first #deaconessing confession: i almost didn’t get commissioned

On May 18th I was consecrated into the Order of Deaconess & Home Missioner of The United Methodist Church at the United Methodist Women’s Assembly in Columbus, OH. It was a joyous service that took place during opening worship where there were women on stilts with streamers, a sea of 6,000 United Methodist Women worshiping God, and in the crowd where my parents who had flown in from Seattle and two of my very best friends. My friends streamed the service from D.C. to Arizona to Seattle and even up in Alaska. It was a big deal. After 9 years of discernment in the church that I love, I found a home as Bishop Gregory V. Palmer laid his hands upon my head praying, “Irene DeMaris, I consecrate you to a lifetime of Jesus-like service under the authority of the church.”

I walked off that stage as a proud United Methodist Deaconess committed to a lifetime of love, justice, and service. It further strengthened my calling to bring forth the Kin-dom of God in the here and now in the world and within my chosen denomination.

The next step for a newly minted Deaconess or Home Missioner is to be commissioned by the bishop in the conference we live in. Most people are not aware of my Order, so just getting commissioned can be difficult, but my good friend and fellow Foundry United Methodist member, T.C. Morrow was on it with a call and a few emails to conference staff. I knew my commissioning was going to be hard as soon as they told me it was going to be during the Service of Ordination & Commissioning, since I was aware of the grumblings surrounding two of the clergy candidates up for a vote for commissioning and full-connection due to the fact they are in loving, stable marriages (as LGBTQIA+ folks). Even harder still is in my limited time in D.C., T.C. and her wife have become a good friends who have supported my calling, shown me grace, and made sure in all this mess my becoming a deaconess did not get lost in the shuffle.

How does one hold the tension of embracing her own calling while holding sorrow that those equally called are being denied? That’s how I entered annual conference as a friend and as a white cisgender straight woman who will never be discriminated over who I love.

The Board of Ordained Ministry had deemed T.C. and another friend fit for ministry, embracing their time, talent, skills, graces, and gifts for the work they are called to do. Then the bishop chose to uphold the Book of Discipline laws that deny full inclusion for those who are called to ordained ministry. Not following an unjust law is not unprecedented. I was livid and the atmosphere of the annual conference shifted to one of deep lament. One doesn’t need to spend more than a few minutes with either individual to know they are called by the grace of God for ordained ministry.

On Thursday at 11am I found myself in the hallway sobbing and unknowing if I could be commissioned at the 7pm service that day. I knew I would be face-to-face with the person whose actions the day before did further harm to my fellow siblings in Christ. I do not think that my bishop is a bad person, or isn’t in her heart of hearts progressive. She may have been backed into a corner, but I’m not here today making excuses for a bishop. I will say this. We talked about being one under the cross all week and not enough about why. Jesus spoke truth to power and laid it all on the line; we are not called to easy lives as followers of Jesus and sometimes we have to make risks. A prophetic voice was yearned for and it was denied. We were not one at the cross.

I made a few phone calls to see if I actually had to be commissioned. I technically did not. I knew bulletins weren’t being widely distributed, people didn’t really know me since I am new to the conference, and I was terrified something would come out of my mouth to the bishop and I would lose my job.

Between my good friend who sat with me, a phone call with the Executives at my Order, and messaging with another deaconess, I realized, this was something I needed to do. The liturgy mentioned Foundry and my faith community deserved some joy this year after two years of sorrow at annual conference. I needed my annual conference to know who I was and who I belonged to so that I could be more effective in ministry. I needed my bishop to know that in spite of the Spirit being denied, I would not let an unjust rule of law impact my calling.

Before the service I took a short nap and spent time in prayer lamenting the church I choose to stay in. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would guide me through it all.

She works in magnificent ways. As I hugged T.C. before the service I knew deep in my soul that this was the right thing. Then as I processed with my two friends who were representing Foundry United Methodist Church and my place of ministry, Wesley Theology Seminary, among a very different sea of people than in Columbus, the Spirit took over.

Joy was found in finding pink heeled footing in the questions Bishop LaTrelle Miller Easterling asked me. When she asked the first question, “Do you sincerely believe that you have been led by the Spirit of God to engage in this work and to assume its responsibilities?” I was able to find my voice and say “I do” from deep in my soul.

