Why one visually impaired, brown, clergywoman is staying- and why you should as well.
Sometimes, it takes low vision to help the church have new vision.
Right now, there is a lot of talk about splitting the United Methodist Church. A significant number of people on either side of the theological divide are talking about leaving and making new forms of Methodism.
I hear the arguments on both sides, and I am sorry for all the pain and the hurt that has been caused by both groups.
Let’s Change These Statistics
One of the biggest statements that I’m hearing from both sides is that people feel hurt, misunderstood, and unwanted.
Friends, I’m sorry to say it, but the church has made me feel hurt, misunderstood, and unwanted for almost my entire life. If we want to talk about problems in the United Methodist Church, let’s talk about the fact that:
- In the United States, the United Methodist Church remains largely white.
- Sunday morning worship remains the most segregated hour in the American week
- Women clergy still face an unfathomable amount of sexism
- In many conferences, people with disabilities are unable to get approval for ordination from their Board of Ordained Ministry because we are viewed as an insurance liability
- The majority of our church buildings are not accessible to people who use wheelchairs
Staying as an Act of Resistance
I love the United Methodist Church, but in the past, I have been made to feel as if the United Methodist Church is no place for a visually impaired, Filipino-American woman who feels called to word, order, sacrament, and service.
In my own life, I am frequently reminded that the church still has great strides to make when it comes to inclusivity. In seminary, I was forbidden from having a guide dog in the dormitories. I’ve known parishioners from other congregations who have chosen to worship elsewhere, rather than have a “woman for a preacher.” It cuts my heart like a knife when I get calls from other people with disabilities who are trying desperately to get ordained.
But that doesn’t mean that I’m leaving.
We Can Change the World Together
GC2019 helped to spark a desire for change for the church to be more inclusive for members of the LGBTQIZA+ community.
Right now, we are the second largest protestant denomination with over 12 million members. We are a truly global church, and as such, we are capable of changing the world.
If we dash the body of Christ upon the rocks and break it into pieces, we will find that we become weak. We need one another. Progressives, Conservatives, Centrists, and everyone in between- it is all of our voices that make up the beautiful global entity of the UMC. Right now, we are the second largest protestant denomination with over 12 million members. We are a truly global church, and as such, we are capable of changing the world.
Stay and Fight with Me
I applaud the desire for change, but I ask you to please take up the mantle and fight with me for inclusiveness for women, people of color, and people with disabilities.
I have been fighting for my place in the world since I was a child and I won’t stop anytime soon. Sometimes, I feel exhausted and alone. There are many people who have taken up the mantle of the LGBTQIZA+ community, but there are so few of us fighting for people with disabilities.
If you want change, stay and fight with me.
I hold a deep reverence for the vows I made at my ordination; therefore, I will uphold and followThe Book of Discipline,even if I disagree with parts of it. I disagree with parts of the Holy Bible, such as the prohibitions against women clergy (1 Corinthians 14.34 & 1 Timothy 2.11-12) but I will continue to do my best to live a life shaped by Holy Scripture and God’s grace.
I am a work in progress, striving ever onward toward perfection, and so is the United Methodist Church. We need all voices, including conservatives, progressives, centrists, and everyone in between, to make the body of Christ.
If you want to protect a traditional view of scripture, stay and fight for that as well.
Either way- right now, we are a global church perfectly poised to change the world.
Please- don’t throw that away.
UPDATE: I wrote a follow up and expansion to this piece, entitled “Remain: What the UMC Stands to Lose in a Split,” which was published on Hacking Christianity on 8 April 2019.
If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in 16 Easy Ways the Church Can Be More Accessible to People with Disabilities or my own personal testimony about how my sight loss has deepened my faith.
Grcevich, Stephen. (2016 February 9). “What are the stats on disability and church?” Key Ministry: A Church for Every Child. Retrieved from: https://church4everychild.org/2016/02/09/what-are-the-stats-on-disability-and-church/#_edn5
Klagge, James C. (n.d.) “The Most Segregated Hour in America?” Virginia Tech. Retrieved from: https://www.phil.vt.edu/JKlagge/ConductorChurch.htm
Burton, M. Garlinda. (2014, March 20). “Women pastors growing in numbers.” The United Methodist News Service. Retrieved from https://www.umnews.org/en/news/women-pastors-growing-in-numbers
About the Author:
Rev. Rebecca L. (Torres) Holland, (B.S. English Ed. & M.Div) is an ordained elder serving in the Susquehanna Conference at Christ Community United Methodist Church. She is the chair of the Disability Ministries Task Force of the Susquehanna Conference. Her work has been published in several small literary journals, UM Insight, The Susquehanna Conference LINK, Women Writers & Women’s Books, Bold Blind Beauty, CAPTIVATING! and is forthcoming from Keys for Kids. Her chapbook, Through My Good Eye: A Memoir in Verse is available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon. She is a member of the Order of St. Luke.
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