The hurt inflicted by General Conference 2019 was not lost on the larger faith community of Sonoma, California. On March 3, just days after the legislative body of The United Methodist Church voted to retain exclusionary language in the denomination’s Book of Discipline and to toughen sanctions against clergy who are found to have broken the rules, members of Sonoma UMC received an outpouring of support from other congregations as they made their way to church.
Sonoma UMC is a reconciling congregation. That means it is intentional about extending welcome to all, regardless of personal identifiers, and supports full inclusion of LGBTQIA persons in the life of the church – including the right to be married in the church and to be ordained. On the Sunday following the end of the special session of General Conference, members of Sonoma UMC were welcomed to their own place of worship by ecumenical partners, waving signs that read, “All Are Loved Here!” and “General Conference doesn’t define THIS Church, love does!”
Making the show of support were representatives from the local United Church of Christ church, Episcopal church, Lutheran church, Presbyterian church, Roman Catholic church, and the Jewish synagogue. Ten clergy members were present, including a visiting United Methodist pastor from the Western Pennsylvania Conference.
Members of First Congregational Church of Sonoma (United Church of Christ) even moved their own worship service to be with the grieving United Methodist congregation, its pastor, Rev. Curran Reichert, saying, “We wanted to support the same-sex clergy couple who serve at [Sonoma UMC]. We stood with signs of love and support lining the sidewalk as the members arrived … Some cried, some high-fived, but everyone felt the power of the church at its best: one body, one heart, beating as one to the rhythm of hope.”
“This has been a devastating week for the global United Methodist Church, a church that we dearly love!” said Emily Pickens-Jones, co-pastor of Sonoma UMC. However, she went on, “We will continue to serve as pastors of this congregation … We are committed to living our faith with integrity, and that means we believe in full inclusion of all God’s children into the church.”
The sanctuary, decorated with rainbows – including on the cross and flame (the symbol of The United Methodist Church) – overflowed with people, re-enforcing the message of welcome to all.
Co-Pastor Jacey Pickens-Jones preached about “a Transfigurational mountain top experience.”
“This worship is a glimpse into the Kingdom of God,” she said, but added, “it’s time to go down from the mountain [and] out into the world to spread God’s love to all.”