Broadway UMC Press Release: February 23, 1999
Chicago, Ill. (Feb. 23) A United Methodist pastor threatened with having his ordination removed for conducting a service of Holy Union for two men will go to church trial on Thursday, March 25. The denominations regional Committee on Investigation today formally charged Rev. Gregory Dell, pastor of the Broadway United Methodist Church in Chicago, with "disobedience to the Order and Discipline of the United Methodist Church." The Committee functions similar to a "Grand Jury" for such charges.
The three-day church trial will be held at the First United Methodist Church of Downers Grove, IL, and will be open to the public. The trial will be conducted before a jury of 13 clergy selected from a pool of 36 nominated from the denominations Northern Illinois region. A majority of nine votes is required for conviction. If Pastor Dell is found guilty, the jury will determine the penalty, ranging from withdrawal of the credentials of ordination to a suspension for some period of time to "a lesser penalty."
"Not only is the decision expected, it is actually welcome," Pastor Dell said in response to the Committees decision. "The trial will be an occasion for the Church to consider this matter in the context of real ministry with real people.
"It is unfair to the thousands of people on all sides of this controversial issue to continue debating it in the abstract," Dell said. "The love that God offers is not theoretical. The Church must decide if it truly wants to declare that its affirmation of Gods embracing, celebrating acceptance is available to some but not others who want to live in faithful relationships of commitment and love."
Clergy persons selected as church and defense counsels will argue the case. Bishop C. Joseph Sprague, in accordance with the denominations Discipline selected as Church counsel the Rev. Stephen Williams, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Franklin Park, IL. Assistant counsel for the Church is James Geoly, Esq.
Pastor Dell selected as defense counsel the Rev. Dr. Larry Pickens, Esq., pastor of Maple Park United Methodist Church in Chicago. Assistant counsels for Pastor Dell are Theodore M. Swain, Esq. of the law firm Gould and Ratner, and Antonious L.K. Porch, Esq. Presiding over the proceedings will be Bishop Jack Tuell from the United Methodist Council of Bishops.
Pastor Dell has conducted 33 services of Holy Union for gay and lesbian couples during the past 18 of his 30 years of pastoral service. He has said he "will never stop doing such services as long as I have my ordination." He contends that to refuse such services is to discriminate against the approximately 30% of the congregation that he serves which is gay.
"I took a vow to be in ministry with all personsnot regardless of their identity but in celebration of their identity," Rev. Dell said. "Im expected to Baptize, teach, counsel, visit, bury and learn from all of the persons to whom Ive been appointed to pastor. Im also charged to bless and celebrate relationships of love between persons when those relationships uphold standards of faithfulness and ministry. It is a privilegenot a dutyto do so. To withhold such blessing from some because of their identity and regardless of the quality of their relationships would be the true violation of my ordination."
Response to the Trial
Broadway Church and representatives of numerous other United Methodist churches and organizations throughout the Northern Illinois region are organizing various forms of witness in response to the trial and to provide support for people planning to attend the trial. Plans include:
A press conference will be held on Saturday, March 27, at First United Methodist Church immediately after the worship service that will follow the delivery of the verdict.
For More Information
Churches and individuals interested in participating in any of the above activities may access information in the ways listed on the following page:
Pastor Dell conducted the Holy Union service, which gave rise to the charges, on September 19, 1998. When the event came to the attention of Bishop Sprague, who presides over the denominations churches in Northern Illinois (the Northern Illinois Annual Conference), the Bishop filed a complaint against Rev. Dell. In writing the complaint the Bishop affirmed his personal agreement with Dells theological and pastoral position. He took the action "despite my high regard for the Reverend Dell, as a person of integrity, who possesses an enviable record of pastoral faithfulness and effectiveness. "
The trial of Rev. Dell will be the first on the issue of Holy Unions since the denomination declared in August 1998 that the prohibition against conducting such services is binding on all United Methodist clergy. That declaration was made by the Judicial Council, which functions as a "Supreme Court" for the United Methodist Church. The Judicial Council had been asked to rule on the status of legislation passed at the denominations last national General Conference legislative meeting in 1996.
Members and friends of Broadway United Methodist Church, celebrating Rev. Dells pastoral faithfulness to all people, have created The Justice Fund for costs associated with a Church complaint of this nature. Those wishing to help can make gifts payable to: Broadway United Methodist Church, with the words Justice Fund noted on the memo line. Gifts may be mailed to: Broadway United Methodist Church, 3344 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60657-3520.
For more information about Broadway Church, please see its web page at http://www.brdwyumc.org.
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