Reflection on Protocol Information Session

Yesterday, February 12, 2020, I attended an informative session on the Protocol of Grace and Reconciliation, followed by a time of Q and A. The presenters were Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris UMC in Herndon, VA, and Keith Boyette, retired UMC elder in the Virginia Annual Conference and current president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Tom and Keith were both members of the mediation team that initiated the Protocol and both have been a part of the team writing the legislation to support the Protocol at General Conference 2020 in May.

I have known both Keith and Tom for many years. I met Keith first through the Emmaus community. He was then, or soon after, in the candidacy process to become a UM elder. I first heard Tom during a workshop at the Ministers’ Convocation in the ‘90s. I actually came to know Tom through my time as a fellow pastor on the Arlington district. I have respected both of them while not always being in full agreement at every moment, much like my relationship with most of my colleagues.

While I don’t claim to know every detail of the Protocol and the subsequent legislation, I am fairly well informed as I care deeply about the United Methodist Church. For full disclosure, I am one of many who sat on the fence of LGBTQIA+ “issues” for many years. As one of the early women elders, I felt my presence already rocked the boat for many people. I chose not to add to the rocking. I never preached a sermon on the motherhood of God; I simply avoided male language for God and humans wherever possible, and really only used it when I baptized someone. I also did not want to rock my marriage too much as I discovered my husband was far less progressive than I first thought.

Back to yesterday’s session. Keith and Tom walked us through how the mediation team came about and the details of the protocol and it’s legislation. There were many questions from the Clergy present about various nuts and bolts aspects, such as pension security, timelines, etc. I knew that most of these have been dealt with clearly in writing but I realized they came from the anxiety persons have been feeling so I bided with my own form of anxiety as Keith and Tom answered knowledgeably and kindly, but also having to admit that there is no way to know how the General Conference will deal with the Protocol.

They were both clear that, as Keith said, this agreement is a razor thin line that brings together a wide variety of perspectives. Any deviance from this meticulously mediated protocol is liable to end the hard won cooperation. Currently, seven advocacy groups have issued a statement in support of the Protocol: The Confessing Movement within The United Methodist Church, Good News, Mainstream UMC, Reconciling Ministries Network, Uniting Methodists, UMC Next, Wesleyan Covenant Association. Obviously there are others who have not endorsed this protocol. These are mostly groups who are of more extreme views.

When I had an opportunity to raise a question, I asked to move beyond the nuts and bolts for the moment and have towards a time, when, with the presumption that the Protocol is passed, we end up in different Methodist denominations. How do they each envision their particular branch living in that reality? Both Keith, speaking about a new “traditionalist” Methodist denomination, and Tom, speaking about a post-separation UMC, emphasized the ability to direct focus and energy to discipleship, taking the Gospel into the midst of people’s lives, having a leaner, more nimble infrastructure of commissions (Keith’s word) and agencies. There was much we could all resonate with in both descriptions, and the passion was clear in each of them.

As I reflected on what I heard, I realized that while there was much in common, at least one major difference was clear. Keith spoke about his new denomination having a “cohesion of belief” (a direct quote) and a clear singular covenant out of which to operate, as opposed to now living in a denomination where there are many who do not cohere completely but who cannot be “excommunicated” (again a direct quote in answer to an earlier question as to why it is the traditionalists who are leaving to begin a new denomination), thus diffusing the focus and energy by the need to address or fight this lack of cohesion.

Tom, on the other hand, spoke of a UMC that is still a “big tent” (quote) where persons can coexist with a variety of perspectives, including centrist, progressive, and traditional; where each can be challenged, and supported, as they worship, fellowship, and grow together. This would be a church where no pastor would be required to marry couples outside of their own conviction, but all pastors would be free to marry couples according to their convictions. This would be a church where the Executive (Clergy) Session of the Annual Conference would vote to receive and ordain (or not) persons recommended by the Board of Ministry of that Annual Conference.

While I have been one who thought we should remain together, and get along despite our differences (I am a 9 on the Enneagram, after all), I have come to recognize that we are spending our time, energy, focus, and money on what appears to be a never-ending battle. I have come to the conclusion that for the time being we may better apart than together. As Tom said, there are people who will be reached by a more progressive form of the Methodist movement that neither a traditionalist or centrist one can reach; and there are people who can be reached by a more traditionalist expression than can be reached by centrists or progressives; and there are those who will be able to be reached by a big tent expression of Methodism. The point is using our time, energy, focus, and money reaching them rather than fighting each other.

