The New England Conference, which had already planned to begin with remembering the Orlando shooting victims, became a passionate conversation about the pain felt by many about the violence and the church’s stance on LGBTQ people.
The Rev. Lindsay Flick, pastor of Riverside United Methodist Church in Parsonsfield, was the first to speak before Bishop Sudarshana Devadhar and Rene Wilbur, lay leader, could address the body.
She spoke of coming out as gay at 13 and how a United Methodist told her she was going to hell.
"So I stand before you all today, asking for truth,” she said. “I am asking that we all quit pretending as though we are providing a healing witness. I ask that we stop pretending like our hands are clean in the spreading of hate, and in the oppression of LGBTQ people. I ask that we stop the whitewashing of all of our stories.
She then announced an act of repentance where burlap stoles and ashes were donned.
“Many people spoke, many came out, many disavowed the Discipline and the General Conference,” wrote the Rev. Will Green on his Facebook page about a two-hour, unplanned discussion.
Pictures of the 49 Orlando victims were projected on a screen and their names were read during the planned memorial service. The discussion about sexuality continued after the 1 p.m. break.
In a decision announced June 15, the conference board of ordained ministry said they will evaluate clergy candidates “based solely upon an understanding of their gifts for ministry and their readiness to serve Jesus Christ.”
Meanwhile, the South Georgia Conference passed a motion asking their resident bishop not receive any clergy who have publicly stated their intent to disregard the current language of the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality.
New England follows the Baltimore-Washington, California-Nevada, New York, Northern Illinois and Pacific Northwest boards of ordained ministry in the decision not to consider sexual orientation or gender identity when recommending people to ordained ministry.
New England board of ordained ministry co-chairs, Yoo-Yun Cho-Chang and Peter Hey, made the announcement “our policy is to be guided by the Holy Spirit as we seek to judge the readiness of those called to lay ministry, the ministry of local pastors, associate membership or ordained ministry.”
“We decided to it now because our annual conference has for many years operated under the guidance that the annual conference set for us with Resolution 217 [passed in 2014],” said Hey. “We felt it was important to say with great clarity that that is our process and has, in fact, been our process. We do intend to join our voices with colleagues in other conferences making similar statements.”
Annual conference sessions are held across the United States during April through June, and most will discuss the issue of human sexuality. The 2016 United Methodist General Conference did not vote on any of the more than 100 petitions to change the church’s stance on homosexuality. The denomination’s top lawmaking body directed the Council of Bishops to appoint a special commission to discuss all the paragraphs in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. The bishops also will determine if a special session of General Conference will be held in the next two years to consider sexuality legislation.
The current Book of Discipline does not allow “self-avowed practicing” gay people to be ordained, and South Georgia on June 10 approved a motion asking that the conference not accept clergy from any of the five conferences that have publicly stated their intent to disregard the current language of the Discipline.
“In the written examination of those seeking clergy status, the South Georgia Board of Ordained Ministry asks, ‘Are you a self-avowed, practicing homosexual?’ We strictly follow the Discipline,” said the Rev. Jay Harris, assistant to the bishop for ministerial services and conference secretary.
The Rev. Robert Beckum, pastor of St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus, South Georgia, proposed the resolution to the conference to “close a loophole” allowing bishops to transfer United Methodist clergy from one annual conference to another.
“It is most unfortunate that we have bishops, annual conferences, and conference boards of ordained ministry choosing to flagrantly disregard our Disciplinary Covenant while expressing concern for our historic connection and the unity of The United Methodist Church,” Beckum said.
The full text of the motion was: “We, the South Georgia Conference, call on the Resident Bishop of the South Georgia Episcopal area, when prayerfully exercising the power of consultation, to not receive for appointment or transfer, according to BOD 346.1 and 347.1, clergy that have publicly stated their intent to disregard the current language of the ‘Book of Discipline.’”
General Conference 2016 amended ¶347.1, which had earlier required a consultation with the chair or executive committee of the board of ordained ministry before appointment or transfer from another conference was approved. The new language requires approval of the board and the clergy session.
The amended text, which will be published in the “2016 Book of Discipline,” reads: “From Other Annual Conferences — Ordained clergy or provisional members from other annual conferences of The United Methodist Church may be received by transfer into provisional or full membership with the consent of the bishops involved. Recommendation by the executive committee of the Board of Ministry and approval of the clergy session shall take place prior to the transfer.”
Gilbert is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service. Beth DiCocco is director of communications for the New England Conference. Kara Witherow, editor of the South Georgia Advocate, contributed to this story. Contact Gilbert at (615) 742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org.