The moment was mine and the Holy Spirit worked through Bishop Easterling as I faced my new annual conference, I finally felt at home. I would see the group from Foundry to my left and that’s what mattered to me. Did I preemptively leave the stage and then bounce back in my heels? Yes. Did I ham it up? Yes. The Spirit needed joy and I was happy to oblige.

For a moment such as this, I found strength and hope in the Spirit and as God is my witness, the Spirit was working in my bishop. Can we be angry? Yes. Can we be hurt? Yes. But the Spirit abounds in grace. Grace that lives through us all. I hear that people are attacking our bishop and saying cruel things, that’s not what God wants. That is not the work of Jesus, that is what divides us at the cross.

The work is long and difficult, but the Kin-dom of God is worth it. Mourn, cry, lament, throw a cheap pair of heels. When you are ready, the movement for justice will be ready for you and it will be open wide for Bishop Easterling because I saw God in her and I know that she wants the Kin-dom as badly as I do.

good christian sex part 3: my failed “purity” + rethinking celibacy

If you haven’t read good christian sex part 1: theologically solid + enjoyable and/or good christian sex part 2: integrating postmodern sexual ethics + empowering beyond the “one”, I would highly recommend reading those first to provide a context for this post.

I used to wear a purity ring, but first things first: I’m not a virgin. I’ve never been married, but I have loved deeply and it ended. I have had nights of fun, had strings of short-term relationships, and no longer feel the shame I long associated with premarital sex. This is where I am going to remind you that I am no longer seeking ordination in The United Methodist Church (save some time and don’t bother filing charges) and being able to frankly talk about this topic is one of the reasons I left the said process. I refuse to silence my voice. Now that we have all that out of the way, judge me if you will, but there are girls and women in your life, regardless of what end of the theological and political spectrum, that have been like me or are like me.

Back to my ring that actually said: true love waits. I picked it out. It was my decision. I wore it proudly for a few years. I continued to wear it in college and after a few Busch Lights or a Boone’s Farm, when asked about it I would lift my hand to the sky and proclaim no sex until marriage. This lasted for a few months, but after my first kiss and realization I didn’t have to wait if I didn’t want, I took it off.

Eventually I was no longer a virgin; the world did not shatter, the devil didn’t pop up and do an evil laugh, God did not smite me. My views on sex before marriage started to shift and continue to shift. In the back of my head for a long time, I still had a glimmer of doubt about toeing the line of Christianity and being not celibate. I am not the only one: “That we are children of God, living in a broken world, usually at odds with ourselves and others, but nonetheless, all at once, also loved beyond measure and being drawn into reconciliation and holiness” (Good Christian Sex, 172).

I bought into “the One,” that I was looking for my other half, that I wasn’t enough and because of that, I sinned. My sin was that I wasn’t living up to my full potential. It wasn’t because I was sexual active at the time, it was because I forgot my God-given gift of freedom and action. What I have learned is something that the Rev. Bromleigh McCleneghan said so well: “There is a distinct difference between actually losing the boundaries of one’s self and the ecstatic joining of hearts and bodies that sometimes happens in the best sex” (139). I would argue that losing yourself into another person is worse than joining another person between the sheets.

I don’t think I actually failed purity; I think purity failed me. Because it led me to relationships, attitudes, and choices that I do not regret but the impacts of which have been hard to shake.

The thing is, I am pure. That’s my theology, right? I’m Wesleyan and have a theology rooted in God’s abundant grace. I have had my moment of justification and my sins have been forgiven. Even if I thought sex before marriage was always a sin (I’d argue some sex in marriage is a sin as well), God’s grace grants us love and forgiveness. Relationships are not easy and can be work, a friend and I once decided: “The joy must outweigh the work.”

I want to live into mutuality in all my relationships, sexual or not. I do not subscribe to celibacy in singleness, and I believe it’s high time we started having real conversations about sex. It’s time to talk about it beyond abstinence, beyond fear based comprehensive sex education, and to realize that as a church we are failing our singles by limited their, my, sexuality. I want to create that conversation, this is my ultimate goal; it’s not about the shock value, it’s about fidelity in relationships and journeying in grace. I’m not done speaking and will continue to post about sex, gender, birth control, inclusivity, society, and my beloved church. I will be authentic and stand my ground theologically. I’m ready to challenge celibacy. I hope you are too.