Updated with an additional comment from #UMCGC Worship Director Rev. Laura Jaquith Barlett.
Story By Patrick Scriven | Video by Rev. David Valera
May 10, 2016 | PORTLAND, Ore.
Rev. Vicki Flippin was asked to participate in Opening Worship service of General Conference. More specifically, she was asked to offer a Christian greeting representing her English-language ministry context (see script). Flippin serves as the Pastor of Social Justice, Exploring Faith, and Inter-generational Ministries at The Church of the Village, “a progressive, multi-racial, and Reconciling United Methodist Church” in New York City.
According to Rev. Flippin, on the very last rehearsal just hours before opening worship, she was asked to not include her specific greeting and welcome for the LGBTQ community or risk being disinvited. Rather than cutting out something that is central to her context, Rev. Flippin chose to no longer participate in the service. Although she was given the option of exchanging specific language with the word “all” she felt that the change would minimize her unique ministry context.
The Rev. David Valera, who was a participant in portion of the Opening Worship, sat down with Flippin for this short interview. It concludes with Rev. Flippin sharing her prayer for the church.
The decision to ask Rev. Flippin to not specifically name the LGBTQ community was made by the Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett, Worship Director for General Conference and an ordained deacon in the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference. When asked for comment, Rev. Bartlett stated, “We are working to create worship services that are completely inclusive, that communicate clearly and passionately the all-inclusive love of Jesus Christ which I believe is in fact, the radical message of the Gospel – that everybody, bar none, everybody is included in Christ’s love.”
Rev. Bartlett shared that she had a non-confrontational conversation with Rev. Flippin in the morning of the worship service. “Vicki wanted, because of her context, to specifically name people she feels, have been excluded and are included in her congregation.” She continued, “I said that because of the context of General Conference worship being inclusive for everyone, that I wasn’t comfortable naming one group in that reading.”
According to Rev. Bartlett, they discussed possible alternatives together, including saying, “If you’ve been in the church all your life, or if you’ve been excluded from the church, you are welcome here.” She stated that Rev. Flippin considered that possibility but declined stating that it was important to her to actually name those groups.
Flippin was replaced in the worship service with a lay member from the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, Aaron Pazan, who identifies as an out, non-binary, transgender person. Rev. Barlett explained this decision.
“From the beginning of our planning process, our team has been committed to not simply talk about inclusivity, but to live it out. So when it became necessary to recruit another leader, I immediately thought of my friend Aaron Pazan, who was thrilled to have this opportunity. Aaron’s participation became an embodiment of our desire to include all persons, not only with our language, with also with our worship leadership.”
This incident was a part of a day featuring a number of actions by groups seeking the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of the church. A grassroots Ordination service was held earlier in the day for Susan Laurie and alternative communion stations were offered during the Opening Worship service by the advocacy group, Love Prevails.