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God breaking down walls: UMC ends ban on gay clergy, same-sex marriages

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United Methodist Church delegates at the UMC General Conference in Charlotte, N.C., made history last week as the conference ended bans on gay clergy and same-sex marriages.

Augusta County native Melissa Fretwell attended the United Methodist Church as a child. In her 10 years of Sunday School, she said, she never once heard a message about sexuality.

“The climate in the United Methodist Church is very different than the climate in 1972, the year I was born. Incidentally, that was the same year I was declared to be incompatible with Christian teaching,” she said. “This declaration was made one month before I was born.”

Fretwell is what she calls “neuro-queer;” she grew up in New Hope, a small town in ruby-red Augusta County, a place that gay people often find unforgiving and cruel.

She is now a board-certified chaplain living in Durham, N.C. She said that before the votes were taken at the United Methodist Church conference, the church had changed. After the vote, Fretwell shared her feelings on the results to friends and family.

“It is good few days in the United Methodist Church, and my bones rejoice, and my body relaxes. I didn’t realize how anxious I was or how afraid I was,” she said.

“We’ve always been a big-tent church where all of God’s beloved were fully welcome,” said Bishop Tracy Smith Malone, in an article in The New York Times. She called the vote “a celebration of God breaking down walls.”

After the vote, Fretwell expressed her feelings through words and poetry, thankful for the vote, but also skeptical that it will change those who spew hate at LGBTQ youth and adults.

“I no longer can get rejected for…

Being gay

Being a gay clergy

Being a married gay clergy

However I know rejection does not change because a principle changes. Healthy skepticism may be my best friend.

The false security of rejection is real.

The false security of identify things as sin is real.

The false security of relying on

one book for all the answers is real.

The false second of having absolute answers is real.

Today is a good day because it reminds me that the ambiguity of life has been claimed.

The scared worth of all God’s children has been claimed.

And this is good news for all of us.

We all need to be reminded that our original goodness is good.

We all need to be reminded that our queer fully and wonderfully made self is a gift.

We all need to be reminded that a loving God created us, loves us and is with us and for us.

May new life come to these social principles that all may experience life and life abundantly so that peace can flow through all of us like a mighty river.”

Over the weekend, a LGBTQ+ student at Fort Defiance High School, also in Augusta County, where Fretwell and this writer once roamed the halls, had their artwork criticized by two school board members who called a special board meeting to discuss removing the piece from an art show. In the end, they failed. The other board members stood their ground and cited the First Amendment protection to free speech as a reason to allow the art to be on display.

The move by the United Methodist Church and the recent support for a LGBTQ+ Fort Defiance High School student’s work makes Fretwell hopeful that one day Augusta County’s mindset may shift.

“This gives me so much hope that one day home will be safe,” she said.

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Crystal Graham

Crystal Graham

Crystal Abbe Graham is the regional editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1999 graduate of Virginia Tech, she has worked for nearly 25 years as a reporter and editor for several Virginia publications, written a book, and garnered more than a dozen Virginia Press Association awards for writing and graphic design. She was the co-host of "Viewpoints," a weekly TV news show, and co-host of Virginia Tonight, a nightly TV news show. Her work on "Virginia Tonight" earned her a national Telly award for excellence in television.