Medford United Methodist Church (MUMC) has a long history of vital ministry in Medford Township and the surrounding area. Recently, while celebrating 200 years of faithful service to its members, the local community and global church, MUMC has begun the journey to become a fully inclusive and affirming church. We seek to make it known that God’s love is for ALL people, and that in Christ’s Church ALL are loved and respected, including people of every sexual orientation or gender expression.
MUMC began to explore how we might become more welcoming to our LGBTQ+ siblings at a Church Council meeting in April, 2019. This followed the February, 2019 special session of the UMC’s General Conference where efforts to create a more inclusive global church stalled.
Our partner in this work has been the Reconciling Ministries Network (RMN). RMN began in 1982 with local churches who wanted to express their support for the concerns of the LGBTQ+ community and to advocate for LGBTQ+ persons to be welcomed, included and affirmed at all levels of the church – including in leadership, marriage, and ordination as clergy. Today, there are more than 44,000 Reconciling United Methodist individuals and over 1,300 affiliated congregations in five countries – including a new congregation in Kenya, the first on the African continent.
A four person “team” of MUMC members presented a proposal to the Church Council in May, 2019, and the Council voted to expand the team to include additional members of the congregation. This new “Reconciling Congregation Team,” initiated in July 2019, began pursuing conversations around welcome and inclusion. This process unfolded over a six month period, with steps that included an exploratory survey of the congregation, engagement with the scriptures, small group meetings, and the crafting of a Welcoming Statement to include people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
There were a number of difficult conversations that took place during this process, but overall the Team found that people embraced the importance of respectful, sensitive and empathetic listening. After a number of sessions, including one in which both the congregation and community was invited to join in conversation with each other and our Bishop, we set the date for a full congregational vote on both the proposed Welcoming Statement and decision to become a Reconciling Congregation. This took place in late January, 2020. An overwhelming majority (86%) of the congregation affirmed this step. The Reconciling Congregation Team’s next task was to communicate with the community about our decision, but this was all put on hold when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, 2020.
In March 2022, as COVID’s impacts slowed, MUMC was eager to reinvigorate its communications and connections with the community. The Reconciling Congregation Team was reconvened as an ongoing ministry committee within MUMC, focused on moving ahead in the areas of communications, education, and advocacy. Their first step was to add outdoor signage, including a large rainbow banner and other messages of solidarity with, and love for, the LGBTQ+ community. The team continues to work to incorporate these messages into other dimensions of the church’s communications.
The signs, and the meaning behind them, has drawn attention. MUMC is committed to spreading the word about God’s love for all people. The messages of thanksgiving and gratitude from the Medford area LGBTQ+ community and their families have been heartfelt and encouraging. Positive community response is helping us welcome new visitors each week, many of whom specifically mention our position as a reason for their visit. MUMC is listed on the RMN website as a Reconciling Ministry and also helps supports the RMN financially. To see a map of other Reconciling Ministries, visit https://rmnetwork.org/find-a-reconciling-ministry/.
MUMC’s Reconciling Ministries Committee continues to explore new avenues to serve people including additional educational opportunities, relationship building with other Reconciling Churches, staying up to date on evolving LGBTQ+ concerns and the development of support groups. We commit to continue the work to make sure that our church – the local church as well as the UMC – reflects and embodies a full commitment to inclusion.
Below is our statement of welcome:
Medford United Methodist Church is a Reconciling Congregation who celebrates God’s gift of diversity, believing that all people are created in the image of God. As God’s beloved children, all are worthy of God’s love and grace.
We welcome, affirm and include humanity’s entire spectrum of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, family configuration, race, ethnicity, age, faith, history, education, physical and mental ability, economic, marital, social and citizenship status. We believe God’s people share in all opportunities equally, including marriage and ordination.
We acknowledge that we live in a world of profound social, economic and political inequities; and we recognize that despite the many differences among us, we can love alike even though we may not think alike.
We proclaim this statement of welcome to all who have known the pain of exclusion or discrimination in church and society. As followers of Jesus, we are committed to the pursuit of justice and will stand in solidarity with all who are marginalized and oppressed. We invite all people to join us in our faith journey toward greater love, understanding and mutual respect.