Now I know I’ve got a heart, ‘cause it’s breaking.
Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgiastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter – tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther… And one fine morning – So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.
I have not written here since attending General Conference. Many who were there have blogged about what went wrong – institutional inertia, reluctance of boards and agencies to change, Robert’s Rules of Order. There are deep questions to be asked. Why, in a time when restructuring seems needed did we fail to restructure? Could it be that our way of making decisions together is no longer adequate for the size, complexity and diversity of our denomination? If that is the case, how do we, constitutionally move to different decision-making models? Rules of order, including Robert’s Rules are simply tools for discussion and decision-making that can be used for better or for worse. That we don’t always use them well may say more about us than about the tools. I continue to ponder all that happened at General Conference and continue to ask about ways forward. I will not here offer some broad proposal or sweeping criticism – it seems that there are a lot out there already, some better than others. Instead I want to reflect more personally on something I have been thinking about since General Conference.
I was honored to be elected chairperson of the legislative committee on Ministry and Higher Education at General Conference. I worked with a great team of people who were also elected to leadership in that committee. It was a joy and privilege to work with them, and with the entire committee. Sometimes being chairperson is seen as a position of power, and there is power in the role. It is not the power to influence the results of legislation, however. Rather it is the power to shape a process for discussion and decision-making. In fact, as a chairperson I think one gives up one’s power to try and influence the results. I hoped certain things might happen with some of the legislation before the MHE Committee. For instance, I would have liked to seen language which prohibits United Methodist clergy from officiating at ceremonies celebrating same-sex couples softened or eliminated. It is a ministry issue for many of us. I valued that result. I also value fair process and meaningful discussion. As chairperson it is my job to place those values for fair process and meaningful discussion at the center of what I do. I did that to the best of my ability. That does not mean that the results don’t matter.
So we discussed same-sex marriage and had a vote. In a close vote, the removal of the prohibition of United Methodist clergy officiating at same-sex unions lost 41-37. Inside, I was disappointed, broken-hearted. I knew at the moment that I had a heart, because it was breaking. At that moment, I was still the chairperson of a committee that had to take in the result of that vote, breathe, and move forward with other work. I felt a little like the ending of The Great Gatsby – we beat on, boats against the current. But we kept moving forward. Sometimes the heart that strives to be upright is also breaking, and still we try as best we can to guide with skillful hand.
I have been thinking about this in other contexts of ministry – leading with a broken heart. Being a pastor means leading as skillfully as one can, yet sometimes with a broken heart. The place I have experienced that most these past months is in officiating at funerals. I have been the pastor at my church for seven years now. The people who are dying have been a part of my life for seven years, or their families have. Some I have known even longer. The day I flew back from Tampa, I was informed of the death of a woman I first met when I was in elementary school. She attended the church I grew up in, and seven years ago, I became her pastor. She was the only one in my church who would call me “that Bard kid.” She went into hospice just before General Conference and every day I hoped and prayed that she would still be around when I returned, because if she was going to die, I wanted to be there to celebrate her life. Of course I hoped her life would go on much longer, but that was not to be. Yet it was almost as if she waited as long as she could. One feels such deaths even as one leads others through the grieving process at the memorial service – leading with a broken heart.
Today, we buried the child I wrote about a few weeks ago, Lucy June, who died at age two months. My heart was breaking as I watched Lucy June’s dad carry her tiny coffin from the hearse to the grave side as the committal service started. I can feel the heart break, but I also need to lead with a skillful hand.
So we beat on, boats against the current, hearts breaking, leading as skillfully as we can.
With Faith and With Feathers,