“I am a commissioned elder and provisional member of the UMC and I am member of the LGBTQ community, that part is not so provisional.  I come here today in the fullness of those two identities because God invited me to come and I said, ‘yes.’ … And you said, ‘yes.’” The Rev. Joan VanDessel, one of two openly LGBTQ candidates commissioned during the 2019 Michigan Annual Conference, shared these words during the open worship of “Just. Compassionate. Inclusive: The Future of Michigan Methodism.” Organized by the Michigan Conference MFSA, the Michigan Strategy Group, and the Michigan Statement team, the November 23 event gathered over 150 Michigan United Methodists from close to 60 congregations in person at University UMC in East Lansing and at three “streaming” sites across both peninsulas in Kalamazoo: First UMC, Marquette: Hope UMC, and Traverse City: Central UMC.

Continuing her meditation, VanDessel set the tone for the day, “God is always drawing the circle wider, always setting another place at the table.  I want to be a co-creator of that church that recognizes, that anticipates, that fully welcomes the space God is creating.”

The day also featured a panel discussion in the morning and three breakout sessions in the afternoon. 

Panelists included the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, the Rev. Paul Perez, the Rev. Joan VanDessel, Laura Witkowski, and moderator, the Rev. Alex Plum. Panelists urged participants to remain focused on change in Michigan, regardless of the action or inactions of GC 2020, and commit to the hard work of  dismantling the interconnected oppressions of heterosexism, transphobia, racism and colonialism. Bigham-Tsai, co-chair of the Michigan 2020 Delegation and Chief Connectional Officer of the Connectional Table, put it this way when asked about her hope for the future: 

“What I find most hopeful are efforts to center the voices of our LBGTQ siblings and efforts to center the voices of people of color -- a willingness to deal with conversations about race and racism. I believe that [racism] is the substructure, the scaffolding, the original sin that all the other exclusions are built on.”

Video of the opening worship and panel are available on the Michigan MFSA Facebook page

The afternoon breakout sessions focused on three areas: short-term resistance to the Traditional Plan, mid-term organizing through GC 2020 and beyond, and long-term visioning. The compiled notes from each session and set of proposed next steps will be posted on the Michigan MFSA Facebook page and the Michigan Statement website in early January 2020.