Cindy Wilcox

In support of Cara Stultz Costello, candidate for the Office of the Episcopacy of the United Methodist Church

From Cynthia Wilcox, Ph.D.

Member of North Canton Faith United Methodist Church, North Canton, Ohio

I was baptized, as an infant, in the Methodist Church, and have been a lifelong member of the Methodist and then United Methodist Church. I love the church and have been deeply saddened by the deep divisions and injuries within the church I love. As a lesbian woman, it is deeply personal for me.

I met Cara when I began attending the church she was co-pastoring with her husband, Steve. I had recently made the difficult decision to leave the church where I had been a member for over 30 years, at a time of a painful crisis in my life. In the midst of that personal crisis, I had been met with coldness and hurtful judgement by the senior pastor of my longtime church, because I am a lesbian. In my first contact with Cara, I felt loved and cared for in her presence. Because she is clearly so authentically open, loving and accepting, I was able to confide in her about my painful personal crisis, as well as my deeply painful experiences within the church, because of my sexual orientation. Her presence and deep compassion was a healing balm. I felt held in loving arms, as I have ever since in her presence.

Over the 13 or so years since then, I have been deeply blessed by her spiritual leadership, and cherished friendship. As a pastor, she could preach challenging sermons, and I was able to open myself to deeper self-examination, because she always created a space of safety and limitless grace. As a spiritual leader, she led small group opportunities for authentic conversation about the division within the church over inclusion of LGBTQ people. She was able to create a safe space for people of deeply held, diverse views to come together, where all could speak, be listened to, and promote greater mutual understanding. It was not always easy or smooth, but she led with love, grace, humility and patient perseverance. In any encounter, she listens deeply, seeks to understand each person, and always holds each with love and compassion. Countless times over the years, I have heard others express, with deep gratitude, the same qualities of experiences with Cara.

As my pastor and cherished friend, I have been able to share with her my experiences as a lesbian woman within the church; the deep injuries, pain and exclusionary experiences, as well as the pastors and lay people who have been accepting, affirming, and truly loving. Because of her unwavering support and affirmation, I was enabled to overcome my own trepidation, to speak about my experiences as a lesbian woman in the church. I was then able to do so at one of the Conference meetings, held to provide accurate information about the way forward for the church, and to provide a place for people to voice their concerns and hopes for the future of our beloved United Methodist Church.

As I look forward, with hope, to the future of our beloved church, I believe we need leaders like Cara, to lead and guide us. Her character and abilities of deep love and compassion, an authentic presence that exudes God’s limitless love and grace, deep listening, an ability to inspire and empower others, a deep commitment and ability to bring together diverse people, in a way that creates a space of trust where each person can be heard and understood, make her an ideal candidate for the Episcopacy. At this challenging time, I believe she has the gifts to lead us into a deeper expression of God’s beloved community. It is my honor and privilege to endorse her for the office of bishop.