I heard a number of people, including at least two who have a less progressive view than I, express their deep pain and anguish at the breaking apart of a family of Methodists. I heard my own grief and pain echoed in their words. I also believe in a God who is at not only the beginning of creation, who is also in the midst of the ongoing life of the world, and who will be with us when we are all drawn once more together in the singularity of love. “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Julian of Norwich). Thanks be to God.


I am currently reading or listening to two books: A New Ancient Harmony by J Philip Newell, and Who Do We Choose to Be? by Margaret Wheatley. In both, I am reminded that connection is at the very base of how the universe works.

Photo Credit: “Image from page 230 of “Sketches in duneland” (1918)”, © 1918 Internet Archive Book Images, Flickr | PD | via Wylio

As I sit watching through my north-facing window in the last thirty minutes, I have seen the trees stand perfectly still and I have seen them flail their branches. Every so often the glass rattles with such force that I wonder if it will break. All of this is in reaction to the heavy and gusting winds of this March 2 nor’easter.

This leads me to think about my own reactivity not only to gusting winds that blow through my life, but also in smaller ways. Last week, I especially found myself sucked into just such a vortex whenever I read or heard of the attempts to belittle and undermine the survivors from the Parkland school shooting. The problem in that last sentence lies here: “found myself sucked into.”
I do not have to be a mere pawn acting or reacting at the whim of others seeking to provoke an anxious response. Yes, I will be buffeted by winds and events. I will find myself rocked. The difference is in how I react or respond. I can pause and reflect on what has occurred, then choosing how I will respond. With enough practice, even in moments where a faster response is needed, I will hopefully choose a reply or action that resounds with my guiding principle. When I fail, which will most assuredly happen, I can acknowledge that, apologize, and make amends.

Several years ago, in a good amount of emotional and relational duress, I finally succumbed to advice I had received from a number of sources. Being stubborn, I resisted what I knew would be good for me. Finally, I had had enough wallowing in my self-pity and I began working with a family systems coach, specifically one well-versed in Bowen Family Systems Theory, and engaging in a purposeful study of BFST.

This engagement has been life-changing for me in many ways. Ask me when you have time and I will probably gladly expand and expound upon those many ways. Here and now, I want to comment on only one. We all need guiding principles in our lives and we all generally have them though often they are buried so deep we might not even be aware of how much they guide our choices and actions. Through much deeper cogitation and reflection on my life, I came to realize that my most basic guiding principle is I choose love.

This is the bone-deep bedrock confession of who I am. This does not mean I have always acted in a loving way. This means that I know I have a choice in how I act. Again, I say, I am not a mere pawn. I have agency. The agency I choose is the path of love—care and concern for the other as I have known and experienced what I believe is the self-giving care and concern of the One who is at the source of all that is.

Mary of the Heavens

After a Sunday afternoon cortado at a new coffee shop here in town, I walked down to the river simply to enjoy the day. I went down the few steps to the walkway at the river’s edge, passed a woman looking at her phone while smoking, waved at a father and daughter canoeing, exchanged smiles with a young couple, and then I saw her standing a bit further on. An older woman, she stood quite still looking across the river. As I neared, she looked at me and we met with smiles.

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In the Fullness of Time…

In the fullness of time…

Have you ever had a desire to do something and you wanted to do it now, or there was something you wanted and you wanted it now, however for whatever reasons, known or unknown, now was not the time? I have certainly experienced the frustration that can go with the thwarting of my desires. I have also faced questions when something seemed the perfect answer or direction, yet I could not go there at the time. It then comes as a surprise almost when it does open up in the fullness of time.

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Random Thought in the Midst of Transition

Random thought in the midst of transition:

My sister-in-law Barbara and I were close to finishing our journey with Frodo and Sam to the fires of Mordor where the ring of power could be unmade. As they stood overlooking the valley which they had to traverse, orc encampments with their fires nearly filled the space. The two hobbits were daunted by the sight, wondering how they could possibly make it to Mount Doom, when Sam said simply, “Let’s start by going down this hill.” Every journey, no matter how long or hard, starts with a single step. I was reminded of a piece of sage advice from 12-step programs—“one day at a time.”

As I stand at the beginning of this next phase of my pilgrimage, I find myself peering ahead with Frodo and Sam wondering how I am going to make it through all the changes which loom before me. Like them, and those who have gone before me, all I can do is take one step, one day at a time, trusting that the One who is the Ground of my being will accompany me.

The Goal Is Not Agreement

“For Bowen[i], the goal is not agreement.” This statement made me sit up and take notice. While I believe this, and wrote my doctoral paper from the perspective that unity does not mean unanimity, hearing it so simply stated felt like a blast of cold water on a hot day. It got my attention.

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