By Jim Patterson and Erik Alsgaard June 3, 2019 | UM News
Three LGBTQ clergy were ordained or commissioned as United Methodist deacons by the Northern Illinois Conference, and the Baltimore-Washington Conference ordained an LGBTQ elder and commissioned a gay provisional deacon.
The ordination and commissioning services were held during the June 2-4 Northern Illinois Conference in Schaumburg, Illinois, and the May 29-June 1 Baltimore-Washington Conference in Baltimore.
The conferences went forward with candidates approved by their clergy sessions, despite the results of the 2019 General Conference in St. Louis in February. General Conference delegates voted 438-384 for the Traditional Plan, which affirmed the church’s current bans on “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy and strengthened penalties to enforce the prohibition.
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The clergy session, acting on behalf of the conference, approves or “elects” candidates to be ordained and commissioned ministry.
The Traditional Plan policies become part of the United Methodist Book of Discipline and go into effect in the U.S. in January 2020, and May 2021 in Africa, Asia and Europe.
“We celebrate the ordination and commissioning of each and every one of the candidates for deacon and elder who are distinctly called to the ministry in the Northern Illinois Conference,” said Bishop Sally Dyck, resident bishop of the Chicago Area, which includes the Northern Illinois Conference.
Dyck said it was an honor to give her blessing “to these servants of Jesus Christ and send them out as they go forth on their faith journey.”
“My prayer is that the church will grow in grace so as to fully give its blessing to every child of God who is called to ministry,” she said.
The Rev. M Barclay is the first openly “non-binary trans person” to be ordained a United Methodist deacon, according to Reconciling Ministries Network, a group advocating for full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the life of The United Methodist Church.
Non-binary means Barclay identifies as neither male nor female. Barclay — who uses singular they pronouns — is the co-founder and executive director of enfleshed (enfleshed.com), which creates and facilitates progressive spiritual resources. Barclay was commissioned as a provisional deacon in 2017.
In a video posted to Facebook, Barclay expressed the difficulty of celebrating ordination, given current circumstances in the church.
“Not because my call to be a deacon feels any less palpable,” Barclay said. “Or is any less serious to me. Or because the labor — mine and my companions’ and colleagues’ — doesn’t feel worth celebrating.”
The passage of the Traditional Plan shows that nothing much has changed as far as the United Methodist stance on gays in the church, Barclay said.
“This worries me, grieves me and gives me pause in my own celebration and the celebration for other queer and trans kin being commissioned or ordained as we face what’s to come when the new policies go into effect in January 2020.”
The Revs. Elizabeth Evans and Grant Swanson were commissioned as provisional deacons, the first step toward being ordained as deacons. Both identify as queer.
Swanson said becoming part of the church “amidst its dissension and turmoil regarding the belovedness and ministerial calling of queer people, was itself a calling for me.
“My Spirit-imbued gifts as a bridge builder toward compassion and justice led me to this beautiful and messy denomination BECAUSE of the inconclusive nature of the United Methodist Church's conversation. There was an ecclesial place for me here, alongside folks who I agreed with and disagreed with, as we figured out God's calling in our lives and communities together,” Swanson said.
Evans said that she is celebrating her commissioning because she worked hard to get there and believes it is where God is calling her.
But she acknowledge the tension of knowing she has been commissioned into a church that has “continued to perpetuate” institutional evils. She added that she doesn’t believe the church can transform the world while upholding the same structures that led to the passing of the Traditional plan. “I am hopeful that the Holy Spirit is at work in birthing something new.” Evans said. “I don’t know what that will look like, but I am committed to being a part of it, even if it means doing ministry as a deacon in the scary and liminal space of the unknown.”
At the Baltimore-Washington Conference on May 31, Bishop LaTrelle Easterling commissioned Tara Cressler “TC” Morrow as a provisional deacon and ordained the Rev. Joey Heath-Mason as a full elder. Both Morrow and Heath-Mason are married to people of the same gender.
And in the Oregon-Idaho Conference, six candidates for commissioning or ordination at the June 13-15 annual conference posted a letter about their reaction to the passage of the Traditional Plan.
“We want the Oregon-Idaho Conference to know that it is not just their most senior leadership who cannot in conscience support these policies,” they said in the letter. “It is also their least senior leaders who denounce structures that target, exclude and stigmatize LGBTQIA+ people.”
The authors of the letter, the Revs. Anna Cho, Eric Conklin, Jorge Rodriguez, Nicole Berry, Scott Ostlund and Taylor Gould, pledged to commit “acts of solidarity alongside LGBQIA+ colleagues,” form alternative communities of emotional and spiritual support and challenge “don’t ask, don’t tell” policies that result in the tokenization of queer people.
Also ordained at the Northern Illinois Conference were the Revs. Patricia Bonilla (deacon), and Tiffany Lyn Garcea, Hyewon Sophia Hyon, Leanne J. Keate, Krista Paradiso, Mark Jeffrey Schol and Ran Yoo (elders). Also commissioned were the Revs. Christine Horeis Hides, Annie A. Lockhart-Gilroy (deacons), and Violet Johnicker and Sun-Ah Kang (elders).
Schol, son of Greater New Jersey Bishop John Schol, lives in New Jersey with his wife, Meredith, and their two daughters. He serves a church in Jersey City and Meredith works for Drew University. Bishop Schol assisted in the ordination service.
Patterson is a UM News reporter in Nashville, Tennessee. Contact him at 615-742-5470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Alsgaard is managing editor in the Ministry of Communications for the Baltimore-Washington Conference. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.