Margaret Borgen, Conference Lay Leader since 2015, gave the Laity Address at the 2023 Iowa Annual Conference Session, asked the members to think about change, and specifically spoke about how she has had a change of heart.
“When I became Lay Leader, I so wanted to be a person with whom everyone could identify, to be fair, to be respectful of all points of view and cautious about sharing my own. That seemed like the right thing, and it seemed doable,” said Borgen. “I think it still seems right, but I am not sure that it is doable.”
Borgen deeply desired the United Methodist Church to stay together and actively supported the “One Church” efforts. Her viewpoint came out of her positive personal experience of being challenged by being with Christians who thought very differently than she did. Her UMC involvement and activities pushed her to think about and define her beliefs by being with those who believe differently. To her, the “big tent” of the United Methodist Church was good. It gave her insight into others believed and helped her define what she believed.
“I began to realize that for some people, responding to the love of Jesus meant something very different: protecting others from being or doing what they, the protectors, believed was sinful,” said Borgen. “Those divergent viewpoints have led us, collectively, to sometimes act with harshness, with impatience, to trust each other less, not to be transparent. There has been estrangement. For too long, we have hurt each other. For too long, our public disagreements have hurt and dishonored the church we love. For too long, we have hurt one another. For too long, we have disobeyed Jesus’s first call on us: to love.”
Borgen went on to say how this hurt developed out of the depths of our faith. It was done out of the depths of our own theological understanding.
“We have done it with sincerity. But dispute the sincerity; we have hurt each other deeply. We have made the church look bad — unattractive to those who don’t know the nuances of our dilemma, caused by our commitment to honor our democratic, participatory system of denominational governance,” said Borgan. “It’s hard to explain all that in a casual conversation,”
Looking back, Borgan believes the turning point for her change of heart began after the fateful last vote at General Conference in 2019.
“I remember standing on the conference floor with hundreds of others, holding hands with Diane Eberhardt. We were both tearful, and Diane said, ‘Margaret, this is the end of the church as we have known it,’” said Borgan. “And it was so sad.”
Borgen recalled that that moment in St. Louis was pivotal, and it did mark the end of the church in which many people like herself had grown up.
“Remembering our history, we have made other decisions that seemed to some, like endings. One ended the Central Jurisdiction, and then in 1956, women gained the opportunity to become full elders, at least in a formal way; both decisions made the church more inclusive,” said Borgan. “Remembering our legacy, we think of the Wesleys, Francis Asbury, Thomas Coke, Richard Allan, Marjorie Matthews—the norms they broke and the trails they blazed. The history that shaped us involved lots of struggle.”
Borgan said that as she thinks about the history being made “on our watch,” she is sad about the people who have left the church through disaffiliation.
“For any of you who may still be contemplating leaving, I encourage you to think about the loss and know that you do not need to vote on anything. The United Methodist Church has been and will be a “big tent,” one that welcomes without reservation, one that welcomes you,” said Borgen. “The change I’m ready to talk about now is that which will move us beyond the hurt we have caused to each other and to the church and the cause of Christ.”
Borgan said that the change, when moving on from the history and legacy of the UMC, is a vision of a vibrant, witnessing, faithful, and inclusive church. She believes the change will be:
“I think we have made that decision! We have been in a hard and hurtful place and are ready to move on to the future God has for our church. We want our church, the United Methodist Church, to be a pathway to God for all people,” said Borgen.