Washington, D.C. — On Dec. 19, Frank Schaefer of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference was defrocked. Three days later he was back preaching, this time at Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., encouraging the Reconciling Congregation to keep struggling for marriage equality and the right of United Methodist pastors to marry same-gender couples.
“It is discriminatory to treat our LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) brothers and sisters as second-class Christians,” he said. “We are at a tipping point. We need to do everything in our power as United Methodists to take our church back, to get rid of the homophobic language that was put in the Book of Discipline in 1972. We have been in homophobic captivity too long. It’s time for us to stand up and say ‘enough is enough.’”
Schaefer had his ministerial credentials taken away from him following a church trial in November after he was found guilty of violating church law by officiating at his son’s wedding to another man in 2007, explained Foundry UMC’s pastor, the Rev. Dean Snyder.
Snyder and a dozen members of Foundry supported Schaefer during the trial, which resulted in Schaefer being given a month to decide if he could agree to uphold the Discipline in its entirety or to surrender his credentials. On Dec. 19, he reported he would not surrender his credentials and the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry took them from him.
At various points during the trial and its aftermath, Schaefer said he felt sick to his stomach, torn between the tension of offering love and grace to his son, Tim, and obeying one of the laws of the church. “I was standing in that tension and I followed my heart. It was an act of love and my very own church, the one I was serving, said this was wrong.”
However, preaching at Foundry on the fourth Sunday in Advent about the story of Joseph not abandoning Mary in Matthew 1, Schaefer said he believes his decision to support his son’s request was a righteous one.
“When we act in love and grace, even when the tension mounts and we get personally hurt – that’s what God calls righteousness, he said. “Righteousness comes out on the side of love.”
However, Schaefer’s defrocking has caused a dramatic stir within the denomination among those who believe the Discipline contradicts itself by not allowing pastors to officiate at same gender weddings and that “biblical obedience” calls them to minister to all the people of their communities.
When asked if this issue might cause a split in the church, Schaefer replied, “We’re already split. The split is already there in the hearts of the people.”
However, he said, “I am a United Methodist and I am not giving up on this church.” He encouraged all those thinking about leaving to reconsider and those who have left the church to come back. “We need you. We need you in our fight,” he said. “We have veered away from the message of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who loves us all.
When a pastor is defrocked, Snyder explained, they lose their membership, which is held in the annual conference, and in The United Methodist Church. This also means losing one’s salary, housing, medical and other benefits. To enable Schaefer to remain a part of the denomination, he was formally accepted as a member of Foundry UMC. The members also took up a love offering to help the Schaefers with their living expenses.
The day after he was defrocked, Schaefer also received an offer from Bishop Minerva Carcaño of the California Pacific Conference who offered him a position as a licensed pastor in her conference. He and his family are earnestly considering the offer,
In the meantime, he’s also waiting to hear about his appeal, which he lodged with the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals. However, he is not expecting to hear from them until mid-2015.
Until then he hopes to continue to minister in the United Methodist tradition. “I am a United Methodist minister. It’s all that I know how to be,” he said. “I still consider myself ordained by the power of God.”
Before the impromptu invitation to Foundry following his defrocking, Schaefer was originally scheduled to preach at the church Jan. 26. He intends to return on that day to preach.
At the end of the service, Snyder called the clergy and other church leaders forward to lay hands on and pray for Schaefer. A prayer was offered by Matt Berryman, executive director of the Reconciling Ministries Network, and then Snyder offered the benediction. “Go in peace to love like Jesus,” he said. “That’s enough, love like Jesus.”
Click here to view the videos from Schaefer’s appearance at Foundry UMC