(Chicago, Illinois) — The progressive grassroots Church Within A Church Movement in the United Methodist Church, met October 14-16 in Chicago for its regular semi-annual Coordinating Team Meeting. The agenda included joining a larger meeting of multiple progressive United Methodist caucuses to learn more ways to eliminate racism so prevalent in our society and church.
In its own business meeting, Church Within a Church met primarily to focus on its continuing mission, “To BE church in a fully inclusive way,” in response to legislation of the 2004 United Methodist Church General Conference. While concluding that the legislation pertaining to Gay and Lesbian persons constituted a hostile stranglehold of legalism never before seen in the UMC, and acknowledging the need to more forthrightly continue the fight against racism, Church Within a Church decided to press forward in its Christian mission with a four-pronged strategy:
1. Enumerate and embrace anti-racism practices in all that we do in order to cut through the cultural blindness that fails to see racism in all its forms present in our church and society.
2. Continue to implement new church/ministry starts as models of innovation for Christian ministry with integrity.
3. Plan for a process of “irregular” ordinations leading to gainful employment when qualified persons are denied calls to ministry simply because they are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender.
4. Develop and distribute inclusive Christian resources for smaller congregations to use to grow up children who are inclusive themselves.
The group celebrated the current new ministries in California, Ohio and Massachusetts in their ongoing development. Plans to raise funds to encourage more progressive/inclusive church plants were established. It was determined that an inductive method of leavening the general church with new ministries was more feasible for the time being than creating a parallel bureaucratic institution.
In a related action, members of Methodist Federation for Social Action, Reconciling Ministries Network, Affirmation, Church Within A Church and individuals from ethnic caucuses who support a more inclusive, anti-racist church, gathered at the Chicago Temple for an anti-racism workshop, on Friday, October 15. These groups met with their respective members before and after the workshop to consider their own business and the feasibility of establishing a progressive alliance. As a result of the presentations and dialogue among the groups, an informal “progressive coalition” was formed and groups were asked to establish representatives for future meetings. Church Within A Church had one unexpected visitor. A reporter, traveling from Virginia, from the conservative Institute on Religion and Democracy’s Faith & Freedom publication registered without divulging his press credentials. Since the meeting was not open to the press, the reporter, who arrived during the group’s evening meal, was informed of the press restriction, invited to join the group for supper, and asked to leave the site when finished eating. The reporter declined the invitation to dine with the group and left immediately.
In further business, the coordinating team was reorganized so that anti-racism work would be an integral part of its mission. Church Within a Church will now have three Co-Coordinators. The cumulative experience of these leaders will support well the inclusive mission of Church Within A Church to BE a church that welcomes all celebrating race, gender identity, and sexual orientation. The geographic representation of the members of the coordinating team spans coast to coast:
- Co-Coordinator / Anti-Racism – Rev. Gilbert Caldwell, Denver, CO
- Co-Coordinator / Irregular Ordination – Rev. Greg Dell, Chicago, IL
- Co-Coordinator / Progressive Coalition Liaison – Rev. Cheri Holdridge, Toledo, OH
- Secretary – Rev. Karen Mitchell, Lenexa, KS
- Progressive Coalition Liaison – Rev. Susan Morrison, Marblehead, MA
- Communications – Mr. Michael Shear, Palm Springs, CA
- Staff Marketing / Development Director – Ms. Cathy Knight, Chicago, IL
- New Church / Ministry Development – Rev. Kevin Johnson, Palm Springs, CA
- Curriculum Resources – Mr. Don Kuntz, Creston, OH
- Anti-Racism Liaison – Dr. Patricia Groves, Toledo, OH
Organized in February of 2002, Church Within A Church is a grass roots response to actions of the United Methodist Church General Conference. Refusing to commit itself to remaining within the United Methodist denomination or leaving it, the progressive movement declares its mission: “To BE Church in a fully inclusive way.” An 11-member coordinating team, which meets twice a year, guides the group.