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When I was in seminary, I worked at my home church, the same church where I grew up. One spring Sunday, our young, dynamic, community-focused pastor shared that she would be departing from our church – and entering the business world as an entrepreneur. It was a shock, but we are United Methodist, and from time to time, pastors move. But this pastor was particularly beloved, incredibly gifted, talented, and creative. So our hearts were heavy that day as we pondered life without her in our church. The choir sang a gospel standard as she finished her message: “The Storm is Passing Over.” For me, there was a squall of grief, tears, and then, following some deep breaths, a sense of acceptance. 

I learned later that our pastor was leaving our congregation but not entirely leaving the ministry. She was leaving The United Methodist Church to start a coffee shop and also to plant a new church in that coffee shop that would be connected to another denomination where she could be more open about her sexuality. It was a sort of open secret in the early 2000s that our pastor was a lesbian, and our church was full of LGBTQ people who recognized her as a part of the family. Only The United Methodist denomination did not recognize who and how she loved as being holy or see herself as worthy of ordained leadership. So she made the choice many have made over the past 52 years – to pursue their calling, vocation, and joy in other spaces. 

For more than 50 years, The United Methodist Church, as a global body, chose language that limited love – it declared “the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching.” It refused to move towards broader understandings of marriage, even after same gender weddings became legal in the US in 2015. And in choosing this stance, The UMC chose to lose the gifts of many, many, many queer people – either because these talented humans were refused ordination, or they chose to seek their joy in other denominations or professions entirely, or because the hurt and harm perpetuated by this church law meant some queer folks simply chose to leave the church entirely. The church lessened its light. Even as we proclaimed ourselves a church of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors,” many worked tirelessly to make this a reality – it was also an open question. Was this just more empty talk?

In 2016, I was given the opportunity to help start a new United Methodist congregation as a co-pastor alongside my former spouse, Anjie. What would eventually become Neighborhood Church in Atlanta was imagined as something different from the beginning, a place where inclusion was more than empty words. We asked ourselves – and the new people we encountered – what would a church look like “beyond the battles?” What would church look like when all the faith fights were settled? What has emerged is a dynamic and vital congregation that is radically inclusive of every kind of human, engaged in the work of anti-racism, and deeply connected to our neighbors of all backgrounds. We say just about every Sunday in worship: All of who you are is welcome here. 

And after saying that every week for several years, I realized I was saying it to myself. I began to accept that I was trans and that I had (without knowing it) planted a church where I could be myself and find welcome and acceptance and embrace. I realized I could choose to serve God as a pastor and that the church would still choose me as a leader. I didn’t have to choose between my most authentic self and my calling, between who I love and the source of Love. 

On May 1, 2024, the United Methodist Church met at its global policy-setting gathering and finally chose to change its harmful language, removing barriers to LGBTQ humans being ordained, serving as pastors, or being married in our churches. We now choose to embrace more fully the vast rainbow of human beings; we can work to embrace queerness as a valid, natural, and holy part of the human experience; and we can choose to delight in the gifts of creativity, courage, and change-making that queer leaders can offer. And as the General Conference concluded that day, the choir sang: “The Storm is Passing Over…”

There will be more storms ahead. The United Methodist Church still has work to do to deconstruct our embedded racism and structural colonialism. We have much to repent of and to repair in our relationships with the LGBTQ community. If I am any example, squalls may come up, and tears will be shed as joy and grief pop up as we mark this moment. However, for United Methodists, it seems like something major has shifted. The storm of exclusion is passing over. Hallelujah!