Aley UMC, North Texas Annual Conference, opens its doors to same-gender weddings

by Christy Thomas

When Rev. Eston Williams’ millennial daughters told him they did not want to be a part of an excluding church, he felt the time had come for him to make a public stand, one fully consistent with his theology and his understanding of the nature of God.

He knew the cost.

The Rev. Eston Williams

The Rev. Eston Williams, Aley UMC

Williams is the long-time pastor (Licensed Local Pastor) at Aley UMC, a rural church in a quiet area about an hour southeast of Dallas, Texas

Several weeks ago, Williams read a prepared statement to this small congregation. He stated the reasons for his long-time disagreements with the restrictive language on homosexual unions found in the United Methodist Church Book of Discipline.

Williams asked the congregation to take a stand with him. He asked them to open their church doors to for same-sex weddings.

And they did on Sunday, July 10, 2016, with 78% of them voting to pass a resolution that supports and encourages their pastor to hold same-gender weddings in the church sanctuary.

Williams is fully aware that, as a local pastor not carrying ordination credentials, no charges or trials are necessary for his removal as pastor. Just a proverbial “pink slip” and he’s out the door.

Williams was ordained as a Deacon in the 1970’s. He heard his call to the ministry in the Methodist Church when in the seventh grade and headed straight to Perkins School of Theology from his 1971 graduation from Hendrix College.

But a passion for the ministry of counseling emerged after several years as a Youth Pastor. Partly because he and his wife of five years divorced, he decided that he was not going work as a pastor after all and chose to relinquish his credentials.

Aley UMC NTACWilliams found that he never could fully leave behind his call, despite a successful career in other fields and extensive years in community service and leadership in this rural Texas area. In 1998, the Aley pulpit opened, a part-time position served by Perkins students for many years.

Williams lived near Aley UMC. The congregation, small but vital, happily received him, with most already being acquainted with him in other capacities.

Williams non-churched friends began attending, leading to substantial congregational growth and a full-time pastorate. Seventeen years later, Williams continues to serve there.

The demographics of the congregation reflect the larger area: hardly anyone under 60, mostly Republican, quite conservative. Many retire here, particularly because of affordable property with access to Cedar Creek Lake.

Williams, however, is an unabashed liberal. His mantra is simple, “It’s all about love.” That phrase has driven his life and his theology.

The members of the congregation are comfortable with this theology. They have welcomed two lesbian couples in the last few years without even a ripple.

Since the congregational vote, Williams waits.

His District Superintendent had advance knowledge knew of the proposal. Long-time journalist Sam Hodges attended worship for the June 10th vote. In the article Hodges wrote about this decision for the United Methodist News Service, he noted that he had received this statement from the Bishop’s office about the church’s decision: “The cabinet of the North Texas Conference will be in conversation with the leadership and the pastor of Aley United Methodist Church in the coming days.”

In our conversation, Williams and I both spoke of our sympathy for younger clergy who have also reached the same conclusion and who have watched in despair as the more African and conservative-dominated General Conferences have moved decisively away from hope of softening the exclusive language in the BOD.

Many of younger clergy live with crushing financial pressure because of  schooling debts. They have families with small children, little if any savings, do not own houses, and enjoy no financial flexibility. Loss of clergy credentials would be, among other things, financially devastating.

A considerable number grew up as Methodists.  During their formative years, their church could more properly be seen as a wide tent, as a place where many opinions counted, where differences could be held in healthy tension, where there was hope of change within the confines of established polity.

The 2016 General Conference dashed many of those hopes. So Williams decided the time had come. He would, in his own small way, a Licensed Local Pastor at an almost unknown rural church in the North Texas Conference, stand up and be counted.

Aley UMC is the second church in the North Texas Annual Conference to offer their facilities for same-sex weddings. The first was Northaven UMC, with their vote taken on June 26, 2016.

Williams expects quick removal from his position when he performs a same-gender wedding. He has also, in these last 18 years back as a pastor, fully reaffirmed that call that he heard as a young seventh-grade student. Should he be removed from the Aley pulpit, Williams intends to begin a progressive church in the community. He will continue to preach the phrase that has formed the core of his life, “It’s all about love.”

I also spoke with the Rev. Dr. William K Kirby. Kirby, a retired UMC ordained clergy, has located his retirement at Northaven UMC in Dallas, but lives in Malakoff, Texas, just five miles from Aley UMC.

In 1975, Kirby was the Methodist/Presbyterian chaplain at Princeton University. In a public lecture given at Princeton, Kirby stated, “Gay is Good” and that “sexual orientation was not chosen.”

The New Jersey Bishop read the Trenton Times news item about the lecture rather than the 25 page footnoted paper made available to the Bishop.

Kirby, an ordained Elder from the Texas Conference, said, “He called to say that I had to leave his diocese and that I needed to call my Texas Conference Bishop, who had been briefed, to determine my next steps.”

Kirby’s Texas Conference Bishop said, “We do not have a place down here for people like you.”

