For over 10 years I’ve been a member of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church here in Tampa. I started attending an older adult Sunday School class because of my interest in the topics. I wound up doing some substitute teaching, and starting a little over two years ago, I wound up teaching full-time, and now have the help of another person.
Recently, as is the custom with Methodist churches, we got a new pastor, Bruce Toms. I was glad for the change, hoped for the best, and could have been a champion for the guy, but that’s not to be. I’d been told that he was bit conservative, but the previous pastor, Kevin James, was certainly no bleeding heart liberal. Toms has taken it to new heights though.
In August of 2008 I opened a discussion with the Administrative Council of Palma Ceia United Methodist Church about the adoption of an inclusive statement of welcome and non-discrimination. It was “A Resolution for Justice.” In 2008, frankly, I was met with a tremendous amount of ugliness from the likes of Kevin James, the Pastor at the time, and then head of the Personnel Committee, Bill Josey, who actually physically pushed Phil Waters, the presiding officer aside, and took over the meeting.
I spent the intervening three years advancing the conversation within the church body itself, and returned to the Administrative Council in August of 2011. This time, a large contingent of people supportive of such a resolution attended. There was a passionate discussion, and the Council heard personal stories of the harm that the messages often conveyed under the guise of religion can cause to young lesbian and gay people, and how they are often driven away from the Church because of a lack of real welcome. There was spirited debate, both sides arrived at a compromise, and a consensus was reached. Shortly after that, a statement of welcome and non-discrimination, completely and fully compliant with the language of the Discipline of the United Methodist Church was adopted. As planned, it was published to the Church website, and despite the concerns of only one or two, no one left this Church as a result.
The statement reads simply:
“We affirm that worship and membership at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church is open to all who seek to know Christ and share His love, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or economic status, and we welcome and respect all members of our community without regard to these characteristics.”
During an early personal conversation with Toms, he indicated he wanted the statement off the site. About a month ago, the site was redesigned, and the statement was left off. This started a downward spiral in my relationship to Palma Ceia United Methodist Church, The Methodist Church writ large, Bruce Toms, and even the Chair of the Administrative Council, Marty Peate.