Making a Way When There’s No Map – Derrick Luruth Scott III

Episode 10

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EPISODE 010: Derrick Scott III is Co-Lay Leader of the Florida Conference of the United Methodist Church. A Black, Gay man, and a Gen-X leader in the church, he has spent much of his career in campus ministry in Florida, helping prepare the church to be ready to receive the generations of leaders who come after him.

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Molly: The challenges faced by our United Methodist Church in 2022 are significant. In addition to the challenges we face alongside our sibling denominations and Christian traditions, we United Methodists in particular are experiencing tensions and fracturing along lines related to our interpretation of human sexuality.

That tension, and that struggle, takes different form in different parts of the church–varying from congregation to congregation and region to region. It hits different as clergy and lay people, as members of the dominant white culture, and as people of color. Today in this next episode, I’m pleased to welcome a treasured colleague and friend, Derrick Scott III. He is a Lay Leader in the Florida Conference, on the other side of the US. He is doing important work for the sake of the Gospel.

I’m Reverend Molly Vetter, the Senior Pastor of Westwood United Methodist Church in Los Angeles. And it’s my joy to welcome you to this episode of Where Do We Go From Here, UMC?

This podcast was created because I wanted to be able to help interpret what’s going on in the denomination to members of my congregation, a Reconciling Church that’s committed to full inclusion of all people, regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.

In this moment of the life of the church we are looking for ways to participate in the work of Jesus Christ–to not only participate in the life of the church, but to help our institutional church move closer to an embodiment of the justice and love that is modeled for us by Jesus Christ.

So welcome to this conversation. I hope you enjoy my conversation with Derrick Scott.

Molly: Thank you for taking time to talk today. I’m really grateful. I know it’s a busy season, and you lead a busy life. You’re doing lots of things: your professional work and your personal work as Lay Leader in the Florida Conference.

I wonder if, as we start, you would just say a little bit about who you are and who you come from?

Derrick: Yeah. So I’m Derrick Scott III. I am currently a digital campus minister in the Florida Conference and based out of Jacksonville, Florida. I’ve been leading ministry to college aged young adults for over 20 years; I started out in a local church college ministry, and then founded a Wesley Foundation here in Northeast Florida. And now I have moved on to pioneering some work in the digital space, again in ministry towards college aged young adults.

I was not raised United Methodist. I was raised in a Black Baptist church, predominantly African-American Baptist Church. and that’s where I got my rearing, if you will. That’s where I learned that at least in the family I grew up in we did not go to church, we were the church. And that is the good things, and also the not good things.

And from early age I was exposed to all of the great things about being a part of the People of God, and also the parts that were political and structural and systemic, and the ways that we, as the people of God are always being formed and shaped. Sometimes that forming and shaping doesn’t manifest as well as we would like. This is me saying I got to see the underbelly of church and that’s why–I was raised in that kind of world. We were at church 4 days a week on an easy week, and I loved every bit of it. I eventually made it to a United Methodist congregation here in Jacksonville, Florida and again was doing worship ministry there, and then college ministry and then Wesley Foundation stuff, and so I just, I come from people who love being the church and love building what it is to be the church and taking it very seriously and centering our lives around it.

And so in some ways the things I do today don’t look anything like what I was raised to do, and then in other ways, and probably in more accurate ways, it’s exactly I mean, look at the family that I come from, and then you look at the things that I’m doing, and people who’ve known me for 40 something years like that. “Of course this is what Derrick would be doing.”

It might be helpful for people to know that I am a gay man and a lay person, as well. I’m the co-lay leader of the Florida Conference, along with my really great friend and colleague, Alice Williams, and so… It’s a great privilege to lead in a Conference as an out Queer person, knowing that that is a part of the conversation that we’re wrestling with in the denomination at the moment.

It creates some interesting dynamics even here in Florida, but I’m grateful for that. That I get to be a part of it in this season.

Yeah, and I mean I could talk about all kinds of other things, but that’s probably like the on-ramp. And I also love accounting, and I’m a textbook introvert.

Molly: Thank you. These are things I didn’t know about you, Derrick.

Derrick: Which part: accounting, or the introvert part?

