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Religion Column

August 13, 2011

United Methodist Church needs to be inclusive From gluten-free Communion to same-sex marriage

I come from a very "sacramental theology." That is simply a fancy way of saying that I experience God in a profound way in the sharing of the bread and cup in Holy Communion and in the waters of Baptism as we welcome a new member into the family of Christ.

However, my "sacramental" experience of God is not limited to the bread, cup and water. I agree wholeheartedly with my Roman Catholic and Episcopalian sisters and brothers, that the mystery of God's profound presence is not limited to that bread, cup and water. I feel the same transformative presence of the divine when I gather with a family at the bedside of a loved one as they pass away, when I pray with a person who is struggling with illness and procedures, when the bishop bestowed the ordination stole on my shoulders, and when I say those beautiful words, "I now pronounce you married in the sight of God." These moments and events are as "sacramental," as steeped in the mysterious presence of God, as when I share the bread and cup of Communion and pour out the waters of Baptism.

Recently, I was diagnosed with celiac disease, which causes my body not to be able to digest any wheat products (gluten), not even in tiny amounts. I was new to the illness when I attended a gathering of clergy from my denomination. I was enjoying sitting with friends, visiting with coworkers in Christ, catching up on events. As we entered worship, it was with joy that I sang out, surrounded by so many singing Methodists.

And then it hit me. We were going to celebrate Holy Communion together and I couldn't come to the table. I cherish these moments gathered with sister and brother clergy in worship, hearing the harmony of voices, finding myself simply being fed and nurtured. The high point of these worship moments is the Communion table, when all of us that officiate in worship most of the time can come simply as congregants and be served the bread of life and the cup of salvation. And I couldn't. It had never occurred to me to bring my own bread.

I sat and watched all my coworkers in Christ move forward and let the tears roll down my cheek. The sacraments of Christ should be a gift of grace for all God's people. No one should be left sitting in tears. Needless to say, First Unite Methodist Church of Oneonta has wheat-free (gluten-free) Communion.

Too many people of God have been left in tears as they watched others partake of the sacraments of God. Too many people have stood on the edges of the church, denied these moments of grace that so many take for granted. A person's gender, race, economic status, age, sexual identity or any other personal attribute should never be the determining factor in attending to the sacraments of God. And too many times in the history of the church, this has been the case.

It is with a joy beyond words that I celebrate the legalization of same-sex marriage in New York state.

To know that my sisters and brothers who are of a different sexual identity than I may hear those beautiful and sacramental words, "I now pronounce you married in the sight of God."

And yet, I am deeply saddened that the United Methodist Church is one of the few mainline denominations that continues to deny marriage for same-sex couples. The sacraments of Christ should be a gift of grace for all God's people. No one should be left sitting in tears.

The Rev. Teressa Sivers is pastor of the Oneonta First United Methodist Church.

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