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A Pastoral Letter After "The Vote"

Dear Members and Friends of Big Rapids First United Methodist Church:

As you may be aware, on April 23, 2023 the members of Big Rapids First United Methodist Church voted to reject disaffiliation as an option (Yes - 8% / No - 92%) and to affirm a position of full inclusion of LGBTQAI+ persons in the full life and ordinances of the church (Yes - 77% / No - 23%).

This day will be marked as a pivotal date in the history of First UMC. April 23 is also a pivotal date in the life of the United Methodist Church. April 23, 1968 is when The Evangelical United Brethren Church and The Methodist Church joined to form a new denomination. At this convening conference, the presiding bishops along with 1,300 delegates and 10,000 guests, spoke these words together: "Lord of the Church, we are united in Thee, in Thy Church and now in The United Methodist Church. Amen." This is part of the origin story of our denomination, The United Methodist Church.

The irony is not lost on me that 55 years later Big Rapids First UMC voted - by an overwhelming majority - to remain a United Methodist congregation. It should also not be lost on us that on the same day, April 23, we voted to take a stance of full inclusion of LGBTQAI+ persons that puts us at odds with the current position of that same

United Methodist Church. The results of both of these votes are a strong testament to the deeply held beliefs and convictions of First United Methodist Church.

While I celebrate the results of "the vote", I grieve with and for those who are contemplating their future at First. If that's you, please know that you are loved, and you are welcome. When I quoted John Wesley's famous lines from "A Catholic Spirit", "Though we can’t think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may.”, I didn't do so for dramatic effect or because I needed a filler in

my sermon. I believe those words with all my heart, and hope you'll consider them as well. Before "the vote", there were other issues that we disagreed on - and yet there was a spirit of love and unity, even in disagreement. If we choose, we can maintain that at First Church, even now.

The question I've been asked over and over again is "What's next?" It's a great question, and one that will take some time to answer fully. The functional realities related to marriage, use of church property for weddings, and candidacy for credentialed ministry, don't require much of us, really. The easy part is done - the vote is over; we've stated who we aspire to be - the hard part is living it.

If we are going to move forward and live as an inclusive and affirming church, we have to love relentlessly and without condition. We have a responsibility to be a community that intentionally errs on the side of grace. We must live as a people who truly celebrate the diversity that exists in the world - including sexual orientation and gender identity. We are called to do the work and make real the boundless welcome that Christ extends to

everyone, as we make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

The easy part is over, friends - now the real work begins. Are you in?

Peace + Grace,

Rev. Jeremy Wicks

BRFUMC Senior Pastor

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