Molly: Either one! I have not had occasion to see the accountant side of you, and you are very, like, you know, I guess I have stereotypes about introverts, right? Introverts can be very functional, and can be very warm and gregarious in group settings, which you certainly are; but I can only imagine how exhausting it is as an introvert to bring that persona to this work.

Derrick: It totally is! And I’m–I do the things that I do, because I feel like Jesus has asked me to do them. But good Lord, if He hadn’t asked me to do these things, I would be reading books and sitting quietly in my cold, dark house, I’d have a quiet house.

Molly: Right? Oh, gosh! I love hearing you describe growing up in a Black Baptist tradition, but being up close to how it all happens. You certainly have not managed to stay away from the up-close to all of how-it-all-happens in the United Methodist Church! I’m curious: what about the Church, what about the United Methodist Church, in this moment in the story of the world, makes it worth the bother for you?

Derrick: Yeah, So I’ll say one piece of it is that I do feel called into most of the spaces that I find myself in, and some of it is my upbringing. Some of it is this enneagram 5 non-attached thing, at least that’s the way I like to talk about it. But I feel like I have been designed in such a way to be in some of these tough conversations, and to be able to stay at the table.

And so some of why I’m doing what I’m doing just because I feel like I was made to do it and now I’m living into it.

But there’s this other beautiful thing. And again, some of this has to do, a lot of it actually has to do, with being in campus ministry for 20 plus years. I feel like as a campus minister of 2 essential jobs, one–and these are jobs, as it relates to the institution of the Church. One is to prepare college aged young adults to find their place in the life and the story of the Church.

But the other part of it is to prepare the Church to receive these college aged young adults, and the things I know about college aged young adults, millennials and Gen Z is that–and more Gen Z now than millennials obviously–But is that it… They’ve come to the table in a very different kind of way.

They embrace their faith and they express that faith and they live out that faith in a way that X-ers like me and older are just kinda like, “That’s cool. I think? I don’t know? That’s, woah, that’s unique.” And all of you are gonna do it this way, which is not one way. There is no one way to do it, particularly for this generation. And I feel like what I am doing is making sure specifically, that the United Methodist Church can receive this next generation of leaders. That we have a system and institution that has evolved in such a way that this next generation really can continue the United Methodist story. And so some of this is just being a bridge.

I heard a Christian leader once say they felt like they’re calling was to literally be this face down bridge, so that the next generation can walk on their back to get to the other side, and that so resonates with me–not being walked over necessarily, but the sense that, like, yeah, like my role is to be a bridge from where we are to where we’re going, and I don’t know how much of where we’re going i’m gonna get to the experience of. I’m hoping to get to right? Like, but I do know that for this season of my life, my role is to literally sit in this middle space, trying to, by God’s grace, hold the current institution and all of its imperfections and also the great things that it does–hold that with all that’s coming and all that’s available to us if we will allow the next generation to take their place in this story called United Methodism.

So that’s that’s what I–that’s like a broad way of saying what I think about the committees, and being on a delegation and sitting in specific meetings. Lots of Zoom meetings and being busy in the work of the church, and so again it is my upbringing. I was made, you know, kind of raised to do this, but also I’m just looking at these these young adult leaders, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh if we can make room for you!” All glory will go to Jesus. Like all glory will go to Jesus, because we made room for these next generation leaders. So…

Molly: Amen. So I started this podcast because I wanted to be able to talk to my congregation about what’s going on in the church. So I’m hoping that the folks listening are like regular church folks.

My congregation is a Reconciling Church in Los Angeles. We are committed to inclusion, but want to be a part of making change in the Church, in the world. This is the fourth of 4 new episodes that have come out just before our Jurisdictional Conferences happen in early November, which is where we’re electing new bishops. Part of my–so I’m going to confess that part of my fear is, as we get ready for Jurisdictional Conferences, is that because we have this particular problem to solve, like, who are we gonna elect?

We put all our energy into selecting the next bishops, and forget about all the other things that like happen around that–that are more than…Like electing the perfect bishops is not going to get our church all the way to where we need to go, right? But it’s a part of it. You’re the first–I’m a little ashamed to confess that you’re the first lay person I’ve interviewed in this new series of 4.

