The confirmation class at First United Methodist Church in Omaha wanted to take a stand against the denomination’s longtime ban on same-sex marriage and gay clergy.
So when it came time to join the church on Sunday — the traditional end to a yearlong exploration of their faith — the class, made up of eight middle-schoolers, said no.
Their decision was in response to a vote at February’s United Methodist General Conference in St. Louis affirming the denomination’s rules against ordination of gay clergy and performing same-sex weddings on church property. U.S. delegates to the conference, for the most part, favored a modification of the rules that would give individual churches the right to decide, but others from Africa and Russia pushed the vote to retain the churchwide ban. The church’s Judicial Council has since upheld the ban.
Confirmation class members, seventh- and eight-graders, shared a written statement at Sunday’s worship service that explained their position.
“Most of us started the confirmation year assuming that we would join the church at the end. But with the action of the General Conference ... we are disappointed about the direction the United Methodist denomination is heading,” the statement said. “We are concerned that if we join at this time, we will be sending a message that we approve of this decision. We want to be clear that ... we believe that policies on LGBTQ+ clergy and same-sex marriage are immoral.”
The stance is consistent with that of First United as a whole. The First United Methodist Church council voted on April 2 to allow both its clergy and others to perform same-sex weddings on church property in defiance of the ongoing ban.
The Rev. Kent Little, the church’s senior pastor, said the confirmation class statement was written entirely by the kids without help from teachers or others. He said that to the best of his knowledge, they’re the only confirmation class anywhere to make such a move after the General Conference decision.
“I have led confirmation classes and every once in a while you would have one or two (students) who said they were not ready to join the church, but never whole classes,” he said. “In my opinion, it was a very faithful and mature decision. It’s not an easy thing to do when tradition is to confirm your faith at that point.”
The statement has gotten widespread attention on social media, so Little thinks he would have heard about it if a confirmation class elsewhere had done something similar. He said none of the eight students had agreed to media interviews so far.
He knew something was up about a month or so ago when the kids invited him to class to answer questions. At that time, he knew some of them were thinking about postponing confirmation but wasn’t aware it would be unanimous.
“At the end of the (confirmation class) process, I met with all of them. I asked them ‘What did you learn and where are you in your faith?’ ” he said. “I then asked ‘Do you think you’re ready to be confirmed?’ Each of them said not at this time.”
Like others at First United Methodist, the kids are waiting to see what may develop at a regional denomination meeting in June and what steps the congregation will take to fight the ban, Little said.
In an interview after the general conference vote, the pastor said he and the council see three options:
» Remain in the United Methodist denomination while working to determine new directions and retaining solidarity with LGBTQ people.
» Leave the Methodist Church and join a denomination more in line with its values.
» Become an independent congregation.
Little said Tuesday that he will convene small group meetings to discuss the future from early May to at least mid-June. After that, he will schedule a session with the entire congregation “to get a sense of where we are as a church.”
He thinks some people are ready to exit and some believe they need to wait a while, with lots of people in between those two sides.
Ultimately, the full congregation will vote on which option to choose. The middle-schoolers’ decision not to join at this time has a downside: If they were full members, they could participate in that vote.
Regardless, Little said, “they will still have a voice when First Church makes its final decision.”
The kids’ statement also included many things they love about First United Methodist: participation in the LGBTQ Pride Parade, singing in the children’s choir, picnics, Vacation Bible School, its welcoming attitude toward young people.
“We have always known this is where children belong,” it said.
The congregation’s response was positive when the kids read the statement on Sunday. Little said he thinks at least a few people were caught by surprise.
“There were a lot of tears and a standing ovation,” he said. “I am really proud of them.”
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