Paragraph 4, Article 4: A pastor and a mother shares her passion about an amendment to the UMC Constitution

BY REV. CAROL BLAIR BOUSE
Detroit Conference Board of Justice, Advocacy and Equity

It was September of 2002, I was so excited I was having a baby – a New Year’s baby, just having learned it was a boy. We were so excited!

Then reality hit, and it hit hard. At just 23 weeks into my pregnancy my body began to give birth, thankfully my doctors held it off for eight days. At just 24 weeks (16 weeks premature) my son, Jacob, was born. He weighed in at 645 grams.

A long hard road was before us. Ninety-five days later, just days before his actual due date, Jacob came home. Yet the road was not over. Now 14+ years later I am still on that journey. Jacob is not a “normal” kid; he has Cerebral Palsy and is on the autism spectrum. Yet the joy and faith that Jacob has encourage me every day!

Why do I tell you all this? Because we have the opportunity this year at Annual Conference to make sure that no pastor can tell Jacob that he cannot be a member of a United Methodist congregation.

How can we do this? Finally, after years of trying, at the 2016 General Conference, a change was approved for the Constitution of The United Methodist Church in Paragraph 4, Article IV. Now all Annual Conferences of the denomination, including Detroit and West Michigan, must vote on that change. Every amendment to the UMC Constitution must be approved by 2/3 of all votes cast at Annual and Central Conferences around the world.

I faithfully serve as pastor at Hope UMC in Flint and I serve on the Detroit Conference Board of Justice, Advocacy and Equity, which includes Church and Society, Disability Concerns and Status and Role of Women. In November of 2016, I had the privilege of representing both Detroit and West Michigan at the quadrennial planning meeting for the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW). Much of the focus of that meeting was the hoped-for passage of Paragraph 4, Article IV.

I am writing today to encourage you to learn about and vote in favor of the change to Paragraph 4, Article IV and to encourage others to do so as well. There is a simple one-page information sheet that I invite every lay and clergy member to look at and study. Click here to find it. Also, I hope you will view and share the video produced by GCSRW, UMW and others to help us understand the amendment.

At General Conference, the words of ability, gender, age, and marital status were added to the list of protected status for membership.

Without the protection such an amendment would afford, a church could bar Jacob from membership, just because he is disabled. Or a conference could be created that says you must have a certain marital status, or a board could be formed that barred woman from serving. While most of us cannot imagine any of these things happening, we need to take this step to assure that they cannot.

Please join me in protecting Jacob and others from discrimination within our church structure. Please note that all of these words are the language that is consistent with the rest of The Book of Discipline.

While we gather together for the vote on June 3, I hope Detroit and West Michigan will pass Paragraph 4, Article IV unanimously.


This blog post originally was share on the Michigan Area Annual Conference’s blog. It is being shared with permission. To view the original post, please click here.

The Interconnectedness of Age

by Anthony Sy

In the United Methodist Church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.

Introduction

While the different changes to Article 4 are all inextricably linked, one change that may seem lesser to the others is age. From the descriptions of the changes produced by the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women, age constitutionally protects members from being excluded based on a person’s age; particularly the very young and the very old. One may think, why is this necessary? What role does age play in the church? What defines these age groups? I will attempt here to extrapolate my ideas on the inclusion of age in Article 4.

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Anthony Sy is pictured front row, center.

 

Social Diversity

Each church contains a variable age range which helps contribute to the social diversity. Within each United Methodist Church, decisions must be made on a regular basis regarding things like – but not limited to – financial investments of the church, vision and goals, community involvement, and congregational/church events. Without the inclusion of the very young and the very old, much of the immediate events may only be suited for a specific age range. This speaks to not only the awareness of the church and its members but also exhibits a lack of empathy and understanding of these groups of people.

In addition, it does not consider their role in the future of the church. If the very young and the very old are excluded from being members/constituent bodies of the church, then there is a higher chance of disregarding them as part of the future of the church. Though cliché, the phrase “out of sight, out of mind” can very well be an issue if age is excluded from the changes in Article 4. Through my own experiences in the Church, I know very well that the dominant ideas in the Church do not come from the children, and not many may come from the very old. This should not discredit the necessity to include them in the Church. In fact, I believe that it should encourage congregations to include these ideas, however big or small. While this does not necessitate that the local church act on these ideas, it does speak to the hearts of the people in the church, saying, “We care about what you think.”

 

Who Am I?

I will ask you for a moment to think about a time you were young (in your own understanding of ‘young’). Whether it be in school, work, at home, think of a moment in your life where you were left out because of your age. I remember a particular time when I was presenting ideas to a crowd of much older people, and though they listened, they brushed off my idea with a simple, “Yeah, that sounds nice.”  Unfortunately, now that I have grown up, I have to admit that I have done this same thing to those who were younger than me. The reason I urge you to think about these moments is that these encounters make us who we are. They inform us of what ideas others think is important, and if what we say is important to them. In social settings, much of these exclusionary methods are common practice and some even thought to be social norms. What about the Church?

