The Day My Hope Returned

Yesterday was the day my hope returned. Since General Conference, I have been discomfited. I don’t think I’ve ever used that word before, but it means to be made uncomfortable, uneasy, agitated, disoriented, or unable to be consoled. My heart has been aching because I have a deep investment in and commitment to The United Methodist Church, having chosen The UMC as my church home as a young adult.

I became a United Methodist because I was intrigued by the interplay between social and personal holiness and the necessity of living out our faith through mission and outreach. I was inspired by John Wesley’s teachings to reform the nation and spread scriptural holiness across the land. And I was encouraged by Wesley’s words to his preachers, “You have nothing to do but to save souls. There­fore spend and be spent in this work.” I have been discomfited from experiencing so many people in pain, believing that there is no longer a place for them in The United Methodist Church.

In the past several weeks, I have participated in numerous conversations at all levels of the church around the future. But it was not until yesterday that my hope returned. I woke up early to run on the treadmill before leaving for First UMC, Fort Dodge, a 90-minute drive.

It’s good I left earlier than I needed to because my GPS decided to send me down a dirt road that I soon realized was not going to take me anywhere. After getting back on track, I turned off the music and enjoyed the pre-dawn silence. I remembered the words that Abba Moses, one of the great Desert fathers, would say to his monks, “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.”

There were almost no cars on the road at 6:45 a.m. I watched light emerge from the darkness and the sun rise in the east, although it only lasted a minute or so before the sun vanished behind the clouds. The landscape was surreal, stark, beautiful — and wet. The farther north I drove, the more water there was, with flooding continuing across much of Iowa and some towns have been evacuated. The fields were literally lakes because of heavy rainfall and snowmelt, and I prayed for our farmers and all those affected by this historic flooding.

Arriving early at First UMC, Fort Dodge, there was plenty of time to wander around the gorgeous hundred-year-old sanctuary and also prayer-walk around the neighborhood. Pastor Andrea Kraushaar is an outstanding leader for this amazing downtown congregation that is heavily involved in outreach and mission at the local, national, and international level. Many of the laity that I met asked about General Conference. It’s on everyone’s hearts. Encouraging them to continue to reach out to their community and be welcoming of all people, I began to feel some glimmers of hope myself, especially when I sat with the many children in the chancel, we talked about what it means to be a difference maker, and each child received a difference maker button.

After worship, North Central District Superintendent Carol Kress, District Administrative Assistant Alanna Warren and I drove over to Trinity UMC, the other larger church in Fort Dodge, where the district middle school/confirmation youth were gathering for the afternoon. Almost eighty youth and adults showed up, and we had to ration the pizza! Meeting with these passionate and enthusiastic youth began to renew my hope. What fun it was to hear their questions.

  • Are bishops’ church services longer than most worship services? (Hmmm. We do tend to be long-winded.)
  • What did you want to be when you were in high school? (professional athlete or church musician)
  • How many marathons have you run? (22)
  • Have you ever been on a mission trip in another country? (Cuba, Haiti, Zimbabwe)
  • How did you leave the Mennonite Church for The United Methodist Church (combination of a lack of opportunities for women pastors and my husband being a United Methodist pastor)
  • What is the hardest thing about being a bishop? (having to make difficult decisions that may harm others)
  • How many countries have you been to? (30? Not sure.)
  • What is the best thing you have done as a bishop? (I was assigned to Iowa!)

After lunch, we went to Fort Frenzy, a Family Fun Center, where I played my first game of laser tag. At least I did not come in last! The joy and enthusiasm of the youth was infectious. My hope increased as I knew that the future of The United Methodist Church is in good hands with these youth, who were so caring and accepting of everyone and readily made friends with kids from other churches.

From Fort Frenzy, we drove back to Trinity UMC for the third and final General Conference gathering. The sanctuary was full, the spirit was good, and the comments were heart-felt. Folks wanted to know the details of the Traditional Plan that passed, asked about the punitive nature of some parts of the plan and wondered whether we will lose our young people, for most of whom human sexuality is not an issue. They also reminded me that 15,000 signatures of young people under age 35, advocating for full inclusion, were gathered overnight and shared on the last day of General Conference.

Honest questions were raised about how the Traditional Plan would be enforced, what the timetable is for when the plan will go into effect, and whether the 2020 General Conference can bring new petitions for restructuring (yes). One person wondered how the UMC is structured globally and why the United States can’t be its own Central Conference and make its own decisions the way the Central Conferences can. Still another asked how they can stay informed about what is happening at the denominational level. I recommended that they subscribe to the United Methodist Daily Digest for the latest news.

When participants asked what they can do right now, my best wisdom was to encourage them to be the body of Christ in the world. Keep loving, keep serving, keep including, keep reaching out, and keep connected. Keep making a difference in your context and show grace to all. And if you have an idea, submit a petition to the 2020 General Conference!

I was both surprised and deeply moved that so many people acknowledged the difficult position that our bishops are in as we attempt to lead with grace and integrity for such a time as this. We covet your prayers. As I made the long drive home, I suddenly realized that I am no longer discomfited and that my hope has returned. My hope returned in Fort Dodge yesterday because of a vital downtown local church; eighty active and faith-filled youth; and United Methodists from across north central and northwest Iowa. They are young and old and of varying theological positions who are convinced that God is yet not done with The United Methodist Church and that something new is about to emerge. Is God done with us yet? I hope not.

P.S. Because of a denominational meeting in the Philippines, the next Leading from the Heart will be published on Monday, April 1.

