In some ways Taylor Gould’s commissioning as a provisional elder in the Oregon-Idaho Conference is a big deal; but in others it’s not.
Gould, 26, identifies as bisexual/queer, and was one of six individuals commissioned and ordained Friday night in Eugene, Oregon. She’s will be the first queer person in the Conference to be a candidate for ministry under the new, more punitive rules for LGBTQ+ persons adopted at General Conference that will take effect in 2020. But she’s not the first openly queer person to serve in the church in the Oregon-Idaho Conference.
“There’s such a deep privilege here,” said Gould.
In her episcopal address at the beginning of Annual Conference, Bishop Elaine Stanovsky acknowledged that this Conference has been ordaining gay clergy – open or not – for more than 20 years, starting with Rev. Jeannie Knepper.
The Oregon-Idaho Conference voted to become a reconciling one in 1996.
There have been “out” individuals in the Greater Northwest Area like lay leaders Amory Peck and Jan Nelson, there have been clergy like Rev. Mark Williams and Rev. Karen Dammann who “came out” in 2001.
“They told the truth about their lives because the Bible told them to, and the truth sets them free,” Stanovsky said.
The Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry issued a statement after General Conference 2019 saying it would not use a person’s gender identity or sexual orientation to determine their qualifications for ministry. The Board of Ordained Ministry also said it would provide safe harbor to those LGBTQ+ clergy working in other Conferences facing persecution and Stanovsky is setting up a fund to provide resources to help expedite that process when needed.
All that being said, Gould acknowledges that she’s walking a fine line.
“It feels like I’m holding my breath for hope while working really hard to make that hope tangible,” she said.
Rev. Eric Conklin, ordained a deacon Friday night, said the group of six candidates started meeting frequently via Zoom calls and in person after General Conference. They were all nervous, but felt buoyed by the statements issued by the Western Jurisdiction as well as the Board of Ordained Ministry.
“Right after General Conference I was nervous and questioning everything,” he said. “But I feel really supported by the length of tradition in this Conference.”
The group of clergy candidates penned a letter to the Conference, which Gould read, in part, before being commissioned on Friday. In that letter the clergy candidates said they were going through with ordination and commissioning and would answer the commissioning question about upholding the Book of Discipline, even though they disagree with its stance on LGBTQ+ inclusion in the church and said it goes against their baptismal vows to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever form it presents itself.”
“Though we do not have the experience that comes with years of leadership we do represent the future of this denomination, and in that humble capacity we are announcing our dissent from the Traditional Plan and its reinforcement by recent Judicial Council rulings,” the letter reads.
Conklin, 41, has been looking to Gould for her leadership on this issue since General Conference.
“I love the fact she is who she is,” he said. “I’m following her lead and it’s an honor.