Kirby’s statement:

I and my family experienced the raw power of two Bishops responding to the mere discussion of homosexuality in the UMC from within an academic community. I later learned that the Council of Bishops had made a policy that each would silence anyone bringing up the issue of homosexuality. They wanted to ensure no mention of it before the 1976 General Conference.

The NJ Bishop ordered a group of my peers to examine me. They concluded that a Methodist minister should be free to say what he/she wanted to say from their pulpit. They seemed concerned for themselves that two Bishops would ‘fire’ a minister on the basis of reading a news article. After three weeks of intense political action, charges were dropped. The NJ Bishop said I could remain at Princeton.

After 41 years, I stand with the people of the Aley UMC and Northaven UMC who want to take a stand for the fully loving embrace of LGBTQ folks into our church. Finally, Now Is The Time.

I say yet again, ‘Gay is good and sexual orientation is not chosen.’

Since the vote at the tiny Aley Church, the Jurisdictional Conferences have been held. The Western Jurisdiction elected the first openly lesbian bishop, the Rev. Dr. Karen Oliveto. Shortly afterward, the Council of Bishops issued a statement about the election saying, “This election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.’ Almost immediately, the South Central Jurisdiction, where Aley UMC is located, requested a declaratory ruling from the Judicial Council on the legality of the election. Three days later, Bishop Scott Jones, in what may be his final act as Bishop of the Great Plains Conference before moving to the Texas Conference, set a date for a trial for the Rev. Cynthia Meyer. Meyer has openly declared that she lives in a committed lesbian partnership.

As for the Aley UMC: Until a same-sex wedding is actually performed in the church building, the church itself is not at risk of being pulled from the congregation as part of the trust clause. But when that time comes . . . they did know what would happen.


Full text of the resolution passed by the members of Aley UMC on July 10, 2016:

The people who are Aley United Methodist Church are convinced that this phrase “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teachings.” found in paragraph 304.3 in the Social Principles of the The Book of Discipline is itself incompatible with the will of God, as we understand it from our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.

We therefore firmly stand with those who propose that this clause and all its exclusive related requirements be eliminated from The Book of Discipline. Until that is accomplished by the General Conference, we ask our Bishop, District Superintendents and District and Conference Boards of Ministry to ignore the requirements of these rules. We ask that they refuse to charge and try any pastor who conducts a same gender wedding, and withhold penalty from any church that hosts a same gender wedding in its sanctuary. We ask further that the same people and groups ignore a person’s sexual identity when considering their qualifications to become ministers in our churches, considering only their God-given gifts and graces and call to ministry.

Further, we support and encourage our pastor to hold same gender weddings in the sanctuary of Aley United Methodist Church.

I’m a retired Elder in the United Methodist Church, the place I finally discovered grace after a lifelong search. I love writing, gardening, reading, asking questions and making connections between political and religious practices.

My husband and I jointly claim eleven children (as he says, “mostly by mergers and acquisitions!”) and twelve grandchildren. In between our own travels, we love to have them and many others come and stay with us a bit. We see so much of the heavenly grace in the offering of earthly hospitality.

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9 Comments on "Aley UMC, North Texas Annual Conference, opens its doors to same-gender weddings"

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
 
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Floyd L.
Guest

Since a very deep and long-lasting schism in the UMC has become an absolute certainty anyway, would now be an inappropriate time to discuss the **Total Excommunication** of all UMC churches and clergy that openly contradict / violate the Bible and the Book Of Discipline, in regards to gay marriage and gay ministers?

Eston
Guest

Please don’t rain throw us into the briar patch!

Dave
Guest

No, Floyd! It would not. Climb down out of your judgmental tree and feel the love!

Scott
Guest
It will be a sad day for me to leave the United Methodist Church, the hymn singing, the dinners, the fellowship — but leave I will if the UMC continues its slide away from biblical orthodoxy and embraces, instead, popular culture. What does it say about this minister that he takes the advice of his millennial daughters rather than the advice of the Bible? Having come from a rural congregation myself and knowing what good, solid salt-of-the-earth most congregants usually are, I am saddened to see this Texas congregation forego what were most assuredly their strong Biblical roots to tolerate… Read more »
James Ballard
Guest

There will no problem with the BOM for Rev. Williams. Bishop Mike McKee has been pushing for this in our conference for many years. Just another success for his influence.

Richard F Hicks
Guest

I hope this guy’s daughters can support him in his unemployment. Thank you, Richard F Hicks, OKC

Dave
Guest

Richard; such arrogance and snark! Jesus would be so proud of your attitude!!

Phil
Guest

Why not? Good for them! The GC and the BOD mean nothing. No one will be “disciplined” because we exist with no “discipline”. Thank God for Cheap Grace!

Sandy Wylie
Guest

Rev. Williams and the people of Aley UMC are on the right side of the gospel. They will undoubtedly be crushed and join the list of martyrs. The cause of martyrs often has a way of prevailing but only after it reaches a certain number of fatalities. I pray we will soon reach that number. Yes, it’s all about love. Love wins in the end. God bless these good people.

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