From the Bishop, RE: Boy Scout units chartered by local United Methodist Churches

Aug. 27, 2021

Dear Greater Northwest United Methodists of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences:

We send this letter with heavy hearts, knowing that many young people have been harmed while participating in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA), over many decades. While countless young persons have benefited from the different programs and levels of Boy Scouting, some have experienced demeaning and abusive behavior while participating in scouting activities and events and have taken their claims to the courts.

Many local United Methodist churches partner as charter organizations for Boy Scout units across the country. The United Methodist Church (TUMC) is committed to being a safe and nurturing place for all people, to healing harm that has been done and, to partnering with organizations that share this commitment. The United Methodist Church is reviewing its relationship with BSA to ensure that the Church is acting responsibly to protect the safety of children and ensure that it is not responsible for harm done during Boy Scout activities.

BSA Current Reality

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) is overwhelmed with potential liability exposure from sexual assault allegations nationwide. The BSA has filed for bankruptcy protection. Under both of the proposed plans that the BSA has suggested as ways to continue after the bankruptcy, they are leaving their chartered organizations out on a limb by themselves. The chartered organizations are the local churches, schools, and civic groups that sponsor or host a Scout Troop, Pack, Crew, or other unit. The details of these plans are still being played out, but the BSA is placing all of our United Methodist churches who have ever been involved in Scouting in a very difficult position.

Despite their consistent past assurances that they held enough insurance to cover their chartered organizations in case of injured scouts, we now know that the BSA did not have enough or sufficient insurance. The local churches are at risk of having to pay significant sums to victims to compensate them for the damages they suffered at the hands of some Scout leaders. In addition, the local churches will have to pay for the cost of their own attorneys to defend those claims. All of this is because the BSA did not fulfill their promise to have enough insurance to protect the local churches.
 
Future Relationship with the BSA

Our team, made up of the Bishop, her GNW Area assistant, and the treasurers and chancellors of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Annual Conferences, recommends that local churches change their relationships with Scouting units.

If your local church currently charters a Scout unit, we recommend that you NOT renew that chartering agreement when it is up for renewal or re-chartering this fall. Instead, we recommend one of three options, the choice of which is up to you:

  1. Tell the local Scout council that you will NOT renew that chartering agreement but will only extend the current agreement until December 31, 2021.  
  2. Tell the local Scout council that you will NOT renew that chartering agreement but will enter into a Facilities Use Agreement with their unit until December 31, 2021.
     
  3. Tell the local Scout council that you will terminate the existing charter agreement and replace it with a Facilities Use Agreement with their unit until December 31, 2021.

In options 2 and 3, the Facilities Use Agreement will act similar to a lease allowing the Scout unit to continue using your space, but they will be responsible for everything else, including the selection of leaders. A proposed agreement template can be found here. Also, please let your Conference Treasurer know if you are currently hosting a scout troop in any of the above described manners.

After December 31, 2021, we should be in a better position to see how the future will unfold. Once a reorganization plan is approved by the bankruptcy court, we will know better how to proceed.

If your local church does not charter a Scout unit at this time, we recommend that you NOT consider chartering a unit until the bankruptcy case is finalized and we have an understanding of how The United Methodist relationship with Scouts will continue in the future.

We understand that these suggestions are dramatic, but we think them to be the prudent course of action at this time. We want to protect our local churches from being accused of contributing to the abuse of children and to the resulting risk of costly litigation.

Closing Thoughts

Boy Scout councils have begun contacting local churches directly that host Boy Scout units. One such letter is attached here. If you receive any communication from a local Scout council or the BSA advising or encouraging you to contact a Boy Scout attorney, please report this at once to Rev. Carlo A. Rapanut, Assistant to the Bishop. His email is carlorapanut@gmail.com.

We know the value of scouting. It has played a very large role in the mission and ministry of The United Methodist Church for a very long time. But the BSA is not proving faithful to The United Methodist Church as they leave us without the protections that they promised. We simply cannot currently commit to the relationship with the BSA as we have in the past. Until we know how the BSA will be organized and operate in the future, we must make some changes. Hopefully, we will be able to continue our long connection with scouting in some way, but we need to make some changes today to help prevent us from being dragged down with the BSA in the future.

May God’s mighty, surprising, Holy Spirit work a miracle of healing in the lives of people harmed by abuse. May God bless and keep us honest, diligent and wise through this process.

