Reconciling pastor dropped from Opening Worship for direct mention of LGBTQ community

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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.

Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett during the Opening Worship service at #UMCGC.
Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett during the Opening Worship service at #UMCGC.

Alternatives Considered

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.

Aaron Pazan participating in Opening Worship. Photo by Rev. DJ del Rosario.
Aaron Pazan participating in Opening Worship. Photo by Rev. DJ del Rosario.

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.”

Photo by Charmaine Robledo, Director of Communications for the Mountain Sky Area.
Photo by Charmaine Robledo, Director of Communications for the Mountain Sky Area.

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.

12 COMMENTS

  1. As a parent of a LGTB child And a Christian family this saddens me. I want my children to all feel welcome in God’s house. The message we send when we exclude is one of “You don’t matter” and I have worked very hard for my children to understand that they do matter, they do contribute and that God’s love is for us all. If we are to be Christ like doesn’t that mean that we love all, no matter the road they walk In life?

  2. LGBTQI folks need to be specifically named and welcomed in any worship context because they are the only group whose loving behavior is singled out in the Book of Discipline as being incompatible with Christian teaching. No other group is so named in the Book of Discipline. Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett’s inhospitable actions in this matter make me feel ashamed to be a United Methodist.

  3. I am a member of University Park UMC of Oregon-Idaho and know of Rev. Laura Jaquith Bartlett through my deceased partner Barbara Sawyer, a long time employee of OR-ID Conference. I am in shock at what I am now hearing as her response to even mentioning lgbt in the opening prayer. I am rethinking my long time work and efforts for my church. Clearly I’m not included in the “open doors” of the United Methodist Church. Shame on her and shame on the “church” that demands this thinking.

  4. All I can say is: WOW…looking forward to how things transpire…also, heart breaking…but I’ll find hope in it
    all…thank goodness I truly believe there is a God

  5. All ARE welcome. The greetings were a sentence, Rev. Flippin’s was a paragraph. She chose not to participate. Let’s not ignore all the inclusive language, people, symbols and messages built subtly (and not so subtly) into the worship service. All the bishops in stoles made by an LGBTQ+ artist? The last person in the world to try and stifle inclusion is the Rev. Jaquith-Bartlett. I wish we would stop trying gain media attention by twisting the facts and dragging good people through the mud. Get down here and talk to the delegates who have the power to change the church instead of commenting on articles and feeling excluded.

  6. Here is Rev. Flippen’s sentence, not a paragraph, as quoted on Reconciling Ministries website:
    “Whatever your gender identity or expression, whatever your sexual orientation, race, or nation, age or station, you belong in God’s house, and I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ.” As quoted above, Rev. Bartlett says she was uncomfortable with this statement of welcome and she, as director of worship for GC, is responsible for the decision to not allow this statement of welcome. From the article above it sounds as though Rev. Bartlett made a unilateral decision in this matter. That is why I named her in my previous comment.

  7. Let’s not forget about the log and the speck, people. Laura Jaquith-Bartlett is one of the most loving and inclusive people I have ever known. I have known her since our seminary days. She lives out her faith, as shown by her choice of a replacement. Decisions that have to be made in the moment are always difficult. She took on a tough job as worship leader, and is doing marvelously at it!

    • If this decision was indeed made in the moment, then I respectfully ask that it be prayerfully reconsidered. There have been over 600 responses to the original article on Reconciling Ministries Network, most expressing disappointment and dismay. An article yesterday by Pamela R. Lightsey at religiondispatches.org entitled “THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH TO LGBTQ: YOU’RE “SACRED,” BUT NOT WELCOME” states that misguided actions such as this by the UMC has “driven the nail in the coffin of open hearts, open minds and open doors.” Our message of extravagant hospitality is not being received, and LGBTQI folks clearly see our hypocrisy. It is not too late to offer Rev. Flippen a heartfelt apology and invite her to give her statement of welcome at an upcoming 2016 General Conference worship service. We can and should do better than this as a denomination and as a General Conference. I pray we will.

  8. If Rev. Jaquith-Bartlett did indeed make this decision in the moment then I respectfully request that she prayerfully reconsider her decision. Over 600 responses to the original article on Reconciling Minstries Network were received in the first 24 hours it was posted, most expressing shock and dismay as well as outright anger at this decision. A very critical article discussing this decision was posted at religiondispatches.org yesterday by Pamela R. Lightsey entitled “THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH TO LGBTQ: YOU’RE “SACRED,” BUT NOT WELCOME” in which the author stated that actions by the UMC such as this decision help drive “the final nail in the coffin of the UMC expression ‘Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors.” Our message of extravagant hospitality and welcome has not been received, and LGBTQI folks clearly see our hypocrisy on this issue. It is not too late to off Rev. Flippen a heartfelt apology and invite her to share her statement of welcome at an upcoming worship service at 2016 General Conference. John Wesley told us to do good and do no harm. This decision has indeed done harm to our denomination but we can rectify it. We can do better, and I pray we will.

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