Some churches may work around the framework of building upon what the church has/needs. Though this may be true, what we as a church have to think about when discussing these changes to the Article 4 are not, “Who can contribute?”, but rather, “Who does God accept into the church?” All people should feel important; no, all people should know they are important.  Much has changed over the history of the Church, but I believe that these changes are not only helping think through what God envisioned the Church to be but, on a deeper level, making us as a people more human. More accepting of others. This is what I charge you to think about when deliberating the addition of ‘age’ to Article 4: Does this change bring the Church together? Does this change exhibit the love and inclusiveness that Jesus Christ showed when he walked the Earth? Does this change open our doors to God’s people?


Anthony is a graduating senior at the University of Washington in Seattle, WA. He hopes to take his bachelor’s in Early Childhood and Family Studies to graduate school and attain a Doctorate in Physical Therapy with a specialization in pediatrics. Anthony is very involved within his local church of Beacon UMC and plays the drums for the praise team. He is also a leader in their youth group. One of Anthony’s passions in ministry is Christmas Institute – Pacific Northwest. Anthony is a co-director of the Christmas retreat and finds some of the most meaningful work connecting youth and young adults to Christ. 

Paragraph 4 by the Numbers…

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

A critical amendment to The United Methodist Constitution will be voted on by all annual conferences in the United States and Central Conferences.  It is called Paragraph 4, Article 4, and we would like to share some of the numbers behind it…

1 – the number of yes votes we are asking you to cast for Paragraph 4

2 – the two parts of the Church referred to in the amendment: the structure of The United Methodist Church, protecting persons with disabilities from exclusion; and membership in the church, protecting those with disabilities, as well as married, single, young, old, male and female.

3 – the levels of the church that this amendment ensures full and equal participation: life, worship, and governance.

4-  the number of categories identified for protection by Paragraph 4: ability, gender, age, marital status.   

5-  the number of times the phrase “marital status” is used in the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions advocating for protections from violence for people regardless of whether they are married or single.

6- the number of quadrennia the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women (GCSRW) petitioned the General Conference to add “gender” to the list of protected categories in Paragraph 4 of The United Methodist Constitution.

7-  the types of people protected by the amendment: male, female, young, old, married, single, and persons with disabilities

144- the number of times the Book of Discipline and the Book of Resolutions use the word disabilities to call for protections for people who are differently abled

200-  the number of times the word “gender” appears in the 2016 Book of Discipline (70) and Book of Resolutions (130) referring exclusively to men and women

509-  the number of General Conference votes in favor of Paragraph 4, Article 4

Over 80,000-  the number of votes across The United Methodist Connection needed to ratify a change to The United Methodist Constitution and adopt                                   Paragraph 4 (2/3rds of all United Methodists voting at their annual                                   conference)

Priceless- the importance of Paragraph 4, Article 4 in guaranteeing women, men, young, old, single, married and persons with disabilities the benefit of church membership

Open the Door to Add ‘Abilities’ in The United Methodist Constitution

By Sharon McCart

A few years ago, I was a member of a planning team for a worship service to be led by youth and young adults with autism. This was not going to be a segregated time. It was going to be at the typical Sunday morning worship time, with the members of the congregation present. The leaders we planned to invite were all people we knew or were connected to, either through their parents or their mentors. Many of them had never been to this church before. Still, we felt God’s call that this was something we should do, to break down the stigma around autism within this congregation.

 

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Sharon McCart

We chose what each young person would do based on their passions and gifts. One young person would sing. Another would read an inspirational paragraph. Each one had a part in leading worship. But who would bring the message?

 

A boy who had never spoken more than a couple of words at a time and had never spoken to a group did not have an assignment yet. It had been recently discovered that he could use a tablet to write essays and poetry and communicate. His mother told us he had recently written an essay that fit our theme for the service. Perhaps that was our morning’s message? But how could someone who doesn’t speak share the morning message?

The answer was simple. He could have his best friend read it while he stood next to her.

When the morning came, worship was powerful and moving. I was in awe of these young people as they led us in a wonderful time together. And during the message, the emotions ran high. Not because the boy has autism, but because he spoke with courage and strength. His words went straight to our hearts.

That congregation has had several such worship services since, and the young man who preached that morning has attended again, presenting poetry and other writings. His mother has described herself as formerly “church-phobic.” She has found her church home here. The whole family has. Just recently his father asked him on a Sunday morning if he wanted to go to church. He responded aloud, “Let’s go!” He is comfortable at church, often roaming the room, sometimes standing next to the speaker and sometimes in another part of the room. I have no doubt that wherever he is, he is always paying attention. He is accepted just the way he is. He belongs in a way that he probably doesn’t belong in many other places.

