As a United Methodist minister who has worked for 18 years in a United Methodist university teaching students who are preparing for ministry in the United Methodist Church, I have witnessed the journey of hundreds of persons who have been called to serve as ordained ministers in our denomination. These students come from various backgrounds and from across the theological spectrum. They share an experience of a call to service that has been formed in them in the communities of faith that have nurtured and challenged them through their childhood and youth. They love their church, and they want to serve God, serve people, and serve the church they love.
For these United Methodist young people called to ministry, the United Methodist Church is their home. Most often they have grown up in the United Methodist Church, and they have experienced both the grace of God and the grace of community within this church. The United Methodist Church is their church, and they want to dedicate their lives in this church in a life of ministry and service.
A significant number of these young people who have come to our university to prepare for ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church are persons who are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. One may be surprised that these students feel called to serve in a church that says their sexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching” and bars “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals” from the ordained ministry, but called they are and called they come to our university to prepare for ministry. Throughout my 18 years at the university, I have witnessed the struggle and anguish that many of my students have felt as it becomes increasingly clear to them that the church they love is not welcoming their call or their service as ordained clergy. It has been heartbreaking to watch so many loving, caring, grace-filled servants and leaders come to the gut-wrenching decision to leave the church they love in order to find acceptance of their call to ministry and to find a new spiritual home that does not judge who they are as persons. I have watched the United Methodist Church lose so many wonderful persons who were called to ministry in the United Methodist Church but who did not feel accepted by the church they loved. Many are now serving in other denominations both in clergy and lay roles. Their churches are blessed by their service.
One of the most heartbreaking and soulbreaking things I have experienced is when some of the persons who are called into ministry of the United Methodist Church say that they have been made to feel unworthy by the church they love so much. Unworthy to be ordained, unworthy to be married, and sometimes made to feel unworthy as persons by the practices and policies of their denomination. They are made to feel unworthy by the very church in which they experienced the grace and love of God and in the very church in which they experienced the call to serve as ordained ministers. That so many persons have been made to feel unworthy by the United Methodist Church is devastating to me, but I know they are not unworthy. They are beloved children of God, called to serve and love as ministers in the United Methodist Church. They are not unworthy – For the time being, the United Methodist Church is unworthy for them to be our ministers.