Pastor avoids church trial in same-sex wedding

A pastor in Charlotte, North Carolina, will avoid a church trial and keep her job after she co-officiated with retired Bishop Melvin Talbert at the April same-gender wedding of two church members.

The Western North Carolina Conference announced that the complaint against the Rev. Val Rosenquist had reached a just resolution on Aug. 30. The resolution came shortly before the conference’s Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster began his long-planned retirement Sept. 1.

Rosenquist, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Charlotte, and Talbert co-officiated the April 23 wedding of Jim Wilborne and John Romano — both members of the congregation. The wedding took place despite church law that bans United Methodist clergy from performing and churches from hosting ceremonies that celebrate same-gender unions.

Talbert told United Methodist News Service that as far as he knows, he does not face any complaint for the wedding. However, the Council of Bishops suggested in May that Talbert might have breached an earlier just resolution reached after he officiated at a same-gender union in 2013.

A church-trial conviction can result in clergy losing their credentials or lesser penalties. However, the Book of Discipline, the denomination’s law book, also calls church trials “an expedient of last resort” and keeps the door open for “a just resolution” through much of the complaint process.

The parties involved in Rosenquist’s case have decided to keep the details of the resolution confidential pending any action prompted by the new Commission on a Way Forward. Bishops are establishing the commission with the task of trying to bridge the denomination’s deep divisions over homosexuality and preserve church unity.

Rosenquist and the conference confirmed that she still remains under appointment at First United Methodist Church, and unlike in some other same-sex wedding cases, she is not under suspension.

Talbert said the question of whether he violated the terms of his just resolution is now before a team in the Western Jurisdiction. Talbert retired from that jurisdiction. In the 2015 just resolution, Talbert agreed he was willing “to live according to the Book of Discipline.”

Talbert — who has long advocated eliminating church restrictions related to lesbian and gay individuals — has said the Discipline also talks of living in Christian conscience and that is what he is trying to do.

So far, he said, the team has taken no action.

Bishop Elaine Stanovsky is the convener of the team. On Sept. 1, she just began a new assignment as bishop of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest conferences, and did not immediately return requests for comment.

For now, Rosenquist, Talbert and other church leaders say they are praying for the commission that the bishops are still forming. Any changes to the Discipline that the commission recommends will need approval from General Conference. Bishops are considering calling a special session of the denomination’s top lawmaking body in 2018.

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


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