July 2019: UMC update – Albright College

July 2019: UMC update

Dear Fellow Albrightians,

In late February, I shared with the community the outcome of the Special General Conference of the United Methodist Church (UMC). Given Albright’s long-standing affiliation with the church, I charged the MFC with leading campus discussions and providing a recommendation. Since the February conference, much has occurred in the Methodist Eastern Conference and in our Methodist academic organizations. Today’s message provides a summary of ongoing work, both in the UMC and at Albright, and the current recommendations of Albright’s Multifaith Council (MFC) and chaplains, which I have accepted.

You may recall that during the February conference, delegates voted to support the conservative Traditional Plan by a narrow margin over the centrist One Church Plan. The Traditional Plan enforces Book of Discipline restrictions that forbid LGBTQIA+ church members from being married or serving in ordained ministry in United Methodist churches. Albright has been a faith-based institution since its founding and has been affiliated with the UMC since the creation of that denomination in 1968. As I shared in my email to the Albright community in late February, the decision made by the United Methodist Church General Conference is antithetical to Albright’s long-held tradition of commitment to truth and justice, reaffirmed this past year in the declaration of our core values of integrity, curiosity, connection and resilience.

The decision of the UMC notwithstanding, it is up to us to ensure an open environment for the intellectual, emotional and spiritual growth of our students and all members of the Albright community. I state unequivocally that Albright College would never remove from employment and service any otherwise qualified, dedicated chaplain (or employee of any type) on the sole basis of sexual orientation or gender identification. The facilities of Albright College are, and will remain, open to the use of any couple seeking marriage. Albright College will not permit its facilities or physical resources to be used in the adjudication of any individual for the heresy of living their identity.

There is a place for everyone on Albright’s campus, regardless of religious or spiritual identity, gender identity, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation.

The separation between Albright’s deeply held commitment to being a thriving and inclusive community and the recent action of the United Methodist Church has prompted our community to reflect on our core values. This reflection includes how we value our United Methodist history and our commitment to the ideals of higher education – one aspect of which is to engage spirituality (however mediated) with the best values of the liberal arts.

In May, I tasked the Multifaith Council and chaplains to hold community dialogs and conversations, and to put forward recommendations. The MFC’s recommendations are briefly summarized here and can be found in full on the Albright website.

  • Albright College remain affiliated with the United Methodist Church, implementing an agenda that the MFC names “Stay and Discern.”
  • Albright College “lean into” its Methodist affiliation, engaging proactively in the conversation (recommended by the University Senate Review Team, April 2018).
  • Albright College engage in a year-long discernment process, guided by the MFC and the chaplains, as we continue to closely watch the decisions of the UMC approaching its quadrennial 2020 General Assembly (where the decision of February’s special session may be upheld, modified or rejected).

These recommendations arise from Albright’s foundation as an academic institution, as stated by the MFC: the act of “shunning those with whom we respectfully disagree is neither a solution nor a path forward.”

What has emerged from the initial conversations is a deep desire to affirm and sustain Albright’s history and to affirm the value of spirituality (conceived in many rich ways) in our community. We have also heard a clear call for inclusion and full participation as well as a desire to vigorously uphold the value of open debate, free expression and dissent. I have accepted these recommendations from the MFC and chaplains. The discernment process will result in the delivery of an updated set of recommendations before the May 2020 board meeting.

We, as an institution, embrace this opportunity to engage in honest debate over difficult questions — both within our own community and with the United Methodist Church. We encourage the Albright community to (re)discover our Methodist history and heritage. Methodism and Wesleyan ideals are much broader, and much older, than the United Methodist Church; indeed, many extend well beyond the borders of Christianity itself.  NASCUMC has a long history of social justice, compassion, honest inquiry, moral reflection and courageous dissent. These values are, in many ways, our institutional DNA. We encourage deep reflection on the contours of (post)modern spirituality and how it can both flow from, and inform, our intellectual work and commitments to justice.

As I reflect on the events of the recent months and the many conversations I have had, I have realized that we could enjoy our privilege and either summarily disaffiliate with the UMC or simply ignore its decisions without comment or action. However, I have been reminded by one of our faculty colleagues of Martin Luther King’s statement: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We as an institution must live openly and honestly with our own identity, thus “leaning into” our Methodist heritage, as we live out our vocation and mission as an academic institution. Our calling demands we affirm the rights of every individual to do the same.

Many in our community are hurting. I encourage you to reach out and support each other, recognizing the pain that comes from an outside organization negating one’s own personhood.  We refuse to abandon either our Methodist identity or those devout LGBTQIA+ clergy who still struggle and cling to the hope of serving their Methodist church.

I also encourage each of you to engage in conversations being led by the MFC and the chaplains, to support members of our community who are affected by the Church’s decisions, and to reach out to members of the Multifaith Council (Paula Trimpey, Chris Hamann and Jennifer Koosed) and the interim chaplains (Rev. Ibrahim Bangura and Rev. Mel Sensenig).

Recently, Board of Trustee member and UMC Pastor Robin Hynicka, Albright class of 1975, reminded me of the John Wesley quote: “Do no harm. Do good. And stay in love with God.” While we might express our religiosity or spirituality or mindfulness in ways different from John Wesley, “do no harm and do good” are, indeed, words to live by.

With best wishes for a restful remainder of the summer.