Bishop Leontine T. Kelly died on June 28, 2012. I just found some words I wrote when she visited the church I served in 2003…
“Words for the Edge of My Soul”
On Sunday, March 23, Bishop Leontine Kelly will be our guest preacher for Reconciling Sunday.
There is much that can be said to praise this fiery octogenarian. In 1984, she was the first African-American woman consecrated a Bishop in the history of the Christian church. Repeat that last sentence! We date time based on the historic guesses about Jesus’ birth year. 1,984 years later a black woman becomes a bishop. The church has never been in a hurry.
She was only the second woman in the United Methodist church consecrated Bishop. She’s a mother, been a teacher, served as a pastor in a local church, walked side-by-side with Desmond Tutu, and has been honored by the Ladies Home Journal as one of the most important women in America.
With all of her accolades, I remember one thing more than anything else about Bishop Kelly. She was my bishop in the relatively brief time she served as an active Episcopal leader between 1984-88. Thus, I heard her preach at least once a year at our annual conference of the California-Nevada United Methodists.
During one of her sermons, during one of the many worship services we have throughout a conference, she spoke a phrase that went straight to my soul. The phrase she spoke hit me with the force of personal truth.
Indeed, the phrase she used in the midst of that sermon is prominently displayed on the bookshelf in my office. I want those words around to remind me of that riveting moment long ago and to challenge me every time I glance at them. Continue reading →
I wonder . . . what will happen next with same-gender marriage?
Have you ever helped celebrate, participate or witness a same-gender marriage? Years ago (January 1999) I joined other clergy to publicly participated in a “holy union” for two women in Sacramento. First it was an act of love, of trusting in God’s blessing for the sacredness of a relationship. But, second, it was one small way to declare that the policy of the United Methodist Church (UMC) was unfair. The UMC continues to declare same-gender unions or marriages as “wrong.” (Note: In the last month my Bishop sent clergy a letter reminding us same-gender I dos are a UMC don’t.) Puh-lease! We are so behind the times!
As with many, this is my hope: let the state provide licenses for two people—different or same-gender—to legally marry. Let those two people receive and share in the benefits and responsibilities of the state and federal laws and regulations.
And if the two persons are people of faith and wish a religious ceremony . . . wonderful! But no church or clergy would be “required” to perform the ceremony. My hope/prayer would be, at least for the UMC, that individual clergy would be allowed to make their own God-guided, Jesus-inspired, tradition-honoring, tradition-transforming, open-hearted choice.
Me? I’d rather not be in the business of signing state-sanctioned documents. Let the County Clerk do that. But what a joy to help two people take the risk of sharing and declaring life together as faith-filled witnesses to God’s exuberant love!
You know what a conversion is . . . but do you? Yours is yours. Mine is mine. As a Methodista-type, I’ve often trumpeted John Wesley’s “strangely warmed heart.” What a conversion he had! Except he didn’t talk about it all that much, and other holy encounters may have been more important to him and his Christian faith.
And I think it’s interesting that years after his heartwarming, God-infused “moment,” the converted Wesley married a woman who eventually left him. The founder of the Methodist movement apparently was a lousy husband.
Maybe a conversion experience and being a lousy husband are apples and orangutans, but it’s a reminder that we’re all flawed and should be careful about touting events like conversions, being born-again or that my way of faith is better than yours.