The Rev. Frank Schaefer is officially a United Methodist clergyperson again
Less than six months after Schaefer’s conference Board of Ordained Ministry took away his clergy credentials, an appeals committee of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church has reinstated him to clergy in good standing. Their decision now possibly heads to the Judicial Council, the denomination’s highest law deciding body.
In a statement, Schaefer said, “I can’t even begin to describe how meaningful this ‘refrocking’ is to me. I never did understand the severity of my punishment for an act of love for my son Tim. The committee of appeals understood that my defrocking sought to penalize me not for what I did but for what I might do in the future. But more importantly, today’s decision by the committee is a hopeful sign for our LGBTQ community. They recognized that I was wrongfully punished for standing with those who are discriminated against.”
Many in The UMC have walked beside Schaefer since he first received the complaint. Among those was Reconciling Ministries Network’s Executive Director Matt Berryman. “Frank’s act of Biblical Obedience in officiating his son’s wedding exemplifies for the people called Methodist a more loving way to keep covenant with our vows to be in ministry with all people, avoid discrimination in every semblance, and fight injustice and oppression in all their sinful forms,” said Berryman. “Today, by restoring Frank’s credentials, The UMC affirmed Biblical Obedience as a means of grace.”
The church’s defrocking of Schaefer and other events such as the complaints against Bishop Talbert, and the discrimination faced by ordination candidate Mary Ann Barclay, galvanized many laity and clergy who had previously been silent to speak and act out against LGBTQ oppression in The UMC. As a result a small group of 80 “traditionalist” pastors attempted to use the fear of their leaving the connection as a way to force accountability against those practicing Biblical Obedience. Many have been calling the church toward unity in face of possible schism.
“LGBTQ persons want unity in The UMC,” said Berryman, “unity that celebrates their love and affirms their call, alongside their heterosexual brothers and sisters. Unity is not an end to itself, but a byproduct of who we are when we share the fullness of our lives together.”
Reconciling Ministries Network has been working for full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the life of The UMC for 35 years using grassroots organizing based on relationship building and storytelling. The majority of RMN resources go toward helping local churches and small groups wrestle with what it means to be an inclusive and affirming church open to all people. Helen Ryde is an RMN regional organizer for the northeastern region.
“I work alongside churches, communities and individual Reconciling United Methodists in the northeast who are listening to oppressed voices and creating spaces where LGBTQ people are fully embraced—their love celebrated and their ministry affirmed,” said Ryde. “I look forward to a UMC that allows pastors like Frank to minister in complete freedom and without fear to all their people.”
In a statement, Rev. Scott Campbell, counsel for Schaefer said, “Every once in a while God raises someone up to live out a prophetic word in the midst of the church. Biblically speaking, the one chosen is almost always a surprise to the rest of us. This time God has taken a country preacher from a modest church in Pennsylvania and is doing something that is leaving veterans of the movement to change the United Methodist Church shaking our heads in amazement. Frank Schaefer’s faithful, hope-filled, loving journey continues to inspire the rest of us, breathing new life into every corner of the church–even corners that contain trial courts and appeals committees. I know that I speak for countless others when I say that we are grateful and overjoyed at this outcome.”
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