Gay Methodist pastor a step closer to church trial

KANSAS CITY (RNS) The Rev. Cynthia Meyer told her congregation she was “called by God to be open and honest” about who she is. But the denomination forbids gay ordination.

United Methodist Church minister Cynthia Meyer says she was “called by God to be open and honest” about who she is. So, during her first sermon of the new year, Meyer told the small congregation in Edgerton, Kan., about her relationship with a woman. Religion News Service photo by Sally Morrow

KANSAS CITY (RNS) A United Methodist pastor who recently came out as gay may be a step closer to a church trial, just weeks before the United Methodist Church’s General Conference is expected to take up the question of gay clergy and gay unions.

Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Conference rejected a proposal to resolve a complaint lodged against the Rev. Cynthia Meyer, who came out to her Edgerton, Kan., congregation during a Jan. 3 sermon.

Meanwhile, the church’s top policymaking body, the General Conference, meets in Oregon May 10-20 and is expected to reconsider its rules on gay pastors and gay marriage.

Over the past decade, the denomination has put on trial several ministers for officiating at gay weddings. In 2013, the Rev. Frank Schaefer of Pennsylvania was barred from ministry by the church after officiating at his gay son’s wedding, then reinstated on appeal.

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The United Methodist Church is one of the last mainline Protestant denominations to prohibit the ordination of openly gay clergy. Its Book of Discipline calls the practice of homosexuality “incompatible with Christian teaching.”

In July, Meyer was appointed pastor of Edgerton United Methodist Church, located in a rural community of 1,700 just southwest of Kansas City.  She had previously served for 12 years as assistant dean of students at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, a United Methodist-affiliated school in Atlanta.

In January, Meyer told the congregation she was “called by God to be open and honest” about who she is. She is a lesbian, she said, and shares her home and her life with another woman.

Soon afterward, the Rev. David Watson, district superintendent, filed a complaint against Meyer.

At the time, Meyer and the bishop hoped to work toward a “just resolution.” According to their proposals, both parties seek to avoid a church trial.

But in an email sent to Meyer on Easter Sunday, Jones proposed that Meyer wait until the General Conference makes a decision on gay pastors. If the conference is unable to agree on new rules regarding gays and lesbians and its prohibition remains on the books, Jones suggested Meyer, who has been a minister for 25 years, withdraw from the ministry.

As an alternative, he suggested the congregation withdraw from the denomination and reorganize as a independent church or affiliate with another denomination.

Meyer rejected both proposals during their meeting the following day.

Jones has selected the Rev. David Bell, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Garden City, Kan., to review the case and make a decision about whether to move the case forward to the Committee on Investigation of the Great Plains Conference, which would determine whether the case would go to church trial.

“I offered to Reverend Meyer the best terms that I could, and she was unwilling to accept them,” Jones said.

Meyer posted a video response to the decision on Facebook. Although she has not had an opportunity to meet with the entire congregation, she said she has spoken with a few church leaders who are very upset at Jones’ proposal.

“They joined me in my dismay at his suggestion that I leave, and that the entire congregation leave the denomination,” Meyer said.

Jones referred to this option as “a way of helping Reverend Meyer have a place to go.”

His message to United Methodist clergy and members is this, “We are not of one mind as a denomination, and yet how we treat each other in resolving these differences is vitally important.”

Religion News Service video by Sally Morrow

(Sally Morrow is photo editor for RNS and is based in Kansas City. RNS national reporter Lauren Markoe contributed to this report.)

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