Nov. 14, 1997
by United Methodist News Service
Emory University's Board of Trustees approved new guidelines for the use of chapels at Emory, a United Methodist-related school, in a Nov. 13 meeting.
Bradley Currey Jr., chairman, read a statement after the trustees' decision, in which he said university chapels "exist to serve the religious and spiritual aims of the whole community.
"These chapels receive steady use by myriad religious communities that reflect the dynamic plurality of a university setting." he said. The chapels also are the location for nonreligious purposes such as concerts, lectures and academic ceremonies.
In June, the university chaplain, the Rev. Susan Henry-Crowe, and the Oxford chaplain, the Rev. Sammy Clark, were asked by the board to develop guidelines for the use of Emory chapels. Both are ordained United Methodist ministers.
The request grew out of a controversy over holding same-sex commitment ceremonies in the chapels, after an Oxford College employee was denied the use of Oxford College facilities for such a ceremony in May.
On June 2, Emory President William M. Chace said in a letter to the university community that the ceremony should have been permitted under the university's equal opportunity policy.
On June 12, the North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference of the United Methodist Church called for the president to change his policy and asked the board to change the university's policy if he would not.
"While the missions of the church and of the university complement each other, they sometimes differ," Currey acknowledged.
He said the church and the university agree that all people are of sacred worth and must be assured equal justice.
"In keeping with Emory's United Methodist heritage, which has nurtured ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, the trustees have approved guidelines that respect the traditions of those 24 faith groups officially recognized at Emory," Currey added.
Of the 24 faith bodies, only two allow same-sex commitment ceremonies: a Reformed Jewish organization, and the United Church of Christ. Only recognized campus ministers and ordained faculty of the university School of Theology will be allowed to officiate in university chapels.
The guidelines will apply to use of Cannon chapel on the Emory campus, Day Prayer Chapel on the Oxford College campus and hospital chapels at Crawford Long and Emory University hospitals.
Henry-Crowe described the decision as an affirmation of freedom of religion and allows approved religious groups the right to practice their own rites and rituals. "It's consistent with United Methodism's commitment to respect religious pluralism," she said.
During the months since she and Clark were asked to develop the guidelines, they have consulted repeatedly with trustees, church officials, faculty, staff and students.
"The institution is better because of this soul-searching journey," she said. "The process was very important and did demonstrate the genius of both the university and The United Methodist Church in their abilities to respect religious pluralism."
She added that the bishops -- there are five active bishops on the board of trustees -- "gave very prayerful and pastoral leadership to the decision."