May 27, 1998

Creech taking leave of absence

By United Methodist News Service


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Contact: Linda Green

See also: A Message from Jimmy Creech

Nebraska pastor Jimmy Creech, whose performance of a same-sex union ceremony stirred a controversy in the United Methodist Church, has decided to take a leave of absence from the ministry.

He will preach his last sermon at First United Methodist Church in Omaha Sunday, June 7, and then move with his family to North Carolina.

In a telephone interview with United Methodist News Service, he said he would take time in North Carolina to reflect on "what opportunities there might be for me in ministry." Before going to the 1,900-member Omaha church in 1996, Creech had been a clergy member of the denomination's North Carolina Annual (regional) Conference.

"I really grieve about leaving," Creech said, "but it would be difficult for a church to welcome me and to have a consensus of support and desire for me to be there."

Nebraska Bishop Joel Martinez announced this month that Creech would not be re-appointed to First Church. According to Creech, the bishop was concerned that he would not be able to bring about healing in the congregation. Nearly 400 members of the church are now worshipping at a neighboring school. Martinez has refused to comment on details of the appointment, citing the confidentiality of personnel matters.

All United Methodist clergy are appointed annually by the bishop and cabinet of an annual (regional) conference. There are 66 conferences in the United States. When informed that he would not be re-appointed to First Church, Creech said the bishop offered him three options: to seek another appointment in Nebraska or another conference or to take a leave of absence.

The bishop and cabinet "acted in good faith in offering an appointment to me," Creech said. He declined "because of the current climate in the Nebraska Conference and the continuing controversy related to my ministry at First Church, Omaha."

His presence at another church would detract from the ministry that needs to occur in that church, he said. "It would not be fair to take the controversy with me to another church."

The Rev. Donald Bredthauer, on the staff at First Church for 10 years, has been appointed senior pastor by Martinez, a move which Creech applauds. "This is the very best appointment for the church. It is important for First Church to have continuity and someone they can trust. Don knows the vision the congregation is going for and is supportive of that vision."

Creech performed the union ceremony at First Church in September 1997, against the wishes of his bishop. Charges against Creech led to a March 11-13 trial in Kearney, Neb., and Creech was narrowly acquitted of disobeying the order and discipline of the church. Martinez, who suspended Creech in November, immediately reinstated him as pastor of First Church.

The trial vote was eight to five, with nine votes needed for conviction. The verdict hinged on whether the Social Principles, which contain a sentence prohibiting clergy from conducting same-sex union ceremonies, are enforceable church law or simply advisory. That issue will be taken up by the church's nine-member Judicial Council at a special session Aug. 7-8 in Dallas. The church's "supreme court" was asked to rule on homosexuality-related issues by bishops in the eight-state South Central Jurisdiction in which Nebraska is located.

The trial intensified the ongoing debate on homosexuality within the church that began in the early 1970s. The church officially embraces all people but prohibits self-avowed practicing homosexuals from ordination or appointment. It also declares the practice of homosexuality to be "incompatible with Christian teaching."

The phrase prohibiting clergy from performing same-sex union ceremonies and using United Methodist churches for such ceremonies was added to the church's Social Principles at the most recent General Conference in 1996. The General Conference is the top legislative body of the denomination and the only entity that can make or change church policy.

In response to calls from across the church, the Council of Bishops issued a pastoral letter during their regular semi-annual meeting in Lincoln, Neb., April 15-May 1. The bishops said they would support the church's governing Book of Discipline, including the Social Principles.

Produced by United Methodist News Service, official news agency of the United Methodist Church, with offices in Nashville, Tenn., New York, and Washington.

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