Hope and understanding: Seminary students seek a way forward
Seminary students from across the United States are in St. Louis to see the global church at work. Dakotas Conference seminary students Kara Togel, who attends a Wesley Theological Seminary and Natalie Buck, who attends Candler Seminary, took time to respond to a few questions.
What brought you to General conference?
Natalie Buck: I came to this conference because I firmly believe that we can be most faithful to God’s Church by working within our United Methodist system to create positive change. By meeting together, we can provide a witness that we are siblings in Christ who will communicate and do our best to work together as we discern God’s will.
I want to be an informed leader in the UMC, and learning about how our denomination works is crucial to that. What better way to learn than to be here in person to learn from my professors, delegates, and bishops?
Kara Togel: I am attending as part of a seminary class. This session of General Conference I was hoping to find a way to attend because it is a denomination-changing event, so when I saw the class was offered, I couldn't let the opportunity pass!
What are some highlights or uplifting moments that you experienced?
Natalie Buck: I have been so grateful for the ways my Candler professors and peers have provided insight and support to each other and to me. Our work here at General Conference is complicated, and caring so deeply for our denomination creates stress as we work for a better future.
Another uplifting moment occurred when United Methodist Women from all over our UM connection knit and crocheted prayer shawls for seminarians at this event. When we arrived at the seminarian’s designated meeting space, a prayer shawl was laid on each chair for us. This was such a kind act of love to seminarians who are ready to step in to leadership within our denomination by attending this general conference.
Kara Togel: The most uplifting moment has been walking into the dome on Sunday after lunch. I was shocked by the sight of the protestors with giant signs and megaphones, shouting at everyone who had walked by. A few of my friends and I had walked by and were followed down the sidewalk with a man shouting at us how Jesus did not have female disciples. Upon coming back to the Dome, there was a gay man standing outside welcoming every person back saying "I pray God pours blessings upon you today." I mentioned how I appreciated his presence and that he is such an amazing man for standing outside with those yelling at him. He had said that he feels nothing but peace surrounding him and wants to share that with all those entering into the dome. It has made the long sessions, stress, and tension felt in the room much more worth it.
What are your hopes for GC 2019?
Natalie Buck: My hope is that we will find a way forward for churches in vastly different contexts to be in ministry with their communities. I continue to pray that our denomination will follow the wisdom and discernment of the Commission on a Way Forward, because I have heard great wisdom from them about the desire to be in ministry with all people, in all the world.
Kara Togel: My biggest hope is that as a church we remain united after this special session and General conference 2020.
How can we best move forward?
Natalie Buck: As a Dakotan who is now a seminarian in a North Georgia context, I feel strongly that the One Church Plan would allow United Methodists across the connection to continue with their vital ministries of disciple-making while still maintaining their consciences. This comes out of my deeply meaningful relationships with people who vastly disagree about human sexuality. We cannot come to agreement, but our ministry is bigger than the topic of human sexuality. We can provide a Christian witness to the world by disagreeing on a non-essential aspect of our faith while continuing to love our neighbors all over the world. We can serve God and our neighbors best by staying in relationship despite disagreements. God’s love is bigger than our disagreements.
I support convictions that are expressed with humility. I hold my beliefs strongly, and my beliefs are based on my interpretations of scripture, my God-given reasoning, Wesleyan tradition, and my own personal experiences of ministry and prayer with God. However, I also recognize that I am not God, and others who disagree with my are also in discernment from God. I am inspired by my fellow seminarians who model deeply held, scriptural convictions while also expressing, “But what if I’m wrong? I want to stay in relationship with you because I cannot speak for God. I believe that God is calling us to be bound together to love God and our neighbors” This is Christian humility and witness bound together with love.
Kara Togel: I think the best way to move forward is to continue to do what we can to fulfill the mission of the United Methodist Church. People will still be in need of food, clothes, and homes. People will still need to be loved. And people will still need to hear the good news we, as the church universal, have to offer to the world.