I wonder if you would have insight about, as the lay person, as exactly who you are, what would you hope the Church would be doing, knowing, as we head into this season, where we’re selecting leaders for a particular office, and also sort of positioning ourselves to be able to move forward?

Derrick: Yeah, I do love your thinking about, you know, not wanting to put all our eggs in the Episcopal election basket.

I think it’s just hard right now, because in our system, bishops do hold a great amount of power that can be utilized. Some bishops use it in different ways, and some don’t use it, and some use it too much. So I do appreciate that.

I think what’s important–and it goes alongside the not putting all the eggs in in this one basket is– our church really is changing and it’s changing right before our eyes. So even the power that our episcopal leaders have assumed for many years, that’s changing. Their ability to do certain things, in some respects they’re able to do some more than they used to. And in other respects they’re gonna not, they’re not gonna have the same kind of “walk in the room and just sort of make a move in it. And we just say, okay.” Like so I think at least for me one of the things I’m taking into this I and I’m, I’ll be in the room for the SEJ jurisdictional conference: who are individuals that can lead in that kind of dynamic where things are changing, changing rapidly. And we don’t actually know what the change is going, how that’s going to land at the end of the day. Who has the ability to lead there? It’s one thing to lead when we all have the same map, and we’re all willing to follow that map. The world—the maps are thrown out like there isn’t like… It’s not even like a bunch of diverse maps. No! The maps have been thrown out. None of us actually know what the next step needs to be.

I’m aware that I definitely want individuals who, because the Church is changing, will live in some moral courage as relates to the way the Book of Discipline currently reads today, recognizing that there is hope for change of the way the Book of Discipline reads. It means that we have to lead in a different way. So obviously I’m hoping that the abeyance remains, right?

I am hoping that we create fair but very clear opportunities for those who don’t want to stay in the United Methodist fellowship, the United Methodist denomination. I wanna see episcopal leaders that don’t just give lip service to laity, but literally figure out moments to step aside and let the laity take the lead. Because there are lay folks who know how to read spreadsheets better than clergy. I’m just saying. I know that that’s not, that’s not you, Molly. There’s not any of the clergy folks that might be listening. But there’s some lay folks that actually know how to read a spreadsheet better than the clergy. So you might just need to step aside and let them do that thing.

And I’m looking for episcopal leaders that recognize that the gifts of the laity, yes, come alongside and in some respects at times even get ahead of the clergy in some things. I’m looking for episcopal leaders like that and episcopal leaders who recognize that if we’re going to have a next generation of the United Methodist Church that started many yesterday’s ago, and we’re we’re actually a little bit late on that.

But ultimately I’m looking for people who have the ability to lead in a season where everything is on the table to be changed.

Molly: Woo, that’s all.

Okay. So we’re at this strange time where the role that we’re looking for bishops to step into is more than the like technical authority given to them in the structure, but something more that is leadership.

There are certain things that bishops can’t do or like, can’t do as well as someone else could do. Are you aware of things that like regular church folk, regular clergy folk, like… What can we do that’s uniquely ours to do, or has more power and authority because of who we are?

Derrick: Yes. This will be a little bit around the corner to go next doorish. But.. Do you know that even means?

Molly: I don’t even know what that means.

Derrick: What that means is I’m going to say that in a broad way, but really it’s just adjacent to what you just said. But I’m going to go all the way around to get to that point.

I think that we expect bishops to have a keen sense what’s happening on the ground, and I think it’s an unfair expectation. And I believe it’s unfair because those of us on the ground, for whatever reason, don’t actually tell our bishops what’s really happening.

Molly: Alright.

Derrick: I watched this happen as the WCA was, here in Florida, just starting to migrate and do things. And people would come to me and my other lay colleagues, and they would say, “Hey, this is happening. The WCA is doing this. They’re having that meeting, they’re they’re talking around this pastor.” And I was like, man, you should tell your DS. “No, no, I don’t know if I’m gonna….” Yeah, and they wouldn’t tell the DS.

And then the would, therefore it never got to the bishop. And then things happened and people were like, “I can’t believe that the Bishop and the cabinet didn’t like move on this thing.” And I’m like: I can believe it! You didn’t tell them! Right?

