Almost as soon as the United Methodist Church voted last week to increase restrictions against same-sex marriage, and the ordination of LGBT clergy, Heather Sinclair’s phone rang. Her email inbox filled up.
The pastor of the United Methodist Church of Westport and Weston is a longtime advocate of LGBT rights. Years ago, the Weston Road congregation voted to become an “open and affirming” church, embracing LGBT parishioners.
The messages Sinclair got were supportive. “We’re with you,” they said.
Many of the first calls came from other clergy members in Westport.
“They felt like condolences,” Sinclair — who took over the pulpit last summer from longtime minister Ed Horne — says.
“It was like when a family member dies. One pastor told me, ‘I don’t know what to say.’ That’s what I say when I’m with someone who’s grieving.”
The vote — taken by delegates at the church’s global conference in St. Louis — was both expected and a surprise, Sinclair says.
“The official stance for the past 40 years has been to exclude LGBT people from marriage and ordination. But this region has spoken out strongly against it.”
The vote was 53% for the measure to uphold and strengthen the bans, 47% against.
“We’re clearly not a ‘united’ Methodist Church,” Sinclair notes. “That’s part of where my sadness and heartbreak is.”
The other part is her desire for the church she loves to embrace LGBT members, fully and in all capacities. The statement adopted several years ago by the Westport church welcomes people of “all ages, races, abilities, sexual orientations, gender identities and economic circumstances.”
Sinclair was at the St. Louis conference, though not as a voting delegate. “It was a blessing to be there to support friends and colleagues with prayers, hugs, singing, fellowship, chocolate, coffee and more,” she emailed Westport church members when she returned.
“Now more than ever, we must be the love of Christ in the world, to our LGBTIA friends, family and neighbors, and to those who doubt our commitment to that love. Hope moves us forward.”
Yesterday morning, at her church’s men’s monthly breakfast, she offered reflections and thoughts on her experience in St. Louis.
Across the US, churches are wrestling with the question of whether to secede from the official organization and start a new denomination — or perhaps stay and fight.
The issue is complex. Deeds to Methodist churches are held in a general trust. “We can’t just take our building and leave,” Sinclair explains.
As the local congregation debates next steps, the pastor vows, “We’re here to be the same church as before. We’ll still serve dinner at the Gillespie Center. We’ll still prepare for Lent. We’ll still be a welcoming ministry to everyone.”
And she’ll still be buoyed by all the messages of support she’s received. Including so many from her fellow ministers and rabbis, all around town.
(Hat tip: Don Roth)