15 thoughts on “The Day My Hope Returned

  1. The GC said nothing about gays being church members. so the IAUMC can and should put some rainbow flags out and welcome them

  2. Thank you, Bishop Haller. Prayers continue for all to discern God’s guidance and leading in this time of struggle and decision. Great is God’s faithfulness!
    In times of spiritual angst and disquiet, my thoughts often go to the reassurance and beautiful sentiments in this hymn:

    There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
    Like the wideness of the sea;
    There’s a kindness in God’s justice,
    Which is more than liberty. . .

    For the love of God is broader
    Than the measure of our mind;
    And the heart of the Eternal
    Is most wonderfully kind.

    Praying you courage in the struggle!

  3. Bishop Laurie,
    We at Birmingham First will continue on but with heavy hearts. What has happened to our beloved denomination? And who made the decision to make
    The penalties for the clergy even more onerous? I cry for our future and do not have much hope for 2020.
    How difficult all this must be for you and your fellow all are in my prayers.
    Blessings for your trip to the Phillipines.

  4. Thank you for the words of hope, Bishop Haller.
    I too am discomfited. I am still struggling for a way forward.

    I cannot believe God excludes any of us. I know who I am, I know where I have been and what I have done. If God can love me, God loves all of us.

  5. Thank you Laurie for your words of wisdom. Iowa is blessed to have you as a leader, as Michiganders were equally blessed by your leadership. Our hope is in the future of our youth, as I have been telling my gay grandson for the past five years. He is now 20 soon to be 21 on the fourth of July! He is an active leader and a grandson to be proud of! Laurie, your message is well received ! Also, thanks for the Daily Digest promo !

  6. Again your words perfectly describe where Ii am – “untied” and “discomfited”. I haven’t yet seen the hope but keep praying and looking.
    I noted someone indicated at the last debriefing that we’d all been praying and so we need to understand that this decision was God’s answer to our prayers. Well I pray all the time for the war to end and since it hasn’t am I to believe that it is Gods answer to continue this war? So many arguments but none make sense to me. We are to told to invite in our LGBTQ friends but make sure they understand it is ONLY if they are not practicing, married or wanting to be leaders that the door is open.
    My first reaction was to bolt, but prayer (and listening – more difficult for me) have brought me to the plan to stay and speak out for what I believe God is saying to me.
    I pray for you in this very difficult time of leadership and I thank God for brining you to this place and time for which you were created!!!!

    • Me too (untied completely and discomfited greatly). Bishop Laurie is why I haven’t made a final decision to leave. I will continue to speak out for those our Church has intentionally denigrated and marginalized. My heart is broken because of this situation, just can’t get it or my head around the dilemma —perhaps because for many the outcome may no longer be a dilemma. I weep with Christ and all of my LGBTQ brothers and sisters. I continue to “live and let live” but insist on the importance and need to “live and help live” —in this case, those having no choice in their sexual orientation. Continuing to pray.

  7. I’ve continued to read the information released by the Iowa Conference regarding the Special Session in St. Louis. So, let me get this straight:
    1. Given that the GC was covered in devout and fervent prayer before and during the gathering, either God refused to answer our prayers, or the Holy Spirit was impotent in St. Louis.
    2. Vows previously taken by the clergy and bishops do not need to be kept, so laity vows of marriage and church membership can also made with no real expectation of obedience.
    3. The United Methodist Book of Discipline is no longer relevant nor necessary in the world in 2019.
    4. The Way Forward for the United Methodist Church is to continue to not only allow but to actually approve of and encourage non-compliance and disobedience, and to continue disruption of annual and quadrennial conferences as the fight continues.

  8. I too am disconfitted.. I grieve for the folks who are leaving UMC. But I also want to love and respect them. Having relatives who are gay, I know that it isn’t something that is created. I am confused. Do we handle the issue straight up and open, or do we try to keep it under raps that folks are leaving? The church has to make changes in positions that these folks held. I am opting to be straight forward and up front. I feel it prevents gossip. But am being questioned about my approach. I don’t know what way is best.

  9. Bishop, thank you for your words. I would like to share some wisdom from a clergy mentor of mine from another Annual Conference. Grace and peace.

    Words of wisdom from a very wise friend:
    For all of you who aren’t sure, it is possible to be gay and Christian. It’s also possible to believe in God and science. It is possible to be pro-choice and anti-abortion. It’s possible to be an Atheist and have strong morals. It is equally possible to be a feminist and love and respect men. It’s possible to have privilege and be discriminated against, to be poor and have a rich life, to not have a job and still have money. It is possible to believe in sensible gun control legislation and still believe in one’s right to defend one’s self, family, and property, it’s possible to be anti-war and pro-military. It is possible to love thy neighbor and despise his actions. It is possible to advocate Black Lives Matter and still be pro police. It is possible to not have an education and be brilliant. It is possible to be Muslim and also suffer at the hands of terrorists. It is possible to be a non-American fighting for the American dream. It is possible to be different and the same. We are all walking contradictions of what “normal” looks like. Let humanity and love win.

  10. Dear Laurie, as I stated in Fort Dodge, I understand how much your “job” sucks right now. Having to make decisions for the greater good will always leave someone, or in this case, many someone’s, feeling as if they have been forgotten or even worse, let go, is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Please know that while I may not agree with everything that the church is saying or that you are saying, I value very highly my relationship with both the church and especially you. You are such a wonderful and caring person with the best of hope and faith to pass along to those who will receive the message.
    Keep going, keep loving, and remember that God will never put you in place where He is not there also to help you during and after the trial.
    Hang in there, Honey, your faith will carry you through!

  11. A Way Forward became A Giant Step Backward. Jesus and John Wesley are weeping. It is a struggle to maintain pride belonging to a church that at its highest level is so focused on judgment and exclusion of some of God’s beloved children.

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