beckley, W.Va., I was baptized and confirmed at Perry Memorial United Methodist in Shady Spring, W.Va. I left when after high school on what I thought would be a long career in journalism. My own “warm heart” moment at Christ UMC in Chapel Hill, N.C., led me to a life of ministry which has taken me to where I am, today, serving in the Kentucky Annual Conference.
That’s the short story of a longer story. As I entered ministry, I sought to learn from and build relationships with many of you. I believe the more we build relationships with one another the better our ministry together can be. I also believe this not just about our work in our own churches, but our shared ministry with Christ that we have a part in. We need each other.
To be honest, I have often found these relationships difficult and have especially found them to be so during the heights of General Conference. I find it hard, today, to be defined as a young clergy because of what I often see from many of us. I see us as a group that wants ministry on our terms and is uncomfortable with anything that is counter to our own beliefs or views.
We express, through our words and actions, that we want conformity to our cause before we enter into a relationship and conversation with someone else. I do not fit into the neat boxes of conservatism or liberalism, but what I see is that many of us believe we must be one or the other in order to be a solid Christian or pastor. We want conformity and connection with only like-minded individuals who share our views. Perhaps this is a consequence of our polarized society, but we are better when we welcome multiple voices into relationship with us.
Our desire to only have relationships with those who only agree with us or are like us puts someone like me on an island. There is no room for moderates at the table. That is because we do not make room for our fellow young clergy who have different views than we do. We spend too much of our time shouting at one another when they disagree with us than we do in building a relationship with that same person. We are more interested in debating our points than in understanding each other. We only want ministry and connection when it includes theological and political purity, and doing so is to the detriment of our connection with one another.
What pains me is how we relate to one another is a reflection of how we lead our churches. When we are more interested in theological and political purity amongst each other, how easy will it then be for us to demand such from those who sit in our pews, come to our Bible studies, and meet with us for coffee? We are the leaders of the church today, and by our example others will follow. It is a big responsibility, and one that is often overwhelming. Our responsibility to lead with integrity and to seek relationships with all people must then inspire us to seek relationships with conservatives, liberals, and moderates.
I believe our ministries are better when our relationships are diverse and includes people who share different views than our own. My liberal friends help me to see things that I may not have seen before, as is true for my conservative friends. We need each other to strengthen our faith, to encourage us to deeper discipleship, and to help us to go into our communities to share the love of Christ.
The work is too important for us to continue this separation along theological and political thought that has dominated our recent conversations. I do not think we can continue on this path of theological purity as a precursor to relationship without it costing something to the body of Christ. As Paul writes, there are many members yet there is one body. There are many voices, yet we are all part of Christ’s family the church. It beckons us to see the value and richness that comes from including conservatives, liberals, and moderates into our relationships and ministry connections.
Our voice is needed at the table, especially with the many issues that face our tradition and the church in general. I fear that if we continue to insist on only having relationships with like-minded people that we will weaken our voice and influence into the conversations to come.
We need each other more than we may often realize.
Your brother in Christ,