March 3, 1998
by Charley Lerrigo*
SAN FRANCISCO (UMNS) -- The cabinet of the California-Nevada Annual Conference has publicly affirmed its support of United Methodist pastors who perform holy unions between "loving, committed life partners" and has expressed appreciation for the ministry of embattled Rev. Jimmy Creech.
Creech is the first United Methodist pastor to face a church trial for violating a statement of the denomination's Social Principles that would ban holy unions. He is currently on suspension as senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Omaha, Neb. His church trial will begin in Kearney, Neb., March 11.
The 1996 General Conference, the denomination's top legislative body, added a sentence to a paragraph on marriage in its Social Principles that states: "Ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by our ministers and shall not be conducted in our churches."
The Rev. Karen Oliveto, pastor of Bethany United Methodist Church in San Francisco, appeared at a Feb. 28 press conference with Creech, reporting that her congregation has been performing holy unions "for decades" as part of its commitment to social justice and as a pastoral service for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered persons.
The outpouring of support came as Creech and his family appeared at San Francisco's Metropolitan Community Church and were warmly welcomed by two other local United Methodist congregations.
At the press conference in the Metropolitan church, the Rev. Thomas Kimball, superintendent of California-Nevada's Golden Gate District, reported that the cabinet, headed by Bishop Melvin G. Talbert, had been asked to clarify what it would do "if one of our pastors came to us, saying that they wanted to perform a holy union."
The cabinet, said Kimball, was "unequivocal" in supporting "the right of our pastors to be pastors in the local settings." Referring to a public statement by Bethany United Methodist Church that it would continue to perform holy unions for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons, Kimball said the cabinet "affirmed" Bethany's decision to "provide opportunity and space for celebration of holy unions between loving, committed life partners."
The next evening, at a packed worship service in the Metropolitan Community Church, Kimball also told Creech that "if Nebraska kicks you out, we'll find a place for you."
At that same worship, Bay View District Superintendent Bruce McSpadden backed Creech's assertion that it is not the Omaha pastor who is on trial, but the denomination. "I am here," McSpadden told the gay/lesbian congregation, "to stand in repentance because of the church's sin" against sexual minorities.
He declared his hope that the final result of the matter might be that "every church and United Methodist institution" might be transformed to be open to all persons.
The Rev. Jim Mitulski, pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church congregation, called on the United Methodist Church "and others like it...to stop its persecution of our people and our advocates."
Metropolitan churches have celebrated gay and lesbian marriage as a sacrament for 30 years, Mitulski noted. "Gay marriage is a reality. We expect to see it recognized and legalized in the next few years. The churches can be in the vanguard, or they can bring up the rear."
In her remarks during the press conference, Bethany pastor Oliveto said her congregation supports Creech as he faces trial "for doing the very same thing Bethany expects of its pastor: to respond to the pastoral needs of the community, including its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered members."
"There are too many people who say that the honoring of relationships of faithfulness and fidelity is... an inappropriate (act). We say that it is inappropriate for the church to withhold blessing from loving couples, straight or gay.
"And we, know," she added, "that it is not the United Methodist Church or any religious body that creates blessings. Rather the role of the church is to recognize, honor and affirm the blessings already bestowed by God." # # #
* Lerrigo is editor of the California Nevada United Methodist Review and a San Francisco pastor.