MEMPHIS, Tn.: The Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church will conduct an Oral Hearing in the case of the Rev. Frank Schaefer on October 22, 2014, at the Doubletree Hotel at 185 Union Avenue in downtown Memphis, Tenn. The hearing will begin at 11:00 a.m.
The Judicial Council is the highest judicial body or “court” of The United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council determines whether the actions of the denomination’s official bodies conform to church law, either on appeal of lower rulings or through requests for declaratory decisions. The nine-member council is elected by the General Conference, the denomination’s legislative body. Decisions of the Judicial Council are final.
The Rev. Christopher Fisher, who served as counsel for the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference in a church trial against Schaefer in November 2013, appealed the decision of the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals to overturn the trial court decision and reinstate Schaefer’s ministerial credentials at a hearing in June 2014.
Schaefer, former pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., was charged under United Methodist church law for having officiated at the same-sex marriage of his son in 2007. A trial court made up of 13 ordained United Methodist clergy from the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference found Rev. Schaefer guilty of the charge of conducting a ceremony that celebrates homosexual unions and a majority also found Rev. Schaefer guilty of disobedience to the order and the Discipline of The United Methodist Church. The trial court ordered a 30-day suspension for Rev. Schaefer and provided that he surrender his credentials at the end of that period if he determined that he could not uphold the Discipline in its entirety.
On December 19, 2013, Rev. Schaefer met with the Eastern Pennsylvania Board of Ordained Ministry, at which time he was stripped of his ministerial credentials. Schaefer appealed that decision to the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals, which found the penalty fashioned by the trial court to be unlawful.
The Judicial Council ‘s Oral Hearing will be open to the public; however, the committee’s deliberations following the hearing will be closed. Individual Judicial Council members will not be available for interviews and will not issue statements. A decision is not expected to be announced until several days after the full meeting concludes on October 25.
Media guidelines for the hearing are as follows:
1. Media seating will be provided to credentialed news media (subject to available space). Credentials for news media personnel will be issued onsite on the day of the hearing beginning at 9:30 a.m. To be accredited, individuals must represent a recognized news organization such as a newspaper, wire service, television or radio station, magazine or ongoing newsletter, or must serve as a communicator for a United Methodist agency, annual conference, or other church entity.
2. Because of the short duration of the hearing, there will not be a press room with facilities for reporters. News media should provide contact information in order to receive follow-up communication about a final decision. This information will also be posted at UMCpresscenter.org.
3. No live broadcasts of the proceedings, either video or audio, are permitted. Accredited still and video press photographers may shoot during the hearing as long as the line of sight for members of the Judicial Council or the persons who will be addressing the Judicial Council at a lectern is not interrupted. Otherwise, the taking of photos or video is prohibited during the hearing itself.
4. Observers/media may not post to social media or text during the hearing. Laptops, cell phones and pagers must be turned off during the proceedings. Violators of this policy will be instructed to leave.