SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — During Holy Week, Christians will often hear about the last supper of Jesus with his disciples as they gathered at a table to eat before his crucifixion.
The Rev. Lanette Plambeck, new bishop for the United Methodist Church conferences of the Dakotas and Minnesota, asks during Holy Week, who is at the table?
If the table doesn’t include those who are marginalized, then “Perhaps we need a new table,” Plambeck said.
Within the church and in society, if the table reflects those with power and privilege, where do others fit, Plambeck asked. Jesus sat at the table with those who were marginalized and Christians should do the same, she said.
Plambeck grew up in western Iowa and was drawn to the Methodist faith while a student at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. After serving in the U.S. Army and in various positions with non-profits and public agencies, she completed her Master of Divinity in 2001.
Plambeck cites Chapter 25 of Matthew from the Bible and its declaration to serve the least of those in society and the foundation of the Methodist church to serve the marginalized while meeting the physical and spiritual needs of all as some of her guiding principles.
Church founder John Wesley broke with tradition when he left the church pulpit to preach outside in the fields. Wesley went to the marginalized, the coal miners in England in the 1700s.
Plambeck carries a message of Christ’s grace, and that all people are of worth across a geographic landscape as large as France or Texas.
She traveled a few thousand miles last month alone. The landscape is familiar, yet varied and she loves the geography and its people.
“I have loved meeting the people,” Plambeck said.
She encourages those in the Methodist church to think of the kinds of tables Jesus sat at. The table needs to include those who have been marginalized because of color, or culture, “perhaps because of sexual orientation or identity,” Plambeck said.
Much of the world’s wealth is held by roughly 1% of the population. Often those in poverty are not at decision-making tables, Plambeck said.
“If the structure or table puts the same people at the margin, then we need to work on the structure and the table,” Plambeck said.
The United Methodist Church is not immune to the division in the U.S., she said.
The same disagreements over race, gender, sexual identity or orientation and poverty that can divide society can divide the church.
Congregations in the Dakotas and Minnesota are choosing to leave the United Methodist Church. It’s a formal process to disaffiliate with the church.
“There is a movement of folks choosing to disaffiliate around issues of human sexuality,” Plambeck said.
That’s happened, or happening, within other Protestant denominations as well, she said.
Although Plambeck and other church leaders are advocates of inclusion, the formal church body of the United Methodist Church has not yet removed or changed some policies that impact the LGBTQ+ community. The church’s General Conference is the governing body and is expected to consider proposals when it meets April 23- May 3 that would allow clergy to preside at same-sex weddings, to drop the statement that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching” and similar, according to the Dakotas Minnesota conference.
“Part of my heartbreak is that the witnessing around disaffiliation and division is the anthesis of what Jesus invited us into. That is where I and much of our leadership fall,” Plambeck said.
Plambeck estimated that 8% to 10% of church congregations will leave Minnesota. “In the Dakotas, it will be a higher percentage than that,” she said.
Although Iowa is not in Plambeck’s conference, she estimated 10% to 12% of the churches will leave United Methodist Church.
“The majority are some of our very small churches,” she said. They may have regular worship of 9, 10 or 13 attendees. In some cases, there are motivations other than or in addition to the human sexuality issue, Plambeck said. One driving force is concern about how such small congregations can continue.
“We’ve also seen some of our larger churches choose to disaffiliate; they have resources that allow them to do that,” Plambeck said.
But she does not believe she is serving a dying church.
“I see such faith, fruit and fire in the ministries of United Methodist Church,” Plambeck said.
The church and its members do not have to accept the divisions that exist.
“…I don’t worry that the United Methodist church witness is going to be diminished,” Plambeck said.
Instead, it will continue to share the message of God’s grace, the worth of all and the need to include all, particularly those who are marginalized, Plambeck said.