Faithfully,



Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Greater NW Area
The United Methodist Church

                   




Rev. Carlo A. Rapanut
Assistant to the Bishop
GNW Area of The UMC





Brant Henshaw
Conference Treasurer
Pacific Northwest & Alaska Conferences





Rev. Dan Wilson-Fey
Conference Treasurer/Benefits Officer
Oregon-Idaho
Attached documents:
Facility use agreement template for Boy Scouts of America.
Letter related to BSA sent to pastor at Homer UMC in Alaska.

A call to truth-telling and repentance from The Native American Caucus of The United Methodist Church

As United Methodists begin to understand the historical role the church has played in generations of colonization and harm to Native American peoples, a petition has emerged, calling on churches to tell the truth and repent for their historical role in the loss of countless lives and devastation of rich indigenous cultures.

Greater Northwest Area Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky has signed the petition, as has Rev. Dr. Allen Buck, director of the GNW Circle of Indigenous Ministries and other leaders in the GNW Episcopal Area.

“Join with us in calling for deeply transparent exploration and truth-telling about our role and complicity in taking land, culture, resources and children from the First Peoples here and around the globe,” said Buck, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation who also pastors Great Spirit UMC in Portland. “The Church has helped build and maintain systems which prioritize and benefit ‘whiteness’ – contributing to trauma that impacts generations of Indigenous people.”

At the heart of the petition is the fact that the remains of thousands of Native American children are located in mass burial sites at boarding schools across North America. Most of those boarding schools were operated by churches – including predecessors of The United Methodist Church  – and served as places of abuse and terror for generations of Native American children.

History has revealed that these boarding schools were used to abuse hundreds of thousands of Native American children who were removed – often violently – from their homes and families and placed in these schools in the years between 1869 and the 1960s. There were 367 government-funded Native American Indian Board Schools, according to the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition and many of those schools were run by churches.

Children at these schools were regularly beaten, had their hair forcefully cut and their sacred traditions, languages and identities stolen or destroyed. They were abused physically, emotionally and sexually and were abused or mutilated for speaking their native languages.

This petition calls for churches to commit to discovering the locations and records of Methodist run boarding schools and search the physical properties for mass graves “by whatever means necessary” and to listen to and collect the stories from family members whose ancestors were impacted by a Methodist boarding school.

The petition also calls on The United Methodist Church to set aside October 6 as a day of remembrance as part of The Boarding School Healing Project. On Oct. 6, 1879, Gen. Richard Pratt took children from the First Nations and opened the boarding school in Carlisle, Penn. Because of this date and recent gravesite discoveries, the petitioners ask The UMC to observe Oct. 6, 2021 as a “Day of Truth and Repentance for Our Children.”

Stanovsky urges United Methodists and others in the GNW Area to sign the petition as an act of repentance and a commitment to continuing the long work of addressing the historical harms the church has caused for generations of Native Americans.

“This is just the first step in many acts of repentance we must commit to listen to the voices of Native American neighbors, to acknowledge the sins embedded in the teachings and actions of Christian churches and to repent of these sins as a Church, and followers of Christ, to begin addressing the generational atrocities the church has committed,” she said. “There is much, much more work to be done. It is about becoming trustworthy in our relationships with people whose trust has been deeply betrayed time and time again.  It goes far beyond putting names to a statement.  It requires deep soul searching to understand what went wrong among followers of Jesus.”

GNW COVID-19 Response Team Update

GNW COVID-19 Response Team Update – July 28, 2021

Recommendations for mask usage with Delta variant, indoor congregational singing
Today, the GNW COVID-19 Response Team is releasing two recommendations based on our ongoing conversations and broader developments in the fight against this disease. Both are directed primarily to churches and ministries in Option 2, though Option 1 ministries should note the words of caution regarding the Delta variant. The first is a recommendation to return to masking indoors in all public settings like worship due to the rampant spread of Delta. The second is our promised guidance on congregational singing.

When we released the last major COVID-19 update – “Stepping forward safely in love and trust” – in May to the Greater Northwest Area, significant latitude was offered to local churches and ministries choosing Option 2. Accepting the responsibility to return to in-person ministry in contextually innovative ways, these ministries have been free to work beyond the cautious GNW recommendations offered in Option 1 with three major expectations and one remaining restriction.

