Local United Methodist pastors on church's LGBTQ decisions: 'We are sorry'

Local United Methodist pastors on church's LGBTQ decisions: 'We are sorry'

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CHAMPAIGN — Leaders of two Champaign United Methodist churches are going public with their disappointment, sorrow and frustration over the global denomination's recent reaffirmation of bans on same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBTQ clergy.

"To our friends in the LGBTQ community: We are sorry," Faith United Methodist Church pastors Sheryl Palmer and Cory Blackwell wrote in a letter to the editor to The News-Gazette. "For the hurt this has caused: We are sorry. For the confusion and pain this resurfaces: We are sorry."

Palmer expanded on her disapproval with global leaders' stance in an interview. The church on South Prospect Avenue, she said, has always been open to all people — regardless of sexuality — and will remain that way.

"We want to continue to let people in our community, be they LGBTQ or those who love them, know that Faith UMC is still an open place to come to worship and be loved," she said.

The divide in America's second-largest Protestant denomination over same-sex marriage and gay clergy played out for all to see at last month's general conference in St. Louis.

Palmer and Blackwell said a majority of American delegates on hand voted for full inclusion. But after hours of intense debate, an alliance of conservative delegates from the United States and overseas won out; the final vote was 438-384 in favor of the "Traditional Plan," which upheld the church's bans on ordaining LGBTQ clergy and officiating at or hosting same-sex marriages.

Palmer said Faith United Methodist will abide by the ban on performing LGBTQ weddings in their building.

"But we are looking for change in our church and our conference and denomination so that does eventually change," she said. "It's certainly not what we desire."

Leah Pogemiller, pastor at downtown Champaign's First United Methodist Church, said the letter from Palmer and Blackwell reflects her own feelings, as well as those of many of her colleagues.

Pogemiller and Palmer both emphasized that this is not the end of the story.

"It's not set in stone yet," said Pogemiller, hopeful that an official review of decisions made during the general conference has a different outcome.

A Texas pastor asked for the church's highest court to review the constitutionality of the Traditional Plan, which delegates affirmed. The church's judicial council is scheduled to address the controversy at its next meeting, scheduled for April 23-25 in Evanston.

Pogemiller said some parts or entire resolutions adopted at the general conference can be declared unconstitutional during a judicial review.

"So the decisions made in St. Louis are not yet in their final form," she said.

One way or another, Palmer and Blackwell said, they hope and pray that change is coming.

"For our part, we are committed to being part of that change," they wrote. "We are committed to being part of the solution. We are committed to including all people into the full life and ministry of our congregation.

"In short, we are committed to being who we've always been."

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