Judicial Council to Hear Appeal of Schaefer Defrocking

One month from now, the Judicial Council will be meeting to make decisions that will affect many aspects of the church’s life and ministry. The Judicial Council, as our UM “Supreme Court,” has the final say on what our laws and procedures in the Book of Discipline mean and how they are applied.

The highest profile case before the Judicial Council this fall is the appeal of the “defrocking” of the Rev. Frank Schaefer. Schaefer was found guilty last November in a trial in Eastern Pennsylvania of performing a same-sex wedding for his son and a male partner, which is prohibited by our Discipline. Schaefer was sentenced by the trial court to a 30 day suspension (with pay) to reevaluate his ministry and determine whether he could uphold the provisions of the Discipline as he had sworn to do when he was ordained. If not, he was to surrender his ministerial credentials.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer speaks to reporters during a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

The Rev. Frank Schaefer speaks to reporters during a press conference at Arch Street United Methodist Church in Philadelphia. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

When the suspension was over, Schaefer said he could not uphold the Discipline, but he also refused to surrender his credentials. The board of ordained ministry then enacted the trial court penalty by removing his credentials.

Schaefer appealed the penalty. In June, the Northeastern Jurisdiction Committee on Appeals overturned the penalty, limiting it to the 30-day paid suspension. The Committee said that the suspension plus the “defrocking” were two penalties for the one offense, and that church law only allows for one penalty. In their judgment, the 30-day suspension was an adequate punishment.

The Rev. Dr. Chris Fischer, counsel for the church, has appealed this reversal to the Judicial Council. He argues that Schaefer lost the right to appeal because he refused to comply with the trial court’s penalty in refusing to surrender his credentials as ordered. Fischer is further arguing that the appeals committee wrongly interpreted the penalty as two separate penalties, when in fact they are one comprehensive penalty.

The upcoming Judicial Council hearing and decision will be an important test of whether the church can hold its clergy accountable to the standards of ordained ministry.

The Rev. Thomas A. Lambrecht is a United Methodist clergyperson and the vice president of Good News.


  1. Unbelievable – he has married his own son to another man! I just don’t know if there could be a more unloving act that a parent could do.

  2. Rev. Schaefer is still trying to change our Book of Discipline. He knew what the BOD required but yet willingly disobeyed. He also has stated he cannot follow its requirements. With this appeal, he is still trying to erode the principles of our doctrine and being held accountable to it. Incremental attacks on our system will destroy us, if we allow such attacks to prevail. The original ruling did offer mercy and forgiveness but was soundly rejected by Rev. Schaefer. . The Judicial Council must not change its former ruling and must stay true to the principles and morality requirements of our Church.

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