Church defrocks lesbian

A jury of United Methodist clergy found minister in violation of church code.

A lesbian pastor was found guilty and defrocked Thursday when a jury of United Methodist clergy ruled she had violated church law barring actively gay clergy.

The 13-member jury voted 7-to-6 to defrock the Rev. Irene Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud, associate pastor of Philadelphia’s First United Methodist Church of Germantown, despite the support of her congregation and her senior pastor, the Rev. Alfred Day III.

Day testified in Stroud’s defense, telling the court that the scriptures are unclear on the subject.

Stroud, 34, will continue to work in the Philadelphia congregation as a lay employee but won’t be allowed to celebrate baptism or communion.

She has 30 days to decide if she will appeal the verdict.

The parish is in the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference and borders the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church, which includes York County.

Bishop Jane Allen Middleton of the Central Pennsylvania Conference said in e-mail that the trial was held according to the Book of Discipline, the guide for all United Methodists in the 8.3 million member denomination — more than 31,000 of them in York County, said the Glenmary Research Center in Nashville in its 2000 report.

Middleton, who was elected bishop at the General Conference last summer, said she hoped the decisions made by the court would be made in a spirit of love.

She invited all Christians to pray for those involved.

“United Methodists are not of one mind on the issue of homosexuality,” she said.

The Rev. Mitch Galloway of Fourth United Methodist Church in York said he was pleased with the decision to convict.

The Book of Discipline states that self-avowed homosexuals may not be ordained, he said, and that if Stroud wants to be a pastor, she can apply to be ordained with another denomination.

Before the jury passed down its decision in the second day of proceedings, Stroud told reporters she expected to be convicted and that it would be a painful moment in the United Methodist Church.

Stroud, who lives with her partner, Chris Paige, had told her congregation and bishop about the relationship a year ago.

The last time the 8.3 million-member denomination convicted an openly gay pastor was in 1987 when a New Hampshire church court defrocked the Rev. Rose Mary Denman.

In March, a United Methodist court in Washington state acquitted the Rev. Karen Dammann, citing ambiguity in the law that has since been eliminated.

For some local pastors, the ruling was a reassurance that the church wouldn’t change stances it has historically taken.

“I think the church needs to hold out on scriptural principles,” said the Rev. Mark Brumbach of Faith United Methodist Church in Hellam. “… If we don’t allow our Book of Discipline to govern us, then why have it?”

The Rev. Stephany Sechrist of Zion United Methodist Church in Windsor Township said that although she doesn’t know Stroud, she admires her honesty and willingness to challenge the establishment. The church has been clear on its policy, but that doesn’t make it right and doesn’t invalidate Stroud’s call to ministry, Sechrist said.

“… Martin Luther really shook up the church,” she said. “… She has got to know that, in taking that stand, she is butting heads with the law of the church, and she may lose. And she may lose big time.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
York Daily Record, USA
Dec. 3, 2004
Karen Muller

Religion News Blog posted this on Friday December 3, 2004.
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