Same-sex wedding officiant still clergy candidate

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A United Methodist clergy candidate who got a quick online ordination to officiate at her friend’s same-sex wedding is still on track to become a deacon. Complaints against eight clergy who officiated at the same nuptials also have reached a resolution. 

Ginny Mikita used credentials from the Universal Life Church to officiate at the wedding of the Rev. Benjamin David and Monty Hutchison on July 17. Later in the summer, West Michigan Conference leaders said in a statement that by getting an ordination in another denomination, she had forfeited both her clergy candidacy and her United Methodist membership.

However, Mikita’s district committee on ministry never officially ended her ordination process. Her pastor says Mikita never stopped being United Methodist.

For her part, Mikita says she remains committed to working toward ordained ministry.

“My faith and call to ministry have, for reasons known only to the Spirit of the Universe, only deepened through all of this,” she told United Methodist News Service.

Mark Doyal, the Michigan Episcopal Area’s director of communications, confirmed that Mikita remains a candidate. He also confirmed the resolution of the complaints against eight of the nine clergy who officiated at the same nuptials.

Because both situations deal with personnel matters, Doyal said the area’s leadership could not comment further.

Where things now stand

At this point in the ordination process, church law gives a district committee the authority to discontinue a candidacy, said the Rev. Susan J. Hagans, chair of the Grand Rapids District Committee on Ministry.

After twice meeting with Mikita, the district committee opted to continue her candidacy at least through the end of 2016.

“The committee determined she had still the gifts and graces for ministry,” Hagans said.

Mikita, 51, is an attorney who works for the welfare of children and animals. She would continue in that work as a deacon. “Her ministry continues to be vital,” Hagans said.

Hagans, a retired pastor and district superintendent, added that the committee also determined that Mikita remains an active member of a local United Methodist church.

The Rev. Robert Eckert, pastor of Courtland-Oakland United Methodist Church in Rockford, Michigan, agrees that Mikita never discontinued her church membership.

“I don’t think the ULC is a denomination,” he said. “I was notified of what she was doing. She didn’t unite (with another denomination). There is nothing to unite with.”

Mikita’s congregation also voted last year to continue to support her clergy candidacy.

Mikita has completed the educational requirements to become a deacon, completing her theological studies at United Methodist Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary near Chicago.

Her next step in the ordination process is to seek provisional membership. Among other things, that step requires she receive the approval of three-fourths of her district committee on ministry. “I am still discerning when to take this next step,” she said.

How this happened

Mikita’s situation involves disagreements regarding church law, and not just those related to how the church ministers with gay and lesbian individuals.

The dispute of Mikita’s clergy candidacy came after the Rev. Hutchison, an African Methodist Episcopal elder who is gay, was removed as pastor of a United Methodist congregation.

The Book of Discipline since 1972 has proclaimed that all people are of sacred worth but that the practice of homosexuality is “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Church law prohibits “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy from serving United Methodist churches and bans pastors from officiating at same-sex unions.

Three clergy who live outside Michigan, after reading press reports that Mikita officiated at the wedding, wrote her district superintendent, the Rev. William Haggard, and Michigan Area Bishop Deborah Lieder Kiesey. In their letter, the three clergy — the Revs. Stephen Rankin of North Texas, Drew McIntyre and Evan W. Rohrs-Dodge — argued Mikita removed herself from church membership.

Neither McIntyre nor Rohrs-Dodge responded to United Methodist News Service inquiries. Rankin declined to comment publicly on Mikita’s situation.

The three clergy, and the West Michigan leaders in their subsequent statement, cited Paragraph 241 of the Book of Discipline. The paragraph states, “If a pastor is informed that a member has without notice united with a church of another denomination, the pastor shall make diligent inquiry and, if the report is confirmed, shall enter ‘Withdrawn’ after the person’s name on the membership roll and shall report the same to the next charge conference.”

Both Mikita and her pastor dispute that the paragraph applies to her actions. She notified both her pastor, Eckert, and Hagans, her district committee chair, of her plans.

Since Mikita is not United Methodist clergy at this point, Eckert said he does not think she broke the denomination’s rules. Instead, she was solemnizing a marriage according to laws of Michigan.

“How is it even The United Methodist Church’s business?” he said. “At the time, she had no obligations to The United Methodist Church in terms of what she could do at a wedding. The fact is that she looked at her heart and conscience and said here is something I can do for my friend. She didn’t break any rules in the Discipline as far as I’m concerned.”

Other clergy involved

Nine ordained United Methodist clergy in Michigan were also under complaint for helping to officiate at Hutchison’s wedding.

In October, eight of the clergy reached a resolution with their district superintendents who filed the complaints. That means they will not face a church trial and the possible loss of their clergy credentials. 

The clergy who reached the resolution include the Revs. James W. Barney, Marilyn B. Barney, James Thomas Boutell, Scott E. Manning, Douglas W. Vernon, John Matthew Weiler, Edrye A. Maurer and Amee Paparella. The district superintendents who agreed are the Revs. John W. Boley and Haggard. 

The ninth pastor, the Rev. Michael Tupper, announced that he would not agree to a just resolution and wants a church trial, which he hopes will bring attention to what he sees as discrimination.

Since Nov. 30, he has pitched a tent overnight at various United Methodist locations across the United States. He said he remains outside in a tent to encourage church leaders to move toward a church trial and show solidarity with LGBTQ individuals he sees as kept outside church ministry. The initials stand for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer or questioning.

Many in the West Michigan Conference are hoping the denomination will change its restrictions regarding same-gender unions and gay clergy.

Conference members at their annual meeting in June voted to support General Conference legislation that would remove the current prohibitive language.

The Connectional Table, which coordinates the denomination’s ministry and resources, is proposing the legislation, and the Rev. Kennetha Bigham-Tsai, a district superintendent in the West Michigan Conference, is one of the legislation’s drafters.

Still many other United Methodists do not want to see church law changed, and in fact would like to see penalties increased.

Only General Conference, the denomination’s top lawmaking assembly, has the authority to change church teachings and governance. General Conference will next convene May 10-20 in Portland, Oregon.

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

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