It has become clear that we will not receive justice at the hand of our bishop or from the United Methodist Church at any level.
Three of our group continue their ministries of helping the homeless find housing, food, and healthcare at Church of the Reconciler. Others decided we could no longer be a part of a ministry in which we had no voice.
While a great many services are still available to the homeless, the children’s ministry has never been revived, and the ministry as a whole is a shadow of its former self. One member said upon leaving, “I no longer find life here; I only see the bones of what was.”
Some former members have moved to other churches. In addition, many of us are now working together to form a new organization, the Birmingham Progressive Christian Alliance. We meet weekly for book study, prayer and communion. We share meals together periodically. We pledge to live nonviolently and to see Jesus in others. We work for justice. You are invited to join us.
Seemingly out of the blue, a year after we originally requested such a meeting, several of us received a letter of invitation to a listening session with the Bishop. We agreed to her conditions, which included meeting in a neutral location and that there be no recording of the meeting, “including audio, visual, note taking or verbatim recording.” A dozen members and former members attended the meeting. We were each given an opportunity to share our thoughts. At the end, Bishop Wallace-Padgett said she had come to listen and so would not make a response to us that night. We have heard nothing from her since.
When Debra Wallace-Padgett was appointed bishop of the North Alabama Conference, we had newfound hope. Perhaps, we thought, we would have a bishop who would listen to us and help us as we sought to recover our chartered status, our elected board, and our full ministry. After giving her a few months to settle in, we wrote and requested a meeting with her, so we could meet her, tell her our story, and seek restoration and reconciliation.
She refused to meet with us.
When challenged by former Chair of the Board Marti Slay on her refusal to meet with the members of a church in her district, Bishop Wallace-Padgett offered to meet with Marti and only two others. Feeling that such a limited meeting was unfair to the group which had worked so hard together for so long, and also believing it reflected a less-than-genuine desire to hear our story, Marti declined the offer, saying, “This is an ordeal that has been experienced by and has affected the entire church. The original letter of complaint to the Southeastern Jurisdiction contained 29 signatures. Five officers of the church were removed without cause when the appointed board was put in place. How would we choose only three people to meet with you? One of the many problems throughout this process has been the lack of transparency. Everyone who wishes to hear and be heard should have that right …. Personally, I do not sense a willingness to actively engage with us. Apparently there is no possibility of restoring our rights as members of the church. Without that possibility, I see no reason to put myself through another excruciating review of this difficult and painful experience.”
In October 2012, the Judicial Council considered our complaint. As with our other efforts to seek justice, none of us were contacted concerning our experience. We were denied the right to appear before the Judicial Council, we were not interviewed, and there was no investigation. The Council determined that they did not have jurisdiction in the case and sent it back to the North Alabama Conference, the very perpetrators of this injustice.
Please take a minute to read the personal stories we posted from members. You can find them in the right-hand column of the site.
The motion we brought to the North Alabama Conference to refer this issue to Judicial Council won.
On February 3, 2012, members of Church of the Reconciler filed a complaint with Bishop Will Willimon about actions of District Superintendent Ron Schultz. The complaint was dismissed by Bishop Willimon on March 22, 2012.
I make a motion that the ruling by Bishop Willimon which dismissed the church’s complaint against District Superintendent Ron Schultz (thereby exonerating him from his actions) be referred to the Judicial Council for review.
Mailing sent to delegates of the North Alabama Conference with the following information included.
We continue to serve at Church of the Reconciler despite the disenfranchisement of our leadership. We feel called to this ministry and are passionate about it, and we ask the broader community to continue supporting the church as well. Please come to our annual fundraising banquet. Please send contributions. We cannot allow the homeless community to suffer because of the abuse of power in the very church that is called to serve them. Despite the brokenness and confusion, we continue to seek justice, speak truth to power, and serve the least of these. We ask you to join with us and do so as well.
When Matt Lacey became the fifth senior pastor of Church of the Reconciler in a 13-month period, the newly appointed board of directors was made public. Of the eight people on the board, only three were members of Church of the Reconciler. Two of those three had been members for less than a year. In an intentionally multicultural, multiracial church, only one of the eight members is African American.