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NCJ delegates name commitment to anti-racism, LGBTQIA+ inclusion

Posted: November 12 2021 at 11:30 AM
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The six members of the writing team that developed the covenant, pictured on-screen, share their process for using feedback to create it. Photo by Rick Wolcott

At a virtual North Central Jurisdictional (NCJ) Conference this week, delegates elected by their respective annual conferences created and overwhelmingly approved a covenant naming their commitment to anti-racism work and LGBTQIA+ inclusion.

Approximately 250 delegates participated in an official Zoom meeting Nov. 10 and 11, and others from across the 10-conference jurisdiction watched it live online. Delegates spent the majority of their time together on three big topics of conversation—dismantling racism, the future of episcopal leadership, and the future of The United Methodist Church.

On Thursday morning, by a vote of 135-32, delegates approved a “Covenant to Build BeLoved Community” developed by a six-person writing team determined by the heads of the NCJ delegations. The covenant, written using United Methodist baptismal vows as a framework, calls on the jurisdiction to work to end racism and to create a culture that welcomes and affirms LGBTQIA+ people.

Specifically, the covenant calls on the NCJ bishops of color to convene all BIPOC delegates to discuss how to begin to address trauma in communities of color, requests the Mission Council to report on how their budget incorporates anti-racism work, urges all members of the NCJ to avoid pursuing charges for LGBTQIA+ clergy, and requests that episcopal leaders dismiss charges related to LGBTQIA+ identity or officiating same-gender weddings. The covenant also stipulates that the Mission Council must designate NCJ funds to work with conference anti-racism teams to create a racial analysis at the local church and conference levels—and to align annual conference budgets with antiracism work and intentional efforts geared toward people and communities of color. 

The writing team said the shaping of the covenant was based on our baptismal covenant and commitment to live it out.

Gilbert Brian

Rev. Brian Gilbert, NIC Clergy Delegate and Prairie South District Superintendent, was on the six-person writing team that developed the covenant.

“It is important to understand that, just as our baptism is one step in a lifelong journey of faith, so too is this covenant one step in a journey toward being the Beloved Community that God calls us to be,” said Rev. Brian Gilbert, NIC clergy delegate who was on the writing team.

Rev. Hwa-Young Chong, NIC clergy delegate and senior pastor at Community UMC in Naperville, Ill., said it was very meaningful to her that the covenant incorporated baptismal vows. 

“Baptism is at the heart of our identity,” Chong said. “I believe this covenant will help us walk closer towards God's vision of justice and love.”

Rev. Andy Call, a clergy delegate from the East Ohio Conference, also sees the covenant as a step forward for the jurisdiction.

“For the last two-and-a-half years, The United Methodist Church has been defined largely by the voices of those preparing to leave,” he said. “The North Central Jurisdiction took steps this week to articulate the values of the jurisdiction going forward that I hope will inspire those who have been left out or left behind.”

The covenant requests the Mission Council, in conjunction with the NCJ College of Bishops, “develop an exercise for NCJ delegates to engage in conversation to understand the impact of homophobia, transphobia and heterosexism within United Methodist Churches during the next meeting of the jurisdiction.”

The writing team that developed the covenant waded through 54 pages of comments from delegates in order to find out was particularly important to them. The five key priorities identified from those discussions, which shaped the document, were: anti-racism, inclusion, amicable separation, regionalism, and connectionalism.

“This is one of the great strengths of our denomination-- our connectionalism – having the ability to pull together people from all around our church to work toward a common goal,” said Gilbert. “I am glad that the Jurisdiction has adopted a covenant that calls together faithful United Methodists and will strengthen our connection with one another.  “

Nitza Dovenspike, a lay member of the Iowa Conference who was also on the covenant writing team, said the team kept coming back to baptismal vows as they approached the document and reflected on how to renounce some of the forces of evil in our midst. “It gave us the power to do the work of anti-racism in the spirit of building beloved community,” she said. “We all have baptism in common.”

She personally is grateful that the delegates lifted up anti-racism work as a priority and as a call to action. “We recognized the importance of actionable recommendations to continue the journey on eliminating racism,” she said after the covenant was adopted.

"As the Covenant Writing team met we very quickly came to an understanding that antiracist work cannot be done in a checklist approach," said Gilbert. "This work must be understood to be a commitment to a long journey of internal and external reflection – reflecting on the presence of racism in institutional and societal structures and also reflecting on the internal ideologies and patterns that I have personally adopted that I must unlearn and remove."

Regarding amicable separation, the document encourages conferences and local churches to strive for reconciliation and understanding. But for churches that “may feel called to a different future in the faith,” it stipulates that annual conferences should “use existing disciplinary and conference provisions to accommodate local congregations seeking disaffiliation.”

Delegates spent more than two hours discussing and refining the covenant before approving it. NCJ bishops were formally asked at one point to weigh in on whether some of the specific language about LGBTQIA+ individuals and same-gender weddings—namely, the call to avoid and dismiss charges related to them—restricts the rights of bishops or other leaders from upholding the Book of Discipline and thus is null and void? The bishops have 30 days to respond.

In addition to approving the covenant itself, delegates also voted 131-31 to affirm the recent Council of Bishops document called “A Narrative for the Continuing United Methodist Church” and 128-31 to affirm “A Call to Grace,” an open letter that all United Methodists were invited to sign.

“Covenanting to Build the Beloved Community, we look to 2024 with promise,” the covenant stated at the end. “We pledge ourselves to God’s call upon our lives, to each other, and to the future of The United Methodist Church.”

Read the Covenant

To watch videos from the session, click here.

Anne Marie Gerhardt, NIC Director of Communications, contributed to this report.

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