New York State of Mind


by Walter Fenton –

Earlier this week, the board of ordained ministry in the New York Annual Conference announced it will not abide by The United Methodist Church’s Book of Discipline with regard to openly gay people seeking ordination or licensing in the conference.

In a statement posted on the conference’s website, the Rev. Dr. William B. Pfohl, chairman of the board, wrote that, “Sexual orientation and gender identity are not and will not be considered in the evaluation of candidates by the Board of Ordained Ministry.”

The UM Church’s Discipline states that, “The practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. Therefore self-avowed practicing homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in The United Methodist Church.”

“It’s rather breath-taking,” said the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News. “General Conference is just two months away and all the issues around the LGBTQ debate will get a full vetting. The board’s action strikes me, as I’m sure it does many others, as an ill-timed assault on the church’s long held teachings. I’m afraid decisions like this are indicative of where we’re headed even if, as I think it will, GC 2016 reaffirms our standards for clergy.”

The New York board’s decision comes closely on the heels of an announcement from the board of ordained ministry in the Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference that it is recommending Ms. Tara “T.C.” Morrow for commissioning as a provisional deacon. Morrow is openly married to another woman.

In a United Methodist News Service article, Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, who is serving as the New York Conference interim leader, acknowledged the decision, and offered a neutral statement, “As president of the [conference], I preside over persons who will agree and others who will disagree with this decision,” she said. “These are difficult times in the life our denomination, and my intent is to provide fairness and respect for all.”

“People are angry, frustrated, disappointed, and worried that the board’s action will lead to further division and decline in the conference,” said the Rev. Roy Jacobsen, a retired clergy member who currently serves on the board of ordained ministry and as the leader of the Wesley Fellowship, a group representing evangelical and orthodox clergy and laity in the conference.

The New York Conference dealt with two high profile cases revolving around LGBTQ issues in 2013. Complaints were filed against the Rev. Dr. Thomas Ogletree, former dean of Yale Divinity School, for presiding at his son’s same-sex service, and the Rev. Sara Thompson Tweedy for acknowledging she had married her female partner in 2008. Both complaints were ultimately dismissed without trials or penalties. Tweedy continues to serve a local church in the conference despite her admission.

“Orthodox clergy and churches in our Conference are increasingly marginalized by decisions made at Annual Conference,” said the Rev. John Gerlach of Trinity UM Church in Windsor, Connecticut. “I am hoping that General Conference will provide a way for an amicable separation and an exit strategy for clergy and churches. Unity is not possible when a small segment of the church body will not agree to follow the established rules in our Book of Discipline. The church I serve has lost many active members because of the actions of our Annual Conference.”

As a whole, local churches in the New York Conference have experienced alarming drops in average worship attendance over the last two reporting cycles. The conference reported a 4.4 percent drop in 2013, followed by a 6 percent decline in 2014. The conference’s boundaries include all of New York City, much of the surrounding metropolitan area, and a large portion of the state of Connecticut. On average, just 30,382 people were in worship on any given Sunday in the conference’s local churches in 2014.

In the U.S., the denomination as a whole saw a 2.6 percent decline in 2014, a rate some church leaders regard as unsustainable.

“I find it odd that church traditionalists are often accused of fomenting schism in the church,” said Renfroe. “But to my knowledge no traditionalist pastors or groups are calling on people to flagrantly reject our covenants and live in defiance of our Discipline. The New York board of ordained ministry’s decision is just the latest in a long litany of actions that undermine the good work of others to fulfill the mission of the church. Moves like this will ultimately lead to decline and division.”

Walter Fenton is a United Methodist clergyperson and analyst for Good News.




  1. “As a whole, local churches in the New York Conference have experienced alarming drops in average worship attendance over the last two reporting cycles.” Is that surprising? Christians want to go to a church that teaches the bible, not one that turns away from it as the New York Conference is doing.

  2. Joyce Akins says

    I believe it is our calling yo love all people but we must not agree with all of their ways. As a denomination, I believe our church leaders must all follow the Bible as God’s Word and The Book of Discipline. Those leaders who chose not to follow the Bible and the Book of Discipline must separate from the church.

  3. Taurai Frank Mazaiwana says

    As a church its time we need to revisit our orthodox teaching refer to the bible and understand it very well.
    Lets understand that we are in a battle the devil is fighting with very tool at his disposal, we are fighting against the principals of the devil (the spirit of Jezebel) which goes beyond to manipulate documents and bring dervish practices in to the church and the country at large.

    Lets have time and study what causes Homosexuality, without wasting time let me take you directly to the causes of Homosexuality: it its the devil himself who is fighting against every good thing God has given. It has always been the devil desire to go against every good thing God has created and give to his people. Homosexuality is clearly the devil strategy to destroy the good desires God has on his people. Christianity is under attack and we need to be very careful otherwise we will end up approving sin to be practiced in church.

    I can refer to some of the teaching from some of the man of God who are actively against the evil strategies. homosexuality is a sin we shouldn’t either spent time discussing this it is evil and nothing more.

    Watch these You Tube teachings

    Taurai Frank Mazaiwana

  4. Licensed Local Pastor says

    So now it begins, the age of enlightenment and reinterpretation of the scriptures. After 42 years enough people have been put in place by a very few to fulfill their vision of the United Methodist Church. Congratulations to the New York and Baltimore-Washington Annual Conferences, they have pretty much told the rest of the United Methodist Church we no longer want to be in connection with you and be subject to the authority of scripture, we have a better idea. Creating a safe place, what exactly does that mean, “your sin is no longer a sin” don’t worry be happy. These intellectual elitist’s will not be happy until they have completely destroyed what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, what it means to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and what it means to serve the Living God.

    General Conference 2016 is shaping up to be a real mess.

  5. When conferences openly reject the BoD, I think schism will be inevitable. I don’t understand these schismatics. They vow to uphold the BoD since that document organizes our denomination. If they feel they cannot abide by it, then the honorable thing to do is to leave. I’m sure they would be embraced by the Metropolitan Community Church or the UCC. I am a proud UMC member and I have read and affirm my support for the BoD.

    But if they succeed in turning the UMC over to the dark side, I will respect their decision and resign my membership. We are called to be holy for the Lord is holy. There are other Wesleyan-Holiness churches that are more accommodating of confessional methodists.

  6. This and the other actions of recent years are beyond reprehensible. The devious, dishonest, disingenuous methods being used to defy and mock the Book of Discipline would make the most secular of secularists cringe if employed in a secular organization. The abject lack of integrity is staggering. And to date these actions continue to be tolerated. Unless General Conference addresses this in a real and effective way, it will only escalate. And voting to only maintain the present BOD positions, in essence, would grant the “local option” to the conferences and churches across the denomination, thus changing the position of the church through complicity.

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