Faith United Methodist Church

The sign in front of the Faith United Methodist Church in South Burlington reinforces the feelings of Pastor Leigh Goodrich and her membership after the Global United Methodist Church recently voted to tighten restrictions of LGBTQIA people in the church.

It’s much more than a welcoming church sign. It’s a protest.

The message in front of Faith United Methodist Church on Dorset Street is a simple one: “We welcome all human beings – we really, really mean it!” Two rainbow flags fly next to the sign, identifying the church as a safe place for people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, intersex, and asexual.

But Rev. Leigh Goodrich and her church membership want everyone in the surrounding communities to know that they vehemently disagree with a recent ruling of the Global United Methodist Church.

On Feb. 26, at a Special General Conference of The United Methodist Church held in St. Louis, Mo., the Global United Methodist Church voted by a simple majority of 438 to 384 to tighten rules around same gender marriage and ordination of gay and lesbian pastors. The church for decades has forbidden same-sex marriages and the inclusion of LGBTQIA clergy. The Global Church is awaiting a judgment from their Judicial Council in April to determine the legality of the plan under the Church’s constitution.

According to Goodrich, 61, there is also an investigation being conducted into whether some delegates at the conference had been bribed to vote a certain way.

Goodrich, who was a delegate at the Special Conference, finds the decision devastating, and believes it in no way reflects the hearts of people in her congregation.

“The lives and relationships of persons who identify as LGBTQIA are sacred and holy and we grieve the harm done to them in the name of Christ,” she said in an interview Monday. “We want to be very clear that everyone is welcome at our church.”

As the chair of the New England Annual Conference Committee on Church and Society, Goodrich has spent years working for justice to end conversion therapy (the discredited idea that someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity can be changed), to ensure no one is fired from their job or prevented from access to housing because they identify as LGBTQIA, and to seek a climate in which children who identify as LGBTQIA are protected and able to live full and flourishing lives.

And the hypocrisy of the Global Methodist’s Church’s policy vote goes beyond Goodrich, she said. It goes right to the heart of the basic tenets of the Methodist religion.

“We used to be known as the denomination for social justice,” she said. “We used to be the headlamp that Martin Luther King Jr. talked about, and we’ve lost that in translation. We were part of a movement for labor standards, the 40-hour work week. Duke, Syracuse and Emory University all started as Methodist institutions. We built hospitals and were known for helping the incarcerated. We were an integral part of the Temperance Movement.”

Goodrich said that in 1968, the church voted to desegregate its churches and to treat women equally. But since 1972, the debate regarding LGBTQIA members and clergy has gone on as the debate within the church continued. Although she was ordained 15 years ago, Goodrich said she has been fighting for LGBTQIA inclusion in the church for decades.

“I believe that when the church speaks, it has power,” she said. “I think when the church speaks and says things that are exclusionary, it does violence and gives permission to people to behave in cruel ways to those who are excluded. So, when we are saying we are not going to marry people who are LGBTQIA, we are saying they are less than, and that is not the truth. It’s not my truth and it’s not our truth as a community.”

The reason Goodrich knows it is not her community’s truth is because of how her membership responded to her when she returned from the Feb. 26 conference. She went up to the pulpit.

“I’m not preaching to you this morning,” she said. “I want to hear from you.”

She paused.

“Do you accept and will you accept people who identify as LGBTQIA?”

The entire congregation stood up.

“It was a very moving moment,” Goodrich said. “That’s when we put out the flags.”

She said another silver lining has been her discussions with church members around this issue, which has offered a chance for more open communication.

“This has caused more people to come to me and tell me their stories, and I’m grateful for that,” she said. “They, like me, despise this decision, they love this church and they want to be a part of the community, so it’s important for us to differentiate ourselves from what the Global Church is saying.”

Not only that, but Goodrich is ready to fight.

“This is far from over,” she said. “I want to be crystal clear that I, as a pastor, am not going to abide this and I will do everything in my power to stop it. We welcome everybody and celebrate everybody because we know the great gifts that all people have. If I have to break any rules that this Global Church has set down, I will do so.”

The Faith United Methodist Church wants to hear form its members and the public at large on this issue. For more information and to send comments, email faithsbvt@gmail.com.

Lee Kahrs contributed to this article.

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