ST. LOUIS – The General Conference of The United Methodist Church will hold a special session this weekend in downtown St. Louis. Members say the church has been debating matters concerning the LGBTQ community for nearly 50 years, and it is time for discussion and, possibly, change.
After 28 years together, Rev. David W. Meredith married his husband in 2016 after gay marriage became legal in the United States the previous year. Meredith and his husband lived openly as a couple for decades, but once it became official, Meredith said the UMC tried to remove him from his role as a church leader.
"When they knew the truth about me, instead of that setting them free as Jesus says it would do," said Meredith, "They felt like they had to come against me and say, 'We don't want to make normal what you are and what you and your husband share.'"
Meredith says he is a lifelong member of the UMC and has served faithfully for 35 years. His case is on hold until a decision is made in the coming days.
For him, everything could change based on the decisions made at this conference.
"It is time for the United Methodist Church to become the carrier of the gospel which says, 'All are welcome here, and all have a place, and all have a service here in the life of the United Methodist Church.'"
The UMC has approximately 12 million members worldwide. A combination of lay and clergy members make up the 864 delegates who will come together over the next few days to discuss and vote on matters for the church.
While Meredith and others are pushing for the denomination to adopt new standards which will be more inclusive of the LGBTQ community, not all share those beliefs.
Rev. Nestor Gerente will serve as an interpreter this weekend for delegates and guests from the Philippines where he says beliefs are more traditional.
"There's still that dominant belief that the marriage should be between a man and a woman," said Gerente.
Delegates will consider four proposals. Weekend sessions will include listening and learning.
Delegates hope to begin compromising and negotiating proposals on Monday in hopes that they will be able to vote on the plans by Tuesday.
"I hope that we can come out of this as a unified church, not necessarily a church of uniformity because we've never been people who all believe exactly the same," said Rev. Dr. Stanley Copeland of Dallas.