Monday, March 31, 2008

Harvey O. - Atlanta

Harvey O. is a member of Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Atlanta who made the following comments at the North Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church Listening Sessions for delegates to the General Conference:

One night when I was younger, I awoke to the sounds of breaking glass and screaming. I ran to the kitchen to find my mother and the guy that she was with at each other’s throats. It was a horrible scene. So, as “the man of the house” I decided that I needed to jump in and help protect my mother. In the process, I was thrown against the wall and was banged up pretty bad. Then at one point, the couch fell back on top of me and I was pinned to the ground under it. At that moment, I prayed to God to protect my family, hoping for a miracle.

Well, of course, that man left our lives and we were left to fend for ourselves. After selling most of our earthly possessions, my single mother of two boys, in a small rural town of West Texas, was forced to make it on her own. That is when our church stepped in. The people of our United Methodist Church took us under their wing and helped provide. They became for me a loving extension of my family. As I grew up, I saw Christ’s love played out in my own life from the people of this church. They didn’t seem to care if my mother had been married and divorced several times or if her sons were cheerleaders, they loved us because Christ loved us.

This is part of the reason I am here today. I am greatly concerned about the issues that face our denomination especially as it comes to full inclusion and membership for all people.

As I got older, I was able to attend a United Methodist university and even had the honor of serving as a youth director for four years at a local church. Throughout this time, the ideas of love, service, and acceptance where pervasive in and around the life of the United Methodist churches I was a part of. It was during this time, that our motto “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” came out and I knew that this was a phrase befitting the United Methodist Church.

I then moved from there to Austin, to North Carolina, back to Texas, and have now found myself here in Atlanta, GA. In each of these moves, I searched fervently for a church home that showed me love, service, and acceptance for me, just as I am. As I searched in Atlanta, I was blessed to attend a larger church in downtown Atlanta.

The first Sunday I was there I listened to people speak about their experiences in summer mission projects both youth and adults. Here again were people who not only believed in God but acted out Christ’s love just as my church family had done to me so many years ago. Then it came time for the sermon. The three ministers got up and did sermonetts. The first spoke about how to have loving committed heterosexual relationships and be in communion with God through Christ’s love. The second spoke passionately about how this same commitment could be found in a life of singleness. And, then the third spoke about same-sex relationships, how to have that same loving commitment and communion with God through Christ’s love.

As I sat there, I realized that this church not only preached the Gospel but lived the ideals of Christ I had searched for since leaving my home church; love, service, and acceptance regardless of who the person or persons might be. The United Methodist Church--a place that my grandparents who have been married for 53 years can be accepted, my single mother could be accepted, and me, a young gay man could also be accepted. All of us, loved by Christ and a part of His flock.

So, I come before you today asking you to truly look at the legislation that comes before you this year at General Conference. Policies that exclude people from the United Methodist Church and ultimately from the Body of Christ do not support “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” and should not be a part of our Discipline. Full inclusion of all people in all aspects of our church is vital to the mission of Christ. At the same time, pastoral authority and giving them the right to decide who is and who is not worth of becoming full members of the Body of Christ is not in any way what Christ has called us to be about.

After General Conference, it is my prayer that I will still be allowed to be a member of the church that helped in forming me into the man that stands before you today. A church that truly is committed to loving, serving and accepting all of God’s people; black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, the youth and the elderly; women and men---all of us.

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