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Jeff WaltonMay 2, 2012
A liberal dissident group including current and former United Methodist clergy recently convened to hear the stories of three clergy persons and their same-sex partners. The dinner and presentation were hosted by the Church Within A Church Movement (CWACM) outside the United Methodist General Conference in Tampa on May 1.
"We are being church -- you don't need to have someone's permission to be church," CWACM's Cathy Knight proclaimed.
CWACM describes itself as a faith-based social justice movement for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) advocacy. The group traces its origins to the United Methodist Church's 2000 General Conference where "Book of Discipline" language describing homosexual behavior as "incompatible with Christian teaching" was upheld. Formally convened two years later, the group is now marking its 10th anniversary.
In 2008, CWACM invited two retired United Methodist bishops to ordain a lesbian United Methodist in a ceremony at Baltimore's historic Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church. Bishops Susan Morrison and Jesse Dewitt also ordained a heterosexual woman who said she had been denied a United Methodist ordination because of her liberal views on homosexuality.
"We need to be who we are, not who someone else thinks that we are," announced CWACM Executive Director Cathy Knight. Knight gave up her United Methodist membership after the church's highest court ruled in 2005 that local pastors have the authority to determine if a congregant is spiritually prepared to take church membership vows. The ruling was seen by many LGBT activists as permitting the rejection of homosexual persons for church membership.
While CWACM bills itself as "Methodist-related," many of those who have transferred their membership to the group no longer regard themselves as United Methodists.
Knight explained that in addition to facilitating extraordinary ordinations, CWACM aims to let clergy establish standing within CWACM and other jurisdictions such as the UMC, where an ordination is, through a "dual covenant".
"We are not either/or, we are both/and," Knight described.
Knight introduced Revered Annie Britton, CWACM's first ordained pastor. Legally married to her same-sex partner in Massachusetts, Britton was unable to pursue ordination in the United Methodist Church.
"The system that is the UMC is what caused me to go," charged Britton's partner Terry Schwennesen, who added that CWACM "focused on intersections of oppression -- not just LGBT [causes]."
Participants at the dinner event next heard from the Reverend DeLyn Celec, also ordained with CWACM. She works at United Methodist affiliated Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.
"I had never met a person who was proud to be gay and proud to be Christian," Celec shared of her meeting General Board of Global Ministries Praise Program Director Jorge Lockward. Celec discussed her experience as a seminarian at United Methodist Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey, introducing her spouse of six years, Sarah Celec.
"Being gay doesn't mean you can't be a pastor when you are called to be a pastor," Celec asserted. She now serves as a campus minister at Shenandoah University in Winchester, Virginia.
The final speaker was David Lafary, who served as United Methodist clergy for 22 years. Contending with the "incompatible" language, Lafary did not publicly reveal his homosexuality until three years ago.
"I believed in my heart that I could 'pray away the gay'," Lafary disclosed, ultimately resolving to speak with his district superintendent. According to Lafary, the district superintendent cut him off mid-sentence and said: "I know where this is going and I don't want to bring you up on charges."
Lafary left the UMC within weeks and for a time pastored with the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) a majority-homosexual denomination. Not long after, he felt "homesick" for the UMC.
"I'm called to be here, who I am, out of that closet," Lafary declared, adding that leaving the United Methodist Church was "the hardest but best thing he could do."
Participants in the event were candid about their disappointment in how the nearby General Conference had progressed.
"I have a love-hate relationship with the church -- right now it's a little more hate," described one participant as he shared about the tension he experienced at the denomination's quadrennial gathering.
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