By Walter Fenton-
On February 15, Bishop Laurie Haller of the Iowa Episcopal Area confirmed that a church trial had been averted regarding a complaint filed against Bishop Julius Trimble of the Indiana Episcopal Area.
The complaint stemmed from Trimble’s handling of a complaint filed against the Rev. Anna Blaedel, a campus minister at the University of Iowa Wesley Center, who announced on the floor of the 2016 Iowa Annual Conference, ”I am a self-avowed practicing homosexual. Or in my language, I am out, queer, partnered, clergy.“ Trimble, at the time, was the presiding bishop of the Iowa Episcopal Area and therefore the presiding officer at the time of Blaedel’s announcement.
As intended, Blaedel’s candid announcement stirred controversy. LGBTQ+ advocates were heartened by her willingness to put her clergy credentials at risk. And supporters of the church’s sexual ethics and long held teachings on marriage were stunned by her open admission.
But perhaps as surprising was Trimble’s response, or lack thereof. Having granted Blaedel the moment of personal privilege, he offered no rebuttal to her open admission. Shortly after her address, three clergy members filed a complaint against her.
In the weeks after the conference, Trimble engaged the parties in an attempt to avoid a church trial and reach a just resolution. But given ”Blaedel’s open admission of violating church law there were really only two paths to a just resolution: a complete retraction of her statement or her voluntary resignation. Neither materialized.
But instead of pursuing the matter, on the second to last day of his tenure, Trimble informed the complainants and Blaedel that he was dismissing the case entirely without comment. In response, 17 lay and clergy members of the Iowa Annual Conference filed a complaint against him for failing to fulfill the duties of his episcopal office.
As part of the just resolution, Trimble has acknowledged in an open letter to Iowa Annual Conference delegates, “that my presiding of Annual Conference in June 2016 could have been more helpful to the body had I made a pastoral statement rather than move on to the next order of business following granting a point of personal privilege to Rev. Anna Blaedel.”
Trimble goes on to write, “I should have articulated a clear process for follow-up regardless of the outcome of the complaint process. For any harm that my leadership may have caused lay and clergy in the Iowa Conference, I ask for your forgiveness.”
As for Blaedel, she continues to preside as the campus minister at the University of Iowa Wesley Center, where the people of the Iowa Annual Conference continue to fund much of her salary.
Iowa United Methodists now wait to see how Bishop Laurie Haller will handle Blaedel’s situation. See the above article for a potential outcome.
Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergy person and an analyst for Good News.