Oregon Leaders Ponder How to Love Well
In January 2019, the entire pastoral and educational team of the Oregon Conference set aside two days for a celebration of united ministry. Together as One, an annual two-day meeting, brings front-line conference employees together to discover new ways of working hand in hand rather than serving separately in nearby silos.
“Our pastors and our teachers are the front line of ministry in the Oregon Conference,” says Dan Linrud, Oregon Conference president. “We are strongest when these men and women come together and work as one in ministry.”
This year’s meeting featured our 2019 Oregon Conference theme, Loving Jesus and Others, with a focus on how we can all love LGBT+ people in our church and community.
“LGBT+” you ask? Yes.
Forty or 50 years ago our congregations seldom had to respond to baptism requests from LGBT+ folks who wanted to join our church. In fact, issues of gender and sexuality were rarely spoken of publicly. Today they are a regular topic of conversation in church and school board meetings. Issues that were traditionally avoided or dealt with quietly are now “front and center” in the community, challenging God’s people with how to share the love of God with LGBT+ people.
“These are God’s kids,” presenter Bill Henson of Lead Them Home Ministries reminded us. “Remember, God doesn’t check us out before loving us. God loves each human equally because of who He is, not because of who we are.”
Monday evening, after a stirring presentation by Linrud, the pastors and teachers were asked to raise their hands if they have LGBT+ people among their family and friends. Nearly every hand was raised, and some raised both hands high. The reality that most of us have family members, close relatives and good friends who identify as LGBT+ has changed the dynamic and added a new urgency to this conversation.
As part of the Oregon Conference’s commitment to "Loving Well," the presentations and conversations at Together as One helped us see how, as Christ-followers, we are given the privilege and challenge to help communicate His love to all those around us. Our love, reflecting His love, cannot stop to “check out” another before loving them. We love openly, directly, transformationally, as He loves us. If the lives of others include sins different from the ones in our lives, we still love them, as God loves us. We do not shun, bully or otherwise harm anyone, no matter how different they may be. We lift them up so they may more clearly see the face of God through us. Always.
It's not easy to interpret how all of this works “on the ground.” This was grist for many hours of conversations around the conference-room tables. And it’s a conversation that continues. Learning to love well is a process — a process to which we are dedicated, a process we’ve begun, a process we will all be sharing in the years to come.
Dick Duerksen, Oregon Conference story catcher, and Jonathan Russell, Oregon Conference assistant to the president for multi-media communications