The first major expectation was that local churches and ministries would work carefully within both the guidelines offered by the CDC and parameters set by local and state governments, following whichever was more cautious wherever they might differ. The second major expectation Option 2 churches committed to was watching these standards for changes and regularly monitoring local risk using CovidActNow and information from local and state resources. And the final major expectation was that churches would carefully assess this information, making changes to their practices, especially when risk levels might increase.

In short, “Stepping forward…” allows Option 2 churches the freedom to adapt safely to new possibilities as states reopened this summer, and the responsibility to do so carefully, and possibly to step back as new developments like the Delta variant[i] threaten our progress against this disease.

The one major restriction left in place when “Stepping forward…” was released was a prohibition against indoor congregational singing. At the time, our GNW COVID-19 Response Team engaged in several conversations on the topic, reviewing as we did emerging science often funded by groups committed to these performance arts (read: people who love and dedicate their lives to performing and teaching music). Subsequently, we hosted a webinar to help leaders better understand the unique risks posed by singing.

The following resources are being offered today primarily to churches and ministries in Option 2, though Option 1 ministries should note the words of caution regarding the Delta variant.

While we are not updating Option 1 at this time, we are continuing to monitor and discuss the impact of this variant and other changes in public policy. We will make changes as the situation warrants.

In ministry with you,

The GNW COVID-19 Response Team


[i] According to OPB & NPR, the Delta variant “appears to be about 225% more transmissible than the original SARS-CoV-2 strains” with – on average – “about 1,000 times more copies of the virus in their respiratory tracts than those infected.” Prior to their update this week, a growing number of epidemiologists were questioning the CDC masking guidance for vaccinated persons in light of Delta, especially for those who are elderly, or those with compromised immune systems or health conditions putting them at risk.

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From the Bishop: Join me in honoring Juneteenth National Independence Day

People of God,

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8: 31-32

June 19, known as Juneteenth, celebrates the freedom of enslaved Black Americans, by recalling the day in 1865 when the news of President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was finally proclaimed in Texas, three years after it was issued.

Yesterday the U.S. Congress established June 19th as a federal holiday: Juneteenth National Independence Day. The action awaits President Biden’s signature.

On Saturday, June 19th at 10 a.m., the Coos Bay Museum in Coos Bay, Oregon, will dedicate a memorial to the only confirmed lynching of a Black man in the state of Oregon. Alonzo Tucker was lynched in Coos Bay in 1902 as a crowd of 300 people watched. Sponsors of Saturday’s memorial event hope at least 300 people will attend the online dedication of a memorial to Alonzo Tucker.

The memorial to Alonzo Tucker’s lynching is part of a movement of the National Memorial of Peace and Justice to remember and mark the sites where more than 4,400 Black people died by lynching between 1877 and 1950. Taylor Stewart began the Oregon Remembrance Project after visiting the National Memorial as part of a Civil Rights tour of southern states.

Much of our nation’s violent racial history has been forgotten or suppressed by white Americans or assumed to have occurred only in slave states. This event, on Juneteenth, 2021, is an opportunity for citizens of the Northwest to remember and realize that this region has its own violent past that is ours to reckon with and heal.

I hope you will join me online on Saturday, Juneteenth, 2021, as part of the crowd that stands for truth, justice and reconciliation.  

Thank you,

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater NW Episcopal Area

An update on my retirement plans

Greater Northwest Area clergy and lay members of Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences,

Let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us,
looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith…

After deep reflection, conversation with my family and consultation with trusted colleagues, I am withdrawing my request for retirement, effective January 2022, to continue my assignment to the Greater Northwest Area. I hope and pray that postponing retirement will relieve anxiety and contribute to an orderly transition of leadership for all the conferences in the Western Jurisdiction during this extended pandemic interruption of normalcy. I am not naming a new retirement date at this time but hope that it might follow in-person general and jurisdictional conferences in 2022, with the election and assignments of new bishops, for a new quadrennium, beginning January 1, 2023.

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

I never intended my retirement to add to the uncertainty of this wilderness passage. I originally named January 1, 2022 as my retirement date so that my retirement would coincide with that of Bishop Hoshibata and possibly, Bishop Hagiya. At the time, we anticipated regular in-person general and jurisdictional conferences in the fall of 2021, when new bishops might be elected to begin serving as the new quadrennium began with the new year.

