In opposition to the United Methodist Church’s non-recognition of same-sex marriages, congregants at the First United Methodist Church of Germantown recently hosted a guest sermon by defrocked Eastern Pennsylvania reverend, Frank Schaefer.
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Schaefer, a former reverend at the Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., described to the congregation the story of his trial within the United Methodist Church last fall, after a complaint was filed dating back to his presiding over the same-sex marriage of his son in 2007. After the service, a question and answer session was held in the church’s meeting hall.
FUMCOG’s minister, the Rev. Lorelei Toombs said afterward she was unsure how the issue of same-sex marriage would be handled at the 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, though she said she has become increasingly hopeful that change will be passed. Schaefer, who said he was raised in a conservative family, told those gathered that his own path toward his beliefs involved transition.
“Part of the problem is a different understanding of the bible,” Schaefer said. “[Jesus] talked in metaphors. That should be an indication for us.”
In 1990, FUMCOG joined the Reconciling Ministries Network, an organization of United Methodist churches that calls for “full inclusion of all God’s children regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” according to the organization’s website. The organization reported 528 member ministries in its most recent report, released in 2012, a 120 percent increase in that year.
In 2004, an associate pastor at FUMCOG, Beth Stroud, came out to her fellow workers at the church as a lesbian, Toombs said. Like Schaefer, Stroud was defrocked in a trial within the Methodist Church, however she was allowed to return to FUMCOG in staff position for several years before going her separate ways, Toombs said.
“At least half, if not two thirds, of our membership either self-identify as part of the LGBT community or definitely as persons who have found themselves deeply in touch with [the movement] through a child, through a neighbor, through a niece, just have some level of a personal connection,” Toombs said.
Toombs said in her two and half years as pastor at the church, she has never been asked to perform a same-sex marriage.
“Those conversations are beginning and starting,” Toombs said. “I have started playing with those ideas, I can’t say I have come to anything conclusive.”
With the potential for backlash from the church hierarchy or from members of other congregations, Toombs said she would wait to see if there would be a negative reaction for hosting the controversial Schaefer.
In April, Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church will come to the church to deliver a guest sermon and participate in a similar question and answer session with congregants.