September 12, 2013
Bishop Mark Webb
324 University Avenue, 3rd Floor
Syracuse, NY, 13210
Dear Bishop Webb,
I am writing to speak to the gifts Pastor Steven Heiss has brought to the United Methodist Church and to Binghamton’s Tabernacle congregation in particular. And I write from a very particular perspective.
I am a Jewish woman in my mid-50s who began a spiritual journey six years ago in the wake of cancer. I was drawn to Tabernacle first by its weekly community meal, where those in the neighborhood who live in poverty can find fellowship and food for the soul as well as food for the belly. The kitchen is downstairs; I was drawn to inquire about what went on above, in the sanctuary, by the beautiful cross-section of people working in the kitchen alongside me – many of whom are members of Tab.
Pastor Steve reached out to me, despite the obvious “difference” I represented. He clearly saw, long before I did, that there was a place for someone like me in fellowship, in a Methodist church. Pastor Steve helped me open my heart to the receipt of grace in the space of that sanctuary. We talked over the course of a year about what future I might have in the Methodist Church. These were deep, profound conversations, in which I was able to express my sense of being an “outsider” and in which he patiently explained how God embraces all, despite the accidents of birth. On June 10, 2012 Pastor Steve baptized me with the congregation witnessing this most important passage in my life.
Accidents of birth – by this I mean the way we are brought into the world (many of us into Jewish, Islamic or atheist homes). I also mean the way we are born to love once we reach adulthood. These are things beyond our control. We cannot change them through prayer or atonement. Still, God embraces us. Why not the church?
By his actions Pastor Steve has challenged some of the church’s teachings and policies. And I understand that this represents a serious breach, in a church that he loves. It was a risky thing for him; but he is moved by deep conviction. And he is not alone in the Methodist Church. This may well be one of those moments in history when a courageous few come together to ask for a re-thinking of policies so profoundly in contradiction with the most basic teachings of Christ.
Thank you so much for your consideration. Peace to you. Peace to the world.