Since that request, general and jurisdictional conferences have been put off again, further postponing the election and assignment of new bishops. In light of these delays, the timing of my requested retirement is no longer helpful.

I have a renewed sense of focused mission for this extension of my active service and look forward to continuing to work with lay and clergy leadership of the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences.

Jesus is nudging and tugging the church to engage people and communities with the faith, hope and love of Jesus Christ in ways that bind up wounds, transform lives and overturn systems of exclusion and inequity. We can’t stop now.

I’m still running the race with Jesus. Won’t you pull up your socks, tie your shoelaces, strengthen your weak knees, and join me for the next leg of the race?

Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky

GNW Area creates Circle of Indigenous Ministries

As friendships and ministries with Native American and Indigenous peoples grow, the Greater Northwest Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church is creating the Circle of Indigenous Ministries. Developing mutual, healing, and life-affirming relationships with Native Americans and Indigenous peoples in and outside the church is part of the GNW Area’s ongoing efforts to heal historic trauma and dismantle racism.

Rev. Dr. Allen Buck, pastor of Great Spirit United Methodist Church in Portland and a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, is being appointed as the director of the Circle of Indigenous Ministries, beginning July 1. Rev. Buck will also continue as part-time pastor at Great Spirit.

The Circle will support Native American and Indigenous churches, fellowships, and ministry partners through resourcing, coaching, consultation, and friendship in the Alaska, Oregon-Idaho and Pacific Northwest Conferences.

Rev. Dr. Allen Buck at the Wallowa land return ceremony in April

“The goal is to do what we have been doing, but do it more intentionally,” said Buck. 

Since Buck was appointed to Great Spirit UMC in Portland in 2017, he has assisted the Oregon-Idaho Conference, as well as his colleagues in the Pacific Northwest Conference and Alaska Conference, in acts of repentance, land return and healing with Native American communities across the area.

“The Christian Church has done deep and lasting harm to Indigenous peoples and cultures around the world for centuries,” Bishop Elaine JW Stanovsky said.  “Rev. Buck is helping us learn our history, repent of our sins and form healing partnerships based on humility and mutual respect. ” 

“The Circle of Indigenous Ministries will amplify Indigenous voices and their wisdom while also empowering more authentic leadership of Native American and Indigenous peoples within the church,” said Oregon-Idaho Conference Director of Connectional Ministry Laurie Day, who also serves assistant to Bishop Stanovsky.

For years, the Oregon-Idaho Conference has supported Huckleberry Camp for Native American youth at Camp Magruder in the summers as well as a Nez Perce culture camp at Wallowa Lake Camp in northeastern Oregon. In 2016, the unofficial spiritual home of Native American United Methodists in Oregon-Idaho Conference, Wilshire United Methodist Church in Portland, was on the verge of closing. Former Columbia District Superintendent, Rev. Erin Martin, recruited Buck, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, to serve Wilshire UMC and help grow its ministry into what is now Great Spirit UMC.

The Greater Northwest Area has moved recently into larger acts of repentance and healing, including returning a portion of Wallowa Lake Camp to The Nez Perce Tribe in 2018. In April, the Conference returned the former Wallowa UMC property to the Nimiipuu as well.

Day said Buck has also helped leadership across the Greater Northwest Area begin acts of land recognition, repentance and building more friendships with local tribes and native organizations.

In addition to its work with the Nez Perce Tribe, Great Spirit UMC took ownership of the Chiloquin United Methodist Church building in southern Oregon, when the congregation was officially closed in 2020.  Great Spirit UMC has since turned building use over to The Stronghold, a Native-led organization which partners with the Klamath Tribe to provide culturally responsive peer support services to Native people in transition – be it homelessness due to natural disasters, domestic abuse, drug addiction or more.

Buck said there were no conditions placed upon The Stronghold’s use of the building, because as the church works to decolonize white spaces, it is important to listen to what the Native and Indigenous communities want or need.

“It’s all about relationships,” Buck said. “You can’t do Indigenous ministries without relationships.”

Buck said he is excited to mentor and walk with emerging Native and Indigenous leaders who could serve churches in Native communities. He is eager to partner with the GNW Innovation and Vitality Team to help identify and train culturally responsive leaders in the church.

Day said financial support for The Circle of Indigenous Ministries is coming from across the GