Historic Chicago church OKs same-gender unions

First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, a historic downtown congregation, has affirmed a marriage-equality proposal that gives pastors a choice in whether to perform same-gender marriages. The congregation also pledged to support financially any pastor who does so if charges are filed under church law.

Same-gender marriages are now legal in the state of Illinois; however, United Methodist clergy are forbidden to officiate at such unions under the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book. Church law also prohibits churches from hosting such services.

Since 1972, The United Methodist Church has declared all people of sacred worth but also asserted the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

“I view this careful decision on the part of the Temple to be a plaintive cry to the denomination that in the heart of the city of Chicago and in a state where same-gender marriage is legal, they believe they need to be in ministry to all people, including LGBTQ persons and families,” said United Methodist Bishop Sally Dyck, who leads the Northern Illinois Annual (regional) Conference, in response to the church’s statement. LGBTQ stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer.

The congregational vote in support of the decision was 173 in favor, 26 against and 4 abstentions for members. An additional advisory vote for non-members was 70 in favor and 14 no votes.

“This translates into about 85 percent of those who voted support marriage equality at Chicago Temple,” a statement from the church on the website. The church plans to create a nonprofit for those who wish to contribute to help defray legal and other expenses.

“We know this has been a struggle for some members of the congregation. However, the majority of those voting see this as a further affirmation of the Statement of Welcome and Inclusion adopted in 1996 that welcomes all people into the life of the congregation as brothers and sisters in every aspect of our Christian life together.”

Chicago Temple, founded by Methodist circuit riders in 1831, is the oldest church in Chicago. Today, the building also holds the offices of the Northern Illinois Conference as well as the United Methodist Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

June 1 marked the day all counties in Illinois had to start issuing same-sex marriage licenses after the state legislature approved the change and the governor signed it into law in 2013.

Dyck, who supported Illinois’ legalization of same-sex civil marriage, held a meeting with clergy in the conference recently and issued a statement from that meeting on the conference website.

“In a state where same-gender marriage is legal, clergy in the NIC need some guidance about what is permissible in terms of providing ministry to same-gender couples who request to be married by them as pastor, friend or family member,” she wrote.

Dyck listed some guidelines for pastors, which include “be honest about what you are willing to do or not do.”

She points out United Methodist church buildings are not to be used for same-gender marriages but suggested “find another venue … hold the service outside the church!” She discusses other guidelines as well.

“I am aware that many clergy or laity will not be satisfied with these guidelines in terms of what they would like to be able to do in relation to ministry with LGBTQ persons and families, while there are others who will not elect to do any of the things on the list.

“However, I am committed to upholding the Discipline and as a bishop of the church, this is my interpretation of it for the Northern Illinois Conference. I will process complaints made against any clergy based on this list of ‘do’s and don’ts."

Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5470 or [email protected].

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