Yesterday I attended chapel at Candler School of Theology as part of a response to the dean’s unfortunate and painful decision to celebrate intolerance of LGBT people. Leaders of Sacred Worth and other students had invited folks to wear red and show solidarity with those children of God that the United Methodist Church still believes are incompatible with Christian teaching. So I donned a red sweater (the only red I could find, and uh, it ain’t quite sweater weather in Atlanta yet) and took a long lunch from the job I love to support the people I love.
When I arrived I saw very few red shirts but as the hour of chapel arrived, in trickled a handful of joyful students, faculty and staff wearing what ever red they could dig out of their closets that morning. Seeing those faces (Anna and John especially) and the smattering of red made my heart smile. But, unfortunately the fellowship was the only balm of our gathering.
I experienced the chapel service as perhaps the least holy encounter I have ever had to sit through. This service connected not at all with the pain and struggle of the gathered body. This “worship service” touched not a note of reconciliation at a time heartache and schism. The music was doleful, the hymns dusty and tepid, the sermon disconnected from the reality of the congregation’s pain and the rote prayers rang hollow in my heart. Candler, if this is what you are teaching your future leaders, it is no wonder the Methodist Church is losing good and faithful people in droves. Dear alma mater, don’t fool yourself. Just because you’ve put a couple of flatscreen monitors in that sterile worship space does not mean you even remotely understand what it means to create a thin place in which to encounter the divine in the 21st century.
Now, I could stop there with a scathing critique and feel like I got a little heat off my chest (and chip on my shoulder) but, as an alumna, something else woke me in the night and has been tuggin’ at my sleeve all morning. I feel inspired to finally step up and be more involved on campus – to give back what Candler really did give to me. There is so much good happening at Candler, so many bright and faithful students, so many brilliant and inspiring teachers. I am grateful more than I can say for how I have been formed by the years I spent having my faith and intellect filled with New Wine. It was just so very sad to experience that listless and vacant moment that presumed to call itself worship. You can do better, I know you can.
Of course, as a lesbian and as one of your graduates who has taken a non-traditional route for her ministry, I don’t expect you to know what to do with me or even to accept my offer. Hell, I am not even sure I am particularly gifted any more than anyone else, but I do have a heart that cares deeply about the school as well as setting a table where everyone, everyone, everyone is welcome to be fed as well as serve.
I do hope and pray that as I reach out, you will reach back and we can perhaps learn from one another how moments like yesterday can be transformative in the hearts and minds of those who are loyal beyond reason to our beloved school.