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Statement on lay leader debate

Brothers and Sisters of the Florida Annual Conference,

I would like to take a moment to publically apologize to my African American sister Paulette Monroe and my LGBTQ sister, Alice Williams, for moment yesterday where we fought for crumbs under the table.  Bishop Carter, in your sermon during our opening service, you reminded us of the communion liturgy many of us grew up with and the beautiful refrain we have too easily forgotten:  

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.  

Bishop Carter, you also called us to stop parceling out grace.  And yet there have been moments when that’s exactly what we have done. Unintentionally and for some unknowingly, we have alienated and pitted minority communities against one another.  For many these moments have unearthed the subtle and unintentional racism and bigotry of omission and commission that continues to put our conference and denomination far behind the curve of leadership in the 21st century landscape.  The fact that we have not had an African American lay leader in decades is shameful.  Not to mention the multitude of other racial, cultural, ethnic, and identity minorities we have overlooked.  I have watched it since coming to annual conference as a delegate since I was 14.  The fact a that some of our minority populations felt they had to leave a session feeling rejected in the one place they came to serve after being afraid this week to even walk out in their own city, which has been reeling from a hate crime, saddens me. It means we have continued to talk about reconciliation, but have not sought to deeply probe our hearts, act with intentionality or even personal confession and sacrifice.  Yesterday, my heart was heavy being torn between what felt like a difficult choice that parceled out grace and allowed us to feel a need to defend our portion of the crumbs based on gender, race and orientation.  

We should be leaders in our denomination of embracing the rich diversity of gender, race, culture, language, sexual identity, and economics and, yes, even theological thought in our conference.  We should be on the forefront, learning to sit at the table to hear deeply the long and painful experiences of our minority brothers and sisters.  We should be willing to actually seek to walk in the shoes of our UM family members who have experienced sexism, racism, and bigotry, classism within their life experiences but also in their dealings with our churches and in this conference.  And until those of us in the majority of any of these differences begin to sacrifice our power, open up our seats at the tables of leadership, delegations, and even as clergy to others – sharing the abundance of work there is to do in the Kingdom instead of living, voting, and working from a place of scarcity of power, we will continue to parcel out grace.  

I apologize, as a white, heterosexual, cisgender, upper middle class clergy woman of privilege for moments where I have participated in the acts of parceling out grace to my minority brothers and sisters.  
I pray as a conference we can find creative ways over the next year to make holy, intentional conversations that seek reconciliation not only in prayer but identification and action that moves us toward change. 
I offer to stand behind leadership, and offer the journey of our own congregation who is seeking to become a congregation through methodical, intentional ways, which will reflect the beautiful diversity of central Florida – something for which people were killed for this week – not only in the 49 deaths of gay, straight, male and female, Latino and Haitian lives, but the multiple shootings of African Americans in our community the week before.  Enough is enough.  It is time to stop praying and start acting, and in humility change the course direction of our history as a conference.  

The piece of liturgy the Bishops quote came from is the prayer of Humble access.  Its final words I leave as my plea and prayer for our Annual conference:  

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table.?But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy.?Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord, so to partake of this Sacrament of thy Son Jesus Christ, that we may walk in newness of life, may grow into his likeness,?and may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Rev. Jenn Stiles-Williams