During the California-Nevada Annual Conference, 13 people were ordained, commissioned or licensed as United Methodist clergy — including six who are openly LGBTQ.
“Those commissioned and ordained have been tested by our disciplinary processes, prayerfully considered by our clergy session, and found to be called by God, gifted and blessed by grace for set-apart ministry. I give God thanks for their humble and faithful ministry in the church and in the world,” said Bishop Minerva Carcaño, episcopal leader of the conference.
The Revs. Jacey and Emily Pickens-Jones, both new provisional elders, are married and will be co-pastors at Sonoma United Methodist Church starting July 1.
The couple, who met at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, traveled down two different paths on their way to answering God’s call into ministry.
Emily, 30, is a “cradle Methodist,” the daughter of clergy parents, baptized at the California-Pacific Conference and deeply involved in The United Methodist Church since she was 5 years old.
“My story as a queer woman is rare and privileged in the United Methodist world,” she said. “I had countless female role models within The United Methodist Church that showed me what it meant to be an independent and strong woman, some of whom happened to be those who also identified as lesbian, bisexual and/or queer.”
Jacey, 26, started the ordination process in the Susquehanna Conference in central Pennsylvania and transferred to the California-Nevada Conference where she knew her sexual orientation would not matter.
It was an emotional decision, she said.
“I loved being a member of The United Methodist Church in central PA and had served as an intern in two churches. One of these churches was the congregation that my grandparents attended, where my parents met and got married, and the congregation that baptized me. I had to step away from that congregation knowing that many would not support my call to ministry once I had come out,” she said.
The Rev. Caiti Utahana Hamilton, 31, was ordained as an elder. The gay woman didn’t attend a United Methodist church until she was a teenager.
“My faith was always important to me, but it was the Wesleyan theology of grace that has made me a United Methodist because I saw a theology that was accessible to all.”
The Western Jurisdiction, which includes the California-Nevada Conference, has pledged to remain an inclusive church, welcoming all people. Hamilton is proud of that stance but feels pain that other parts of the church do not allow LGBTQ people to be ordained.
The Book of Discipline, the United Methodist policy book, says that the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching,” and bars “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” from ordination in the church. Despite passage of legislation during General Conference 2019 that confirmed this stance and toughened penalties, resistance has been strong. In addition to the six in California-Nevada, LGBTQ people have been commissioned or ordained in the Baltimore-Washington, Michigan, North Texas, Northern Illinois, Oregon-Idaho and Desert Southwest conferences in the past month.
“No legislation will stop God from creating and loving LGBTQ+ beloveds. It is a tragedy that our young people have to hear these voices of destruction that wrongfully tell them they aren't enough in the eyes of God,” Hamilton said.
The Rev. Ken Schoon, 30, ordained as a deacon, grew up in a family of laity that served The United Methodist Church through music.
“From an early age, music defined church involvement for me, too. I sang in the youth choirs at my parents’ church. I played cello in the orchestra at my grandmother’s church. But though I loved music and worship, I wasn’t sure about my faith. And I wasn’t sure I was fully welcome in the church, either,” he said.
Schoon, a gay man, attended Methodist Theological School in Ohio and began the ordination process in the West Ohio Conference.
“Towards the end of seminary, however, I realized that I could not be in authentic relationship with others without being able to share more about my life.”
He transferred to California-Nevada because of its “inclusive ordination policy.”
Schoon said he has been hurt by the actions of past General Conferences but believes that the Holy Spirit is leading the church to a new way of being in connection.
“For a long time, I never thought my ordination would be possible. I receive my ordination as a gift of God’s grace and an affirmation of my ministry. I remain in this church to help lead us toward new and better ways of connection.”
The Rev. Tara Limbaugh, 36, is a licensed local pastor. She grew up Southern Baptist in South Carolina and when she felt the call to ministry at age 16, she thought it was a mistake.
“I believed I couldn’t serve my church in the capacity to which I felt called as a woman,” she said. “When I later realized that I was romantically attracted to women, I felt I couldn’t even remain in the Christian faith.”
It was while she was in seminary at Pacific School of Religion that she studied Wesleyan theology and found a home in The United Methodist Church.
“After a lot of prayer and discernment, I know I am a Methodist just as I know I’m gay. God’s prevenient grace overcomes all the forces that try to make me choose one or the other,” she said.
The Rev. Rob Herrmann, a 53-year-old gay man, is also a licensed local pastor.
He feels the turbulence and unrest that The United Methodist Church is experiencing now is going to be transformational.
“I’ve been asked about my thoughts on entering the ordination process during these troubling times with the passing of the Traditionalist Plan. My response is that turbulence and unrest are ways that we frequently see in the Bible and in life that the Holy Spirit, who I think of as the agitator of the Trinity, brings about transformation,” he said.
There is hope in annual conferences ordaining out LGBTQ people as elders and deacons, he said.
“That’s what we’re all about — transformation.”