The knowing what’s happening on the ground, really, is coming from those who are actually on the ground. The folks who are in the pews and the pulpits. And our ability to get into this, again I’m doing this really broad thing to get to this this point right here: Our episcopal leaders can’t speak to things they don’t know about. There’s a conversation of will they listen? Will they answer the email? Will they actually take me seriously? And I know that there are these specific stories where that’s sort of the narrative. But I think there are actually more stories where we didn’t take the opportunities we could to raise our voices to our Episcopal leadership and their Cabinets and say to them: This is what’s happening on the ground. Let me tell you, for the sixteenth time. Because we have 8 districts in Florida! And it’s hard to hold all that information so yes, I’m gonna tell you a 16th time. Not out of anxiety and anger, but just so that you know this is what’s happening.

So I think the thing I think bishops can’t do well is know what’s on the ground, what’s happening on the ground, I don’t think they can do that without the rest of us being deeply intentional about letting them know what’s happening. It’s their job to respond to those things. If they didn’t want to respond to those things they shouldn’t have put themselves up for election as a bishop. They didn’t ask for this season, either, but they feel like God appointed them for this season of the church, right?

And so, that’s not, like, the kind of answer that most people would give to, like, what is something that a bishop probably shouldn’t be doing. I think that the thing that the Bishop shouldn’t be doing is being expected to know things that they couldn’t know. I hope that’s fair. But that’s sort of where I’m coming from.

And I feel like my job as a co-lay leader is to be this squeaky wheel on behalf of the laity in Florida, right? And yeah, that’s going to get annoying at some point. I get it.

Molly: I’ll still hang out with you when your Bishop’s tired of you, Derrick.

Derrick: Yeah, well, and I imagine, I don’t think Bishop Carter gets tired of me. I think that there are other bishops that might and some of it for me is that I have to have to be okay if I make the bishop a bit annoyed. Somebody’s got to be okay with it. Somebody’s got to be willing to say, you know I… This is real. This is real, this is not just made up. If it’s chronic anxiety that’s just being spread around in a congregation, or in a District, then the leader’s got to do the thing where they bring the temperature down. That’s their role. In many ways, what I’m saying is like we as laity, specifically, we have at times abdicated our voice because it’s hard. And I get it. But because we’ve abdicated, because we didn’t go to the meeting and stay focused in the meeting and raise the issue at the appropriate time that it could have been raised, we missed an opportunity to effect change. And while I am here to hold my Bishops accountable, I’m really here to hold lay people accountable. We’re part of this thing. And that’s just the thing that I feel like we have to do if we’re gonna expect our bishops to lead in reality.

I’m going off on a whole trail that you didn’t ask for, Molly, and so I will calm myself down and let you go to another question that might be more palatable.

Molly: No, I really appreciate your taking us there, and I do think it’s important.

I’m curious if you’re aware of things that a church in California could do that would help further liberation, particularly for Queer colleagues in places like Florida. What can we do or be or say or offer that would help in this moment?

Derrick: Yeah, I think one of the great things about United Methodism is that we really believe we are a connection.

That what happens in California is somehow connected to what happens in Florida, which is somehow connected to what’s happening in Romania, which is somehow connected to what’s happening in Uganda, which is somehow connected to what’s happening in the Philippines. But this is how we feel about the United Methodist Church.

So I would say that we need a local church in California to lean into that connection.

And and again, this is where it does get, you know, sometimes laborious, and sometimes annoying, and you know, in some some respects, particularly queer folk here in Florida, we look over at what you all have in California. It’s like, “That’s gotta be nice. Gotta be nice to not be fighting about your place in the church as a Queer person. That must be nice.”

And I think what we need from the church in California is to continue to stay present in that kind of conversation, and even ask that question like, “How can how can we be connected to what’s happening in Florida?” It’s maybe knowing what’s happening in Florida, in the same way that I need to know what’s happening in Cal Pac and Cal Nevada.

Does that make sense? Like it is this: It is this leaning into that connection.

And it is doing what we can to be in friendship with each other, and that’s one of the things I love about you, Molly, like, I think we met years ago at a Lead conference, I think?

Molly: I think so yeah.

Derrick: And we’ve touched base ever since, in different places. But I feel like it’s not just this person I met at a conference, but we’re church together. You and I are a part of this thing. And so we’re working together to see the whole thing continue to move forward in liberation for all people.

