From the desk of Bishop Héctor- Closing remarks on disaffiliations
Editor’s Note: The following is a transcript and video of Bishop Héctor A. Burgos Núñez' closing remarks following the Special Session of the UNY Annual Conference, which was held remotely on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023 to ratify the fourth and last batch of church disaffiliations.
“Friends, since I arrived in Upper New York in January, I have experienced United Methodists of Upper New York as people who genuinely love God and seek to embody Christ with your neighbors. I see how you all strive to be God’s healing presence through ministries of love, mercy, and justice and how you extend Christ’s hope to people in your communities – thank you for who you are and all you do.
I also know this has been a challenging season for most of us, as some of our congregations discerned whether to disaffiliate or remain part of the United Methodist community related to longstanding disagreements around our ministry with and by our LGBTQ siblings.
I know congregations seeking disaffiliation did not make this decision lightly. And for most, the decision was as difficult, if not more, than it is for the rest of us. Those disaffiliating do so out of conviction based on how they interpret the Scriptures and how they have come to understand and seek to live the way of Christ. So, as these congregations move forward, I pray for God’s blessings and peace upon them. While they will no longer be United Methodists, they remain part of the body of Christ, so I wish them the best in their future endeavors and earnestly pray for a time when reuniting is a possibility.
I lament that, at times, during this extended season of disagreements, we have not offered one another the grace Christ offers to all of us. Unkind words have been used from all sides to refer to the other. Misinformation has been shared that has added to the confusion and tensions. Unnecessary and questionable hostility has been encouraged, even celebrated in some settings. Longstanding relationships have been severed. And in some instances, our shared sacred human dignity has been violated.
Today, I invite us all, in humility, to confess the ways we have fallen short of our calling to be agents of love, peace, and reconciliation. To confess how we have sinned against God and one another as we have often prioritized “being right” over offering grace and walking the extra mile with our siblings as Jesus modeled for us.
We need to confess that during this season of disagreements, there have been times when we have become a mere reflection of the brokenness and polarization already present in the world instead of being a witness to a more excellent way of being together amid our diversity.
On behalf of the Church, I apologize to our siblings in Christ who are departing The United Methodist Church for the ways we have sinned against you and not honored your journey as people of faith in the Wesleyan tradition.
I also know our disagreements and debates around human sexuality have greatly harmed our LGBTQ siblings. Their very existence has come under scrutiny. Their love for Christ has been put into doubt. The fruit of the Spirit in their lives has been ignored. Their desire to contribute to the building up the Reign of God through their service and leadership has been questioned.
On behalf of the Church, I ask for your forgiveness for the ways we have sinned against you and pray for a day soon when, as the Apostle Paul proclaims, we can fully see you as God sees you through the lenses of Christ, the one in whom we are all made whole.
This is not the end. It is a new beginning. Those of us who remain United Methodists of Upper New York, we are moving forward - acknowledging the pain of this moment and knowing healing will find us as we journey together with Christ.
We move forward, aware that we remain diverse in our beliefs, opinions, and attitudes about ministry with and by LGBTQ persons. We move forward knowing that church disaffiliations present new realities, challenges, and opportunities that we must face with courage, trusting in God’s perfect provision and guidance.
Yet, my hope as your episcopal leader is that as we continue doing life and ministry together, we embrace a vision of missional unity that finds its beginning and end in the very essence of who God is – Love – as the Scriptures tell us in 1 John 4:8. Love, that, as the Apostle Paul clarified, ties everything together in Christ.
Our unity as Christians is not of our doing but God’s. For it is not us but God who brings us together, people of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and walks of life into one family. May we, in this new season, fully embrace the supremacy of love and the spiritual reality of unity in Christ, and as we live into this invitation, may we experience renewal and may more people be compelled to believe the gospel's good news.
In this new season, as United Methodists of Upper New York, we will continue living the gospel and sharing Christ with our neighbors everywhere. We will continue planting new faith communities that engage new and different people.
We move forward and will continue helping the most vulnerable in our communities through compassionate ministries We move forward committed to eradicating the sin of racism from the church and society.
In this new season, we will work together to nurture a new generation of disciples and spiritual leaders and assist and resource congregations willing and ready to experience renewal. And we will continue supporting life-giving initiatives through our United Methodist missions around the globe.
As we journey forward, together, we will continue finding ways to honor our rich theological diversity that embraces conservatives, evangelicals, centrists, and progressives – all as beloved children of God.
The cabinet and I will continue seeing and welcoming all people and inviting them to experience the love of Christ in their lives. We will celebrate our rich diversity as a gift from God. We will continue to gracefully acknowledge our diverse theological beliefs around ministry with and by LGBTQ persons and promote a vision of Christ-centered missional unity that transcends our differences and is based on a shared commitment to do no harm and do good to one another.
The Apostle Luke documented the witness of the first community of believers for the universal church. In Acts 2:42-47, we are provided a vibrant description of the kind of community God wants us to embody.
Luke wrote, '...they were devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was awed by the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day, they continue to meet in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people – AND THE LORD added to their numbers daily those who were being saved.'
May we, too, United Methodists of Upper New York, be a Pentecost community where all people experience Christ's healing and abundant love.
Let’s join our hearts to God in prayer.
Gracious and holy God, we offer thanks and praise for how you continue to live and move in our lives: your grace, mercy, and compassion for each of us. We know that you travel with us in the difficult times and spaces in our lives and the times of hope and healing. May you, this day, bring hope and healing to a difficult time as we leave this place to travel different paths.
We ask for your continued presence and guidance in the journey forward for those who have heard your call to a path different from our own and for the continued journey of this community of faith called United Methodists of Upper New York. We ask that you lay your hands of healing on each of us as we struggle with separation and yet look for the newness that will emerge as we go forward from this place. We ask your blessing, Lord, for those leaving this unique faith community as they seek to listen and hear your invitation for their lives and ministries in new and different settings. May they continue to be blessed and be a blessing in all the lives they touch. We ask your blessing on those who have discerned your invitation to remain that they would be blessed and be a blessing. That even as we leave this place, we would continue to embody Christ in the world, that we would continue to offer the love, the peace, and the compassion of Christ to all we meet. We lift all this to you in the name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
May the peace of God guard our hearts, the grace of Christ strengthen our hope, and the Holy Spirit lead us as we continue living the gospel and being God’s love with our neighbors in all places. Amen.”