Pennsylvania pastor to fight for clergy credentials

December 20, 2013

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

The Rev. Frank Schaefer says he is not ready to give up on The United Methodist Church and will immediately seek an appeal of a decision to take away his ministerial credentials.

The United Methodist Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference’s board of ordained ministry made the decision Dec. 19, to follow through with a church trial’s penalty to ask Schaefer to surrender his credentials if he cannot uphold the denomination’s lawbook “in its entirety.”

Even this morning as he was on his way to hear what the decision would be, Schaefer said, he was hopeful. “Brigitte (his wife) told me my hands were shaking when we got in the car this morning,” he said.

Schaefer and his legal counsel will announce the plans for an appeal in a news conference this afternoon. Schaefer said the trial court’s ruling asked him to surrender his credentials, which he refused to do.

“I really don’t think they have the power to take them because the trial court said it was up to me to give them up,” he said.

The next step will be for the appeal to go to the Northeastern Jurisdictional Committee on Appeals.

According to the General Council on Finance and Administration “the committee on appeals’ examination is limited to determining whether or not the weight of the evidence sustains the conviction and whether or not errors were committed that effectively vitiate the conviction. The decision made here is essentially final, aside from a narrow right to appeal to the Judicial Council on the basis of procedural errors.”

Schaefer’s fate was announced on the same day New Mexico became the 17th state to legalize same-sex marriage. With the changing laws have come more challenges to The United Methodist Church’s stance on homosexuality.

The Rev. Stephen Heiss, a pastor in the Upper New York Annual (regional) Conference, will likely face a church trial for officiating at the same-sex ceremony of his daughter in 2002 and more such unions since New York legalized same-sex marriage in 2011.

Two other United Methodist clergy have had formal complaints filed against them and could face trials in 2014.

The Rev. Thomas Ogletree, a retired seminary dean and elder in the New York Conference, is facing a formal complaint after officiating at the same-sex wedding of his son in 2012. Some clergy filed the complaint against Ogletree after his son’s wedding announcement appeared in The New York Times.

The Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy, also in the New York Conference, is facing a formal complaint that she is a “self-avowed practicing” lesbian, a chargeable offense under church law.

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