Nov 21, 2013

by John W. Coleman, Jr.

SPRING CITY, Pa.—The Rev. Frank Schaefer of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference was given a 30-day suspension by the jury in his church trial Tuesday night, Nov. 19. And he was told that if he can’t promise to uphold the Book of Discipline in its entirety he must surrender his credentials.

Schaefer was found guilty the night before of violating the church’s law against pastors performing same-sex unions and of disobedience to the order and discipline of The United Methodist Church. He acknowledged having performed the same-sex wedding of his son, Tim, in 2007, although he pled not guilty to violating the Discipline.

The 30 day-suspension will cover both convictions, the all-clergy jury said in a decision announced about 9 p.m. Schaefer also is to be monitored by his district superintendent, the Rev. James Todd, and must meet with the conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry during the suspension period.

He was told to use this time “to discern his newly discovered calling for the LGBT community,” and then if he cannot promise to uphold the church’s Discipline in its entirety he is to surrender his credentials. Schaefer spoke to the media after the trial and vowed that while his initial act was simply to conduct his son’s wedding because of fatherly love and support, he was now a committed advocate to the LGBT cause for full rights and recognition in the church.

The Rev. Michele Bartlow, EPA Conference spokesperson during the trial, offered a statement to the media on behalf of Bishop Peggy Johnson:

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.

Part of this report was adapted from a United Methodist News Service release. Read the full news story.