For many United Methodists, the road to St. Louis is paved with anxiety.
Will a special session beginning Saturday (Feb. 23) — considered the most consequential in the denomination’s history — find common ground on LGBT policies and end years of debate? Or will the denomination — the nation’s second-largest Protestant group — split apart?
Helen Ryde doesn’t know what the meeting will bring.
But on Tuesday, she began a 600-mile pilgrimage from the North Carolina mountains to the America’s Center Convention Complex in St. Louis, site of the meeting. As she travels through Tennessee and Kentucky and Illinois, she planned to stop in dozens of United Methodist churches to say a prayer and pin an envelope containing her prayer to the door of each congregation.
“These events are often stressful,” said Ryde, 53, referring to the General Conference. “I want to start this conference with a sense of purpose and grounding.”
Ryde, 53, is not a delegate to the special session of the United Methodist Church’s legislative assembly. A married lesbian, she works as Southeast regional organizer for the Reconciling Ministries Network to encourage United Methodists to embrace LGBT equality.
The special session will bring together 864 delegates and 66 nonvoting bishops, as well as dozens of administrators and activists.
During the meeting, they will consider various plans, including one that would allow churches to ordain and marry LGBT United Methodists. (Existing United Methodist rules bar “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from being ordained as ministers and forbid ministers from officiating at same-sex weddings.)
“I’ll be working to help make decisions that will move us as far as we can toward being an inclusive church,” said Ryde. “That won’t happen overnight. But we do have the potential to take a step in the right direction.”
By Tuesday night, Ryde had made it to Glasgow, Ky., having stopped in 22 churches along the way — some small and rural, others larger and urban.
At each stop, she said a prayer she had composed before she left her Weaverville, N.C., home.
“Holy God,” her prayer read, “may every LGBTQ person who has ever been baptized, confirmed, attended or served this church know how fearfully and wonderfully made they are.”
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Source: Religion News Service