Pastor under complaint enters hospice care

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The Rev. William McElvaney, a retired United Methodist pastor and seminary president who faces a complaint under church law for doing a same-sex wedding, is undergoing hospice care.

McElvaney, 86, was diagnosed in 2011 with liver cancer, and received a radiation treatment three days before he presided at the wedding of Jack Evans and George Harris in Dallas, on March 1.

McElvaney recently wrote members of Dallas’ Northaven United Methodist Church, where he is pastor emeritus, that his latest scan showed more tumors in his liver and showed the spread of cancer to his right lung.

He said he had chosen, with the support of his wife, Fran, to begin palliative care under hospice rather than try experimental drugs that his oncologist said were unlikely to help and could have harsh side effects.

“I believe I am in God’s hands as experienced throughout 86 years of amazing grace surrounding my life in countless ways, not the least through Fran’s superb loving care,” McElvaney wrote the congregation.

In a brief phone interview Aug. 8, McElvaney said he was feeling reasonably well and hoped to live some more months. He was looking forward to visits from close family members who live elsewhere.

As for the complaint, McElvaney said he has met twice with Bishop Michael McKee of the North Texas Annual (regional) Conference. McElvaney described the meetings as cordial and constructive, but said he could share nothing more about a process that in its early stages is usually confidential.

`Gift, challenge, invitation’

McElvaney grew up in Dallas, earning degrees from Southern Methodist University and its Perkins School of Theology. In a long ministry career, he led Northaven and other United Methodist Churches in North Texas, and also was a president of Saint Paul School of Theology and a professor at Perkins.

He’s the author of the book “Becoming a Justice Seeking Congregation,” and has been active in peace and justice causes. He helped lead United Methodist opposition to having a public policy institute at the George W. Bush Presidential Center at SMU.

McElvaney also has long been on record opposing The United Methodist Church’s official position that the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.

On Jan. 19,  McElvaney announced during a Northaven worship service that he was willing to defy church law and risk punishment under the Book of Discipline by officiating at a same-sex union.

Harris and Evans, partners for more than 50 years and longtime Northaven members, asked that he perform a ceremony for them.

McElvaney did so on March 1 at Midway Hills Christian Church in Dallas, before a crowd of about 200, including some United Methodist clergy colleagues. The event was symbolic, since Texas does not recognize same-sex marriage.

In his remarks, McElvaney called the wedding “a gift, a challenge and an invitation to The United Methodist Church to become a fully inclusive church.”

Fatigued from radiation treatment, he sat during much of the service.

Within days, McElvaney reported to Northaven members that a complaint had been filed against him, as confirmed in a letter from McKee.

McKee issued a statement to North Texas United Methodists on March 24, saying  that McElvaney was undergoing a “supervisory response” as part of the complaint process spelled out church law.

“It is my prayer that our members, both clergy and laity, affirm the goals of this process with their prayers and respect for the confidential nature of this process which seeks reconciliation as its ultimate goal,” McKee said then.

The bishop did not immediately respond to requests for comment on whether McElvaney’s entering hospice care would affect the complaint process.

Hodges, a United Methodist News Service writer, lives in Dallas. Contact him at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]

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