Blessing Withdrawn

A defrocked minister meditates on what it means to serve his church as a lay member

Last November, a jury of United Methodist clergy in Nebraska convicted me of "disobedience to the order and discipline of the United Methodist Church" and voted to withdraw my credentials of ordination.

My crime? Co-officiating a ceremony that celebrated the holy union of Larry Ellis and Jim Raymer on April 24, 1999--a crime in the United Methodist Church equated with heresy, racial and sexual harassment, sexual misconduct and sexual abuse.

For 29 years, more than half of my life, being a "Reverend," a pastor, was a big part of my public and personal identity. It was more than a role I played, more than a hat I wore. It was who I was, nearly my whole wardrobe. Now, stripped of the title Reverend, "defrocked" as the journalists say, I am getting to know myself in a new way: as a lay member of the church.

I always understood ordination to be an act of the church, distinct from the call of God to ministry. My call to ministry came as part of my experience growing from childhood into young adulthood in the Methodist church in which I was baptized and confirmed.

The Jesus story was compelling. It described for me how life was to be lived. This was my call to ministry. It was not unique, but the same call every Christian has: to love others and to work for justice. It did not set me apart, but rather bonded me to the "holy catholic church, the communion of saints."

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In 1970, I was approved for ordination by the North Carolina Annual Conference Board of Ordained Ministry. The approval was not without difficulty, however. No one on the interviewing committee was troubled that my theology was existentialist. It was the length of my hair that caused them difficulty.

It took two interviews and a special last-minute meeting with the committee on the day of ordination before they finally gave me and my hair their blessing.

Ordination was clearly an institutional concern, not a godly one.

The ordination that was taken from me by the jury had been given to me by the United Methodist Church. It belonged to the church, and the church could take it back.

Knowing and accepting this does not ease my grief. There is nothing I love more than being a pastor. Now, I can no longer serve the church as a pastor.

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