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The following letter from the Rev. Karen A. Tompkins to United Methodist Bishop Deborah Keisey is reposted here with permission from both Rev. Tompkins and the West Michigan Reconciling United Methodists community.


On January 18, 2013, Rev. Karen Tompkins, a longtime servant and pastor in the West Michigan Conference of the United Methodist Church wrote this open letter to Michigan Bishop Deborah Keisey. She has asked that we share it with you as a testimony to her work in the church, and her deep hope to see the day that in the UMC we can proclaim in unity that, "We are truly of equal sacred worth." Here is her letter:

Bishop Keisey:

Since we have not had the pleasure of meeting in person, I want to introduce myself that you may fully understand my position for which I write to you these words.

I am a child of the United Methodist Church. I was baptized as an infant in a United Methodist Church. I grew up in Muskegon, Michigan, attending Central United Methodist Church. I was confirmed there. I attended youth group and participated in mission trips and continued to grow in my faith, for I am a child of the United Methodist Church.

When it was time for me to choose a college to attend, I chose Adrian College in large part because I knew it is a United Methodist related college. I wanted to continue to be a part of that connection because I am a child of the United Methodist Church. It was in college that I began my process toward ordained ministry, feeling a calling from God to be a United Methodist pastor. After graduating from Adrian in 1994, I went on to seminary at Garrett-Evangelical. I was graduated from that fine institution and ordained in the West Michigan Conference, both in June, 1998.

It has been with great privilege that I have previously served three wonderful congregations (First UMC: Holland, Saugatuck UMC, and Battle Creek: Birchwood UMC) within the West Michigan Conference. Each congregation and community was so very different, with gifts, talents and graces, incredible people, and challenges too. Yet, I loved the ability to witness Jesus’ love and grace with each person, church and wider area. It was such an honor, humbling at many times, to be with families and witness the various stages and circumstances of life, from its very beginning to beyond.

I believe in the United Methodist Church and all that we are called to be and do to make disciples in the world for Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. As a child of God, as a child of the United Methodist Church and as a United Methodist Clergy, I strived to love everyone and meet the needs of those around me. However, in order to care best for my needs and the needs of my family, I chose to take a leave of absence, which began in January, 2007.

I chose this leave of absence because after many years of being in a committed relationship with my partner, my soul mate, Kayla, the hidden double-life was becoming too much of a burden. It was too difficult to try to constantly defend my “friendship” to others, all the while living in a community where I had been told by one of my own parishioners that another United Methodist pastor had informed people in his congregation nearby to keep an eye on me and report any suspicious lesbian behavior back to him. I was living in a witch hunt.

I had come to the point where I had to make a choice. As I viewed it, my choice was as follows: I could choose to serve the church or I could choose to be with Kayla. I would no longer ask her to be just my “roommate” and continue justifying to a committee why I wanted someone sharing a house with me. I would no longer dodge questions or speak in general pronouns when talking about my relationship. I would no longer ask straight clergy allies to help watch out for me or keep secret a healthy relationship that is to be celebrated.

I am not, nor have I ever been, ashamed that I am a lesbian for I am fearfully, wonderfully made in the image of my loving Creator God. However, the climate of our denomination only allows for a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” lifestyle, which even the military has agreed does not work. I have the joy of being a part of a wonderful loving family of my choice, as do many clergy, straight and gay. Kayla and I have been faithfully together almost 19 years and we will celebrate 15 years of our married life on Valentine’s Day this year. And we will do so without looking over our backs in concern for who might be around us.

When I went on Leave of Absence, I had dreams and hopes that the next General Conference may spark change. Then, I had these same dreams and hopes for the last General Conference as well, for I am a child of the United Methodist Church. Each General Conference continues to bring despair to me and to many other GLBTQ colleagues and supporters. I feel that those who oppose a change to the Discipline hope if the issue continues as it is, as it has been since 1972 - the year of my own birth, it will simply become a fact that this is how the church has always been.

However, I am not an issue. I am a child of the United Methodist Church. I was born, raised, confirmed, educated and ordained in the United Methodist Church. I love this denomination. It, too, is a part of my identity. But I choose to allow me to love myself, and the family of my choice openly, as I believe Jesus Christ my Savior affirms me to do. For this reason, please accept the withdrawal of my credentials, effective today. I choose to no longer play a waiting game while people want to debate about my future role within the church. I am not a pawn in a game. I am a child of God and of the United Methodist Church.

I do not believe I will pursue ordination with another denomination at this time, for I am still a child of the United Methodist Church. And I will continue to pray for the time when as a denomination, we can admit that we are not of one mind on this matter. However, I do hope for the day the church will recognize that we - the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, queer or questioning children of the church - are equally as important to the life of the church. We do matter. We are truly of equal sacred worth. Then, and only then, will the hearts, doors, minds, and the pulpits of the United Methodist Church, be open to all of us.

I pray for the United Methodist Church, and for the time when Kayla and I may openly come before it again so that I could seek to serve a church that welcomes us and the gifts and love we bring.

Respectfully,
Karen A. Tompkins

 

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