And so, how can a local church in California deepen that connection to a local church in Florida?

How can, you know–that may mean, maybe thinking about sister churches or brother churches, or sibling churches, whatever we want to call them, right? And it may mean recognizing that when something happens in Florida, that people need to raise their voice about, that a church in California says you’re gonna write a letter to the Bishop. Because there’s something happening on the ground and we think you probably know about it, but we just want you to know we paying attention.

We’re looking, we’re watching this, and this is–that’s our church, too. What’s happening there is our church too. I just wonder what happens when we’re all up in each other’s stuff like that, like we’re all paying so much attention to each other. Because there really is a sense that a Bishop of Florida is like, “Gotta be careful because there’s this church in LA that will be sending me emails if they don’t think i’m responding to a thing.” Yeah, I I hope we get there.

Molly: We’ve recently been talking about accountability in the church, which is such a gift of our tradition, except that, especially a General Conference in 2019, we really just perverted our understanding of accountability to be this sort of narrow and punitive thing, as opposed to a mutual belonging to and with each other, for the sake of holding each other accountable to the gospel, not just to the you know one or 2 rules but to the whole of the gospel. I think that’s honestly the thing that keeps me showing up at church meetings, is a sense that we are in this together. And that what how my congregation is living in Los Angeles could have an effect on the safety and well-being of a Queer young person who grows up in rural Florida. That possibility makes it feel always worth-it to show up to this work, today.

And I know that it’s also true about the safety of Queer folks in all our communities, and including Los Angeles. I don’t mean to act like this is y’all’s problem. and not ours, right? This is very much a real struggle still. But I do treasure the gift of belonging together.

I’m Gen X, too. I feel this, like, we’ve inherited the church it at this moment where it’s past its glory days and the institutional church has no real option for like recovering what we were like, we’re moving onto a something else. But there is so much treasure left in the church like genuine relationships, and commitment to common values and legacies and ministries that we gotta use that for something good.

There’s so much here, even though it’s not what we sort-of remember in 1960. But there is so much here that is so rich and meaningful that’s absolutely worth showing up for. Let’s use it for something.

Derrick: I’ve had this really beautiful opportunity to be a part of a small congregation in Jacksonville, San Marco Church and there are things that we do, that you would not imagine a church full of Millennials and Gen Z-ers would be like “Yes, let’s do it!” Like liturgies. And our pastor Ben wears the clergy collar every Sunday and communion every Sunday. Affirming our faith with a Creed or some kind of saying every Sunday. What I find is that, and this may actually be something within the way the next generation just thinks about what’s been given, but it’s sort of like walking into a closet, and you see, all of these old treasures, and I feel like what Gen Z and Millennials do is they say I wanna be a good steward of this. Like, I can’t live and die by it, because it’s not my generation necessarily. But how can we be a good steward of these gifts that we were given from our Christian United Methodist ancestors?

I think that the older generation our generation and older were so afraid of the next generation not taking these things seriously, but I think that what we didn’t give them is an excitement about all of these things. We did put them up in a closet somewhere so that they could gather dust.

We didn’t say how life giving it is to receive communion every Sunday. So we changed it to once a month, or once a quarter, right? I do think that maybe the next generation is going to come through, and they’re actually gonna see the heritage of United Methodism. And no, we’re not gonna just do it the way it’s always been done. But I think what we’re gonna find is that they’re gonna hold all of this, what they’ve inherited, and they’re gonna say we’re gonna figure out how to steward this really well, but continue to move forward.

And so there’s nothing more beautiful in watching a black Queer person lead us in the Apostles Creed.

Molly: Right? Yeah, Yeah, I have to say there’s something so… I am White Cis-gendered straight clergy person.

I sort of have, like, been comfortable, and flourished in the system that has been in power, and like the Communion Liturgy is meaningful to me.

But I have been brought to tears at hearing these words of deliverance and liberation spoken through the mouths and bodies of people who have been pushed to the margins and judged as not belonging. And then I’m like, was this here all along? These words about deliverance? Did they change this? Or this is what I’ve been saying, but I just didn’t know to believe it to be as true as it is? Like, I didn’t trust the wildness of this message. And my God, it’s incredible.

