by Jan Lawrence*
Washington, DC — Three former United Methodist pastors who have had their credentials removed related to issues around homosexuality appeared together yesterday at a special worship service at the Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C. Advertised as a service for hope and justice, Frank Schaefer, Jimmy Creech, and Beth Stroud all spoke, proclaiming their belief that GLBT persons should be fully welcomed into all aspects of The United Methodist Church.
Schaefer, who was defrocked this past November for presiding at the wedding ceremony of his gay son, was the featured preacher for the morning, drawing on Luke 8:22-25 and Matthew 14: 25-32 for his text.
“God is asking all of us to step out of the boat of comfort onto the waters …. even if it means we have to risk everything,” Schaefer said in his second address to the Foundry congregation this month.
His message was simple: God wants us to have faith,” and when we do he will help us face the storm. “When we get distracted and take our eye off of Jesus,” Schaefer said, “God will lift us out of the waters, just as he did Peter in the scripture above.”
Schaefer related how he had risked and lost it all when he said to the jury what he believed God had put on his heart, “I cannot refuse ministry to anyone based on their sexual orientation.” He called these extraordinary times. Schaefer said that God asks his followers to have faith in situations in life where we don’t believe it is possible. He reminded the congregation that God will never leave them and will sustain them. “God is always going to make sure that we are okay,” Schaefer said.
Schaefer spoke about his experience of being thrust into the public eye, meeting people he has never encountered before who thank him for the impact his witness has had on them. He said, “If you follow God’s call, it will have a tremendous impact on people everywhere.” He remarked that he has speaking engagements lined up into the near future and is busier preaching than he was before the trial.
Schaefer told the story of Heather, a lesbian who contacted him recently. She told him that her experience growing up in the United Methodist Church was to learn that Jesus had grace for everyone (murders, prostitutes, tax collectors),… “but, not for people like me.” He reminded the congregation that there was someone else who understood: “My God! My God! Why hast thou forsaken me?”. His message to Heather and the congregation is that Jesus knows what you are going through and feeling.
The January 26th service also included Jimmy Creech and Beth Stroud, former UM clergy, who previously had their credentials removed for violating the Book of Discipline. Creech was defrocked for celebrating a holy union for two male parishioners from his appointed church, and Stroud for being in a committed, covenant relationship with her female partner.
Creech quoted an author who had remarked that there were many individual heroes of the faith but only a few communities that carry that title, and that Foundry is one of them. Stroud thanked Foundry for its strong ministry and reminded the congregation that LGBT people are not the only oppressed people in the church, mentioning her fear was that the UMC might become a church where affluent LGBT people are welcomed while homeless LGBT youth of color will still perish.
After the service there was a panel discussion where each of the three guests offered remarks from their experiences and then took questions from the floor.
Bishop Gene Robinson, retired Bishop from the Episcopal Church, joined those gathered for a few minutes and remarked, “When there are saints in town, I tend to show up.” Creech called the consecration of Bishop Gene Robinson by the Episcopal Church historic and a stamp of blessing on all same-gender-loving couples …. for the whole church, not just the Episcopal church.
Dorothee Benz of Methodists chair of New Directions (MIND), spoke as a representative of the Rev. Tom Ogletree who is scheduled for a church trial on March 10 and 11 in Stamford, CT. Rev. Ogletree is also charged with violating the discipline by performing the marriage of his son and his partner.