Artie Van Why is a United Methodist layperson in Pennsylvania. His story is like many — he spent many years away from God and the church, but after surviving the horror of the World Trade Center disaster (he worked across the street from the buildings) he found himself searching for God, and when he moved from New York to Lancaster, PA, he found himself drawn to the First United Methodist Church of Lancaster. In the early days he was reticent to share that he was a gay man, but he became more involved in the life of the church, he shared his identity with others in the church who loved and embraced him. He eventually joined the church, and is part of new ministry in the church called the Sacred Worth Team, which is designed to open up space for conversation about sexuality among members of the church.
In the movement toward General Conference, Van Why and his friend and mentor, Pastor Bill Cherry, attended a listening session held by the delegation of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference. First UMC Lancaster has submitted petitions to the General Conference asking for changes in language about sexual orientation in the Book of Disciples, and Van Why and Cherry wanted to share a statement about the issue to the 100 or so people in attendance.
“I have to be honest and say I wasn’t prepared for some of the reactions and discussion,” Van Why said. “There were certainly supportive people present but I heard some of, what I consider, hateful words about the gay community. I knew there was a divide in the denomination but never really comprehended the reality of it till that Listening Session. I left quite discouraged and disheartened. There’s a part of me that questions if I want to stay with the denomination. But there is also a part of me that wants to be an agent of change; if that is even possible.”
Van Why has published his statement to the listening session at http://gayandum.blogspot.com/. It’s his hope that it can be a starting point for conversation about how the United Methodist Church addresses the concerns of the gay community.
For more information on the ministries of the First United Methodist Church of Lancaster, PA, please visit http://www.engagegodfirst.org/