Beginning on November 18, Bishop Alfred Gwinn (retired) presided over the trial of the Rev. Frank Schaefer, a clergy member of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference. The trial occurred because of a complaint filed that charged Rev. Schaefer with officiating at a same-sex wedding ceremony, which is not allowed by The United Methodist Church, and with violating the church’s Book of Discipline through his actions.
The Counsel for the Church (Complainant) and the Counsel for the Respondent (Rev. Schaefer) each presented its case in a guilt/innocence phase of the trial. The jury, or trial court, prayerfully deliberated and found Rev. Schaefer guilty on both charges of the complaint.
The two sides—the Church and the Respondent—then presented their cases in a penalty phase of the trial. Again the trial court prayerful deliberated and determined a penalty for Schaefer’s actions. That penalty was to suspend him from all ministerial duties for 30 days, effective immediately. If he commits any violations of the Discipline during that 30 days, he will be required to surrender his ministerial credentials to the annual conference.
During the 30 days, Rev. Schaefer “has to take the opportunity to discern his newly discovered calling for the LGBT community.” If at the end of 30 days, Rev. Schaefer has determined that he cannot uphold the church’s Discipline in its entirety he is to surrender his credentials. The District Superintendent of record shall monitor his progress. Rev Schaefer will provide a written report to, and submit to an interview with, the Board of Ordained Ministry within 30 days regarding his call to ordained ministry in The United Methodist Church and his willingness to uphold the Book of Discipline.
The Rev. Michele Bartlow, spokesperson for the conference during the trial, offered the following statement to the gathered media on behalf of Bishop Peggy Johnson following the trial’s conclusion:
These are difficult issues for people of faith and conscience. The trial court was faced with a difficult task and we trust that they listened intently to the evidence that was presented and considered it carefully in order to make the best judgment that they could. We would like to express our appreciation for their time and their service.
Second, we believe that when there is an alleged violation of the Book of Discipline, we are required to respond using the process that is outlined for us in our church law. We have sought to follow that process as fairly and graciously and respectfully as we could.
Third, I would like to say that we recognize that this is an issue that causes pain for many in our church and we hold all those affected in our prayers. We know that United Methodists have diverse opinions on this issue and our hope is that we pray and work together toward unity and greater understanding and healing.