Jesus told a story about a man who gave a banquet. All his friends found reasons not to come, but the food was already cooking, so he sent a servant out to find people who were poor and/or had disabilities and bring them in. The servant found a few, but the table was still not filled, so the man sent the servant out to find still more people. The direction was not “Gently ask them if they might like to come.” It was “COMPEL them to come in and sit at my table!”

There is still room at the table today, and yet too often the door is too narrow for people in power chairs to come in. Too often there are stairs to the chancel, so people who cannot climb stairs cannot lead worship. Too often there is an unspoken, unwritten rule that people must fit within a certain expectation of ability before being accepted in our congregations. Membership vows sometimes require an understanding of difficult terms and too many times the curriculum for confirmation and membership class is not accessible to people who have difficulty reading and writing. We are failing to compel people with disabilities to come to God’s banquet. In fact, we are too often not allowing them to come in when they arrive!

So, what does adding the word “ability” to Article 4, Paragraph 4 mean to me? It means that everyone can be accepted at church. It means that everyone can belong and everyone can fully participate, offering their passions and their gifts to God and to the congregation. It means that all of us can answer our calls from God, whether to lay or ordained ministry, no matter what that ministry might look like. God calls all of us to serve and gives each one of us gifts to use in service, no exceptions and without mistakes. This amendment affirms that each one of us, regardless of ability, is God’s beloved, and each one of us is needed to make God’s Realm complete.


Born and raised in California, daughter, and granddaughter of Methodist ministers, I was the second of five siblings. I have been married to Dale for forty years, and we used to provide special music in worship. He has put me through school over and over again.

I began with a Bachelor’s degree in Chemistry (1978) and then worked in the industry for ten years. I hold multiple subject (elementary) (1994) and special education (1998) teaching credentials and have taught children with moderate-severe and profound disabilities for ten years.

When God called me into full-time ministry, it was hard for me to leave the children I love so much, but God gave me a dream that would meld my heart for God with my love for people with disabilities. Thus, I returned to the other side of the classroom at Claremont School of Theology, graduating with an M.Div in 2007. Now I am in full-time ministry and pursuing my call to minister with people with disabilities and serve people of all kinds in as many places and ways as God leads me. When I left teaching, I knew that I was not finished learning from children with disabilities. That vision is still expanding. My true calling is just beginning to show itself!

Paragraph 4, Article 4: Changing the Game

by Rev. Leigh Goodrich

The season for Annual Conferences in the United States is rapidly approaching.  During late May and June, most people are settling into their summer routines: planting gardens, riding bikes, flying kites, enjoying picnics, or visiting the farmer’s market.  However, in the world of United Methodists in the United States, it is time to gather for “holy conferencing.”

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Rev. Leigh Goodrich

Holy Conferencing is an event that includes worship, prayer, fellowship, Robert’s Rules, and passing resolutions and amendments that reinforce or change the values and aspirations of our annual conference areas.  Many times those values and aspirations are reflected in legislation presented to The United Methodist General Conference, our denomination’s largest legislative body.

This year, General Conference is presenting the annual conferences with a unique opportunity to change the course of our United Methodist history and take a significant step into the next millennium by passing an important amendment to The United Methodist Constitution.  The amendment is called Paragraph 4, Article 4, and this is what it says…

 In the United Methodist Church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition. 

The amended portion of the Constitution adds ability, gender, age and marital status (highlighted in red) to existing social categories that clergy in The United Methodist Church cannot use to discriminate against a potential member.  Said another way, a pastor may not deny a person membership in the church because they have a disability, are female or male, married or single, young or old. 

To many of us, this seems so simple.  Of course we would never discriminate against anyone based on these attributes.  We throw the doors of the church wide open for all who want to participate in the life, worship and governance of our local churches.  However, if you have been watching the changes in our society recently, all of these groups have been under attack in some way.

The shift in our society is not something anyone predicted.  People in our society have been observed mocking persons with disabilities, talking about physically attacking women, making assumptions about the lifestyles of single persons, or blatantly disregarding the contributions of the young or old.  These are all examples of the ways people are pushed to the margins of our society.  Yet there seems to be a blindness to this type of abuse; a blindness that easily finds its ways into other societal venues, including the church.  Protecting people in The United Methodist Constitution is a game changer for our denomination because it guarantees the young and old, men and women, married and single persons, and those with disabilities entry into our churches, all of our churches, throughout the denomination.  It shows the world the love we have for God’s creation.  This amendment throws wide the doors of our churches and imagines God’s enormous embrace of creation. 

This amendment is, indeed, a game changer for our local churches and our denomination.  That is why we need your affirmative vote to pass this important legislation during your annual conference meeting.  In a world in which the average person might be targeted for any of a broad range of attributes, The United Methodist Church must stand fearlessly on the side of acceptance and love.  Please vote yes for Paragraph 4.


Leigh Goodrich is Senior Director Of Leadership and Education and the newest member of the GCSRW team.  She is a second-career clergyperson from the New England Annual Conference and frequent blogger for GCSRW.  Email her at lgoodrich@gcsrw.org.