24-hour Suspension for Northwest Clergy

A month after Frank Schaefer lost his ministerial credentials in Pennsylvania for performing a same-sex union, the Counsel for the Church in the Greater Northwest Area of The United Methodist Church concluded that two clergypersons that had performed same-sex unions would only be suspended for a 24-hour period.

The Rev. Cheryl Fear (Bellingham, Washington) and the Rev. Gordon Hutchins (Tacoma, Washington) have both openly acknowledged defying the denomination by performing same-sex unions. In response to United Methodist protocol, charges were filed against the two clergypersons by the Rev. Colleen Sheahan and the Rev. David Parker.

Bishop Grant Hagiya of the Greater Northwest Area appointed the Rev. David Orendorff as the Counsel of the Church to process the charges. According to a memo from Orendorff, the Revs. Fear and Hutchins “agree that they have disobeyed the Book of Discipline, para. 2702.1.b” and that the two clergypersons “agree as a penalty they will take a one day suspension from the exercise of their pastoral office and will voluntarily take the day of suspension without pay.”

Orendorff recommended to Bishop Hagiya that “the complaints not go to trial unless the responders [Fear and Hutchins] fail to meet the penalty obligations within a timeframe specified by the Resident Bishop.”

The Rev. Grant Hagiya is congratulated by Marilyn Magee Talbert after being elected bishop by the Western Jurisdictional Conference in 2008. A UMNS file photo by Marta W. Aldrich.

The Rev. Grant Hagiya is congratulated by Marilyn Magee Talbert after being elected bishop by the Western Jurisdictional Conference in 2008. A UMNS file photo by Marta W. Aldrich.

In his memo to Bishop Hagiya, Orendorff claimed that the Revs. Sheahan and Parker “have refused to proceed with efforts attempting to find a ‘just resolution.’” He states: “My conversation with the complainants has been exhausted and they have stated they do not wish to continue seeking a ‘just resolution.’”

Both Sheahan and Parker told Good News that they were stunned by Orendorff’s characterization of the situation, especially since neither of them had been consulted before a so-called “just resolution” had been declared. “The decision to not certify a charge when the respondents have admitted guilt, is incredible,” Sheahan said. “Instead of forwarding a charge as prescribed by the Book of Discipline, Counsel for the Church became essentially the judge and jury by determining what a ‘just resolution’ would be.”

“As a complainant, I have only asked for the upholding of our common standard that we all agreed to in our ordination vows,” Parker said. “We made several good-faith offers through the oversight process which we believe could have staved off a trial to save time, expense, and negative publicity. In the end, we were described by the Church Counsel as no longer interested in ‘seeking a just resolution.’ While I assume he meant a path that did not lead to trial (which we offered), those offers were denied and the summary statement can lead one to think that the complainants did not engage in fair, good-faith conversations.”

Sheahan and Parker were very specific about what they perceived as a “just resolution” to the filed charges. “Our main request as complainants was that the respondents would agree to not perform future ceremonies which the Discipline prohibits,” Sheahan said. “Our offer was refused (not the other way around). The decision to accept the Counsel’s recommendation further divides the church.”

“‘Overly gracious’ is the phrase I would use to describe our efforts to avoid trial,” Parker concluded. “In the end, an executive decision has been made for us all. It is a ‘verdict’ that has little meaning and no meat to deter others from following the same course of action. One can only believe, that is exactly the point of the decision.”

–Good News Media Service

Comments

  1. Really, A one day suspension without pay for an admitted volition of UMC discipline? I find that to be less than a slap on the hand. Until some meat is put to the outright resolution to disobey Church law, nothing is going to change. Should the penalty not be immediate suspension, and lost of credentials? Seems there is a greater debate going on about “re-baptism” than a violation of marriage law. It leaves many of us totally confused.

  2. A total mocking of the church and a blatant disregard for it. Insult added to injury as these folks have no regard for anything but their selfish, secular driven agenda. The most outrageous part of this is that they continue doing what they do with little or no consequence in these protected places— and that is unexplainable.

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