At the end of this month, the Church of the Brethren will gather for its Annual Conference. Here is the context in which we will gather:
The deadliest mass shooting in modern US history just occurred at a gay nightclub during Gay Pride Month, leaving 49 lgbt or lgbt supportive people dead, and 53 more injured.
The conference is being held in Greensboro, North Carolina. In March of this year, North Carolina legislators called a special session in order to enact the most anti-lgbt piece of legislation in the country, taking particular care to humiliate and target transgender people.
Three of the five queries that are coming to the COB Standing Committee as potential business items have at their root anti-lgbt sentiment. Concerns about anti-lgbt policies and practices throughout the denomination contributed to the wording of a fourth query.
Standing Committee will be hearing an appeal that is coming from the Bridgewater Church of the Brethren and its pastors, Chris Zepp and Jeff Carr, related to actions taken by the district to remove Chris’ ordination for officiating at a same-sex wedding.
The last time that the COB addressed lgbt related issues was in Grand Rapids, a conference that included a death threat that was directed towards a lesbian woman because of her sexual orientation.
We understand that, paradoxically, it is often genuine progress that unleashes some of the fiercest backlash. We also know that attempts to intimidate and bully are best met with expressions of firm solidarity and dignified strength.
In that spirit, BMC will be present at Annual Conference to publicly affirm and support our community. Here is what we have planned, and we invite you to participate in some or all of it:
“Standing Up for Ourselves” Training
Wednesday, June 29, 3:00 – 4:15 pm
For many of us, this is already a difficult and troubling Annual Conference. To help prepare us, Matt Guynn from On Earth Peace, has graciously agreed to lead a brief training on techniques of non-violent engagement and response that can help to ground, sustain and empower us to stand up for ourselves in the midst of conflict.
Wednesday, June 29, 4:15 – 5:00
Sara Davis (La Verne COB) and Rob Miller (Northview COB) will report about the Standing Committee meetings, including recommendations for any action steps that might be needed. We will also hear a report about the results of the appeals hearing for Chris Zepp, Jeff Carr and the Bridgewater congregation that is scheduled for Monday evening.
BMC Worship: In Solidarity with Orlando
Friday, July 1, 4:15-6:00 pm
Each year the BMC worship offers a space for the lgbtq and allied community to come together to celebrate, uplift and strengthen one another in the context of worship. It is particularly important that we come together this year to share our grief and determination. The worship will include a ritual of remembrance and solidarity for the lgbtq community in Orlando. Bonnie Kline Smeltzer (University Baptist and Brethren Church) will be our preacher. Please come and bring a friend.
A Witness to Justice
This is an opportunity to bear witness to the massacre in Orlando and to offer a visible challenge to HB2, the Public Facilities and Privacy Security Act, passed by the state of North Carolina legislators in March 2016. This law is generally recognized as the most anti-lgbtq piece of legislation in the US today. In addition to eliminating anti-discrimination protections for lgbtq people and legislating that individuals must use restrooms and changing facilities that “correspond to the sex on their birth certificate,” the bill also prohibits local municipalities in NC from setting a local minimum wage, regulating child labor, and enacting anti-discrimination policies. This witness will provide an opportunity to express your solidarity with those most impacted by this hostile legislation.
Location: Exhibit Hall
We are back for another year in the exhibit hall! Here is a place to hang out with good people, learn more about BMC, and pick up some good resources for yourself or your congregation. Please contact Carol at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would be willing to help staff the booth. See you there!
BMC and the Supportive Communities Network are providing chaplaincy service for anyone who needs a supportive presence during Annual Conference. Kim McDowell (University Park COB) is coordinating this effort. You may identify SCN pastors and lgbtq people by their rainbow lanyards. Chaplains on duty may be reached by calling Kim McDowell at 301-675-1541, or by visiting the BMC Booth in the Exhibit Hall.
Final Notes About Safety
The Annual Conference Director, Chris Douglas, has been in touch with the convention hotel and conference center personnel regarding HB2. The facility representative assured her that, as a private enterprise, they are not bound to HB2 regulations regarding rest room facilities and have no intention of enforcing the kind of restrictions laid out by the legislation.
Chris has also spoken with the head of security for the convention center to make him aware of the tense nature of this conference and her concerns about safety. She reported that she felt very good about his response.
In a conversation with SCN pastors and congregational leaders, Chris emphasized that her staffs’ success in being able to maintain a safer and more enjoyable conference experience for all participants is enhanced when they know what is happening. It is far easier to address concerns when they occur rather than later. The Annual Conference staff and/or security personnel want to know of any encounters or experiences where individuals feel unsafe, belittled or threatened. Please report any incidences to Chris directly, to a security person, or go to the Annual Conference Office that is located in the Sawgrass Room of the convention center. SCN chaplains are also available and can be contacted through Kim McDowell by calling 301-675-1541.
Open Table Cooperative is sponsoring a text message system for Annual Conference to offer various updates related to conference business, as well as important messages about safety or other concerns. To be included, text AC16 to 59769.
Let’s help keep each other safe and supported by looking out for each other, paying attention if someone seems distressed, and being an “upstander” rather than a bystander if you see or hear something that just doesn’t feel or seem right. We can model what it means to be a compassionate, confident, aware and loving community even in the midst of tension and uncertainty. Courage and strength!
*Supportive Communities Network, a group of lgbtq welcoming congregations and groups within the Mennonite and COB denominations. SCN is a program of BMC.