On September 9, 2014, I hosted a conversation with clergy in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference in order to grow in our capacity to be in ministry to the LGBTQ persons and families in our churches and communities, and even our own families.
Much of the conversation of the day focused on our baptismal covenant with God remembering we are one in Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world.
In a state where same-gender marriage is legal, clergy in the NIC need some guidance about what is permissible in terms of providing ministry to same-gender couples who request to be married by them as pastor, friend or family member.
During a portion of the day, I discussed with clergy a list of do’s and don’ts in the spirit of providing leadership to the majority of clergy who don’t want to violate or defy the Discipline, but also want to be in ministry to all people in their churches and communities (which the Discipline also instructs).
While I have consulted with our counsel to the Council of Bishops, Mr. Bill Waddell, about this list, such specificity has not been given in the past and my interpretation of the Discipline could be overturned.
In the meantime, these are my guidelines in regards to same-gender marriages:
- Be honest about what you are willing to do or not do
-Seek to help the couple find options if you are unwilling to assist in any way
- United Methodist church buildings are not to be used for same-gender marriages
-Help find another venue – another church, home, etc.
-Hold the service outside the church!
- You can participate in these ways:
-Premarital counseling (see the Christian Century article for resources)
-Read scripture/pray/give the meditation
-Lift up a same-gender, newly married couple in worship/announcements as you would a heterosexual couple (in some congregations, it might be good to talk about this as a church council first)
- You cannot participate in these ways:
-Preside over the ceremony, specifically the vows/exchange of rings, declaration and pronouncement of marriage
-Sign the certificate of marriage
- Possible ways to assist in those things you cannot do:
-Have them give their vows to each other without assistance as you stand aside
-Have someone else assist in the vows/pronounce them married/sign the certificate
*Another clergy from another denomination
*A layperson who becomes licensed to do so
- The bishop/DS cannot give permission; you may inform your DS if you wish; do inform your DS if you believe someone is bringing a complaint against you
- Even if you abide by these guidelines, it does not preclude the possibility of a complaint; remember that everyone’s cell phone has a camera and Facebook quickly posts pictures that may appear that you are “celebrating” a same-gender marriage
-You will need to verify your participation in the service should a complaint be brought against you
I am aware that many clergy or laity will not be satisfied with these guidelines in terms of what they would like to be able to do in relation to ministry with LGBTQ persons and families, while there are others who will not elect to do any of the things on the list.
However, I am committed to upholding the Discipline and as a bishop of the church, this is my interpretation of it for the Northern Illinois Conference. I will process complaints made against any clergy based on this list of “do’s and don’ts.”
I feel this action is needed to give leadership to the faithful, gifted and fruitful clergy and the local church of the Northern Illinois Conference who want to be in ministry to all people.
~Bishop Sally Dyck