“God is with me and nothing can hold me back!”

Kindred in Christ,

This past week our Lay Leader, Joey, and I (pictured above) attended the 2024 Annual Conference of our Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Methodist Church. It was four days of worshiping together, listening to ministry reports, participating in a fun run in the community, and voting for the future of our denomination with clergy and lay representatives from across our reginal area. For a recap of Annual Conference click HERE.

Our time together culminated in a worship service of commissioning and ordination. For this special service, all the clergy wear their robes and stoles (the one time a year I take out my robe from the closet) and celebrate those who are called to serving the church through formal pastoral ministry as Elders and Deacons.

Each one of us is called to be ministers of the gospel for God’s love and justice in the world through our everyday lives. By God’s Spirit, we are each formed and gifted to do this in the unique ways only we can. And some of us (like myself) live out this universal calling by pursing pastoral ministry and leading the life of a congregation. Commissioning and Ordination is a way for the larger church body to journey with, keep accountable, communally bless, and say “yes!” to those who have been called specifically to ordained ministry.

One of the things that made this service of commissioning and ordination extra special was that we had a candidate that was ordained who originally came to us through the Safe Harbor Program. This program allows queer candidates, who lived in other conferences where they would be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, to be fairly considered for ordained ministry by our conference. Thankfully our Annual Conference has been on the side of gospel inclusion for several years, even though our global denomination has just recently removed the harmful exclusive language from the United Methodist Book of Discipline.

This particular candidate told me that when she heard that the Safe Harbor Program existed, she had a feeling that welled up inside her that said, “God is with me, and nothing can hold me back.” I believe that experience comes from the Holy Spirit, even in the midst of our real-life struggles and disappointments. It is not a naïve feeling that ignores systemic inequalities and realities, but a deep spiritual knowledge that with God’s involvement we can work and move together towards God’s vision of greater beauty, inclusion, and love for all.

Join us this Sunday as we continue in our Pride series, God is Proud of You. We will consider the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-40), who is named Qinaqis in many African traditions. As a eunuch and a sexual minority in his time, he experienced exclusion from the religious establishment. Yet, he too came to the realization that with God, nothing could hold him back!

Alongside you,

Rev. Paul Ortiz