In the wake of the United Methodist Church general conference decision regarding LGBTQ issues, local pastors weigh in on what could have been a divisive issue. They're just going to keep loving people.
While the Traditional Plan, and what it means for LGBTQ inclusion, was being discussed, Claremore's Pastor Ray Crawford was front and center.
Dr. Crawford, the senior pastor of Claremore FUMC, left Claremore and headed to St. Louis for the three-day general conference where he served as an alternate delegate, not a voting delegate.
"The actions of this conference haven't changed anything for us at a local level," Crawford said. "We're going to continue to love people and reach out to people. We have many diverse ministries in our community that will all continue. We see our main function as helping people relate to God through Jesus Christ, that's the main purpose of the church. We hope not to get too sidetracked from that central purpose of the church."
He said the conference re-affirmed the long-held position on marriage "as a sacred covenant between a man and a woman and have asked all United Methodist Churches to respect that. And we will respect that here in Claremore."
Raymond added, "That doesn't mean we don't love anybody. We welcome everyone. We are going to continue trying to love each other and our community."
Raymond said he was at the conference to observe the process.
"Typically we like to think that our United Methodist Process is valuable because we want all of our voices to be heard and we believe that God is in the discussion. There are some deep differences of opinion and so we need to figure out how to work those out," he said.
Raymond's relationship with the Methodist Church has been a long-running one.
"I was converted to Christ in the Methodist Church several years ago. I've been the lead pastor here in Claremore for 20-years," he said.
When asked if he predicted this issue coming to a vote, he said, "The United Methodist Church is a part of the world. We recognize that the culture has lots of questions, lots of things being re-visited in our culture so for out church to do that, too, is probably a good thing to do."
Raymond continued, "I've heard someone outside the church refer to our church 'the church that helps people.' And we really like that description. We want to continue to be the church that helps people."
Elsewhere in the county, Pastor Dylan Ward took to Facebook to share comforting words with his congregation at Inola United Methodist Church.
"You may or may not really know what's going on so I wanted to share a brief message of what's happening. The general conference was to address only one topic, the topic of human sexuality and to what degree the United Methodist Church would be fully inclusive. That is, would the church allow the marriage of same-sex individuals, or the ordination of LGBTQ people in our church. The end result so far, the plan that passed is called the Traditional Plan," Ward explained. "That plan actually strengthens the current ban against same-sex weddings in our churches and the ordination of LGBTQ people in the church."
What does that mean for the congregation at Inola United Methodist Church? Ward said, honestly, it's a little too early to say.
"There's going to be judicial council rulings and procedures that are going to be coming right after general conference. We don't know how much of the plan that passed will be upheld constitutionally once the judicial council rules on that. But what we do know, what I know, is that Inola United Methodist Church will continue to be a place that welcomes all. We welcome people from all different backgrounds, from all different places, all different beliefs. We are a big tent church," he said. "We want you to come with your questions, your doubts and your fears, and your hopes and your dreams and become a devoted disciple of Jesus Christ here. I'm going to walk alongside all of you in that process and we're going to walk together."
While they don't know exactly what changes may be in store, Ward said there are a few things he knows for certain.
"What we're going to keep doing here in Inola today, tomorrow and every day after is sharing the love of Christ with the world, with our community and with our neighbors. We're going to love people fiercely. We're going to share joy and we're going to share the hope of Jesus Christ," he said. I've said this on Sunday many times and I live by the words—"Resurrection means that the worst thing is never the last thing." Our denomination is struggling right now and going through a very difficult time but I know that the worst thing is never the last thing because that is who God is."
Ward told his congregation, "We'll walk through this together, we'll get through it together and no matter what happens in the days coming forward, our mission here doesn't change: That is to make disciples of Jesus Christ because we believe that the world needs Jesus. The world needs the love, forgiveness, passion and joy that Jesus wants for each and every one of us. So be in prayer for each other. Be in prayer for our denomination."