Derrick: Okay, quick anecdote. So the campus ministry that I’ve led for 11 years, Campus to City Wesley Foundation here in northeast Florida. We passed it on to Reverend Haley Eccles, who had been my associate, and now we’re co-executive directors, she’s the campus pastor for CCW.

We had the baptism for a second son, Judah, and she wanted to do the long version of the baptism. Hailey is younger than me: we gotta do the long version, like the whole thing. Molly, was beautiful. It was, it was beautiful. And it makes you wonder, Why do we? Why do we stop doing the long version? And I again. This is where I wonder, I wonder if, God bless the Elder who did it: there was no life in the way that they led us through that liturgy. There was no sense that this was worship, and that this was thanksgiving and praise. And this celebration of this life and of God’s prevenient grace on this life. That God didn’t wait for us to have the baptism liturgy to pour grace out on little Judah. And so just yeah. This is where I wonder, like maybe we, our generation and older, pushed it up to the closet, the attic, right?

And the next generation is like: this is beautiful and we gotta do the whole thing y’all. That’s just hope that I have for the next generation of leaders.

I hope I’m even touching some of the points that you’re wanting me to touch on.

Molly: No, that’s perfect. That’s beautiful. That’s all the questions I thought to ask you. I don’t know if you have anything you’d want to say that I haven’t asked?

Derrick: I’ll just say this. I really–I’m a 42 year old Black Gay, Lay Leader in Florida. I really believe in the work of the United Methodist Church, and what we can be in the world. I still do. I still believe in our open table. I still believe in our theological diversity and the witness that gives to the world that yes, we can gather around the table and not see Jesus and faith in the scriptures the same way, but we can gather at the same table, and be in ministry together.

Yes, and I do think that that’s a witness that the world is crying out for and crying out specifically to come from the Church. They don’t want it to come, I mean it’s cool when it comes from the UN.

It’s cool when it comes from these NGO’s who figure it out. But they want to see a people of faith do it, and I think that we are the part of the big family of Jesus. We’re at that part that is in the best position to do it. I’m hoping that we’ll do it.

I hope that we’ll go through this tough season that we’re in, of those who don’t want to do it, and we’ll come through on the other side. Still needing to Holy Conference, still needing to figure out how to do conflict management well. Still having Southeast–I mean I hope we don’t have Jurisdictions–but this South Eastern Jurisdiction kind-of like pride that we roll a little bit with–and looking at the Western Jurisdiction and you’re like, but we got our stuff together. And like, we know you don’t really have it all together.

Molly: We’re all messed up in our own way.

Derrick: Right like, and I still hope we have these, like, little family rivalries between us, right? And I still hope that there’s some young whippersnappers who want to come in and sing songs that I think are half baked. I hope we have all of this. All of these beautiful conversations that make us better and more reflective and thoughtful as we gather at the table together. I really do. I really believe in the United Methodist Church. So that’s what I’d like to say.

Molly: Amen. May it be so. I had a colleague who used to say, “What if we did?”

Derrick: Yeah.

Molly: So that’ll be my closing word. What if we did?! Let’s just do it. Thank you for taking time today. I really appreciate it. It’s a joy to talk to you, as always.

Derrick: Molly, thank you for your ministry, your leadership, your creativity, and all that you bring to the United Methodist Church. I hope your congregation knows. I know that you are a gift to them, but you are a gift to our denomination, and I am just so thankful that we are friends, and in connection together and I look forward to all of the scheming, and all of the exploits that you and I will continue to do for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of our Church and our witness.

Molly: Amen. I feel the same about you. You’re a gift. Be well.

Derrick: Thanks.

Molly: Thank you so much for joining us for this episode of Where Do We Go From Here, UMC? I hope there’s been something in this conversation that provokes you in some way, or that will inspire you to be a part of what’s happening in the Church as we try to be faithful to Christ and faithful to this time. I’m so grateful to Derrick Scott III for offering his insight and wisdom as a Lay Leader in the Florida Conference, and I am grateful to you for listening in and choosing ways that you can be involved from where you are, for the sake of the gospel.

I wish you God’s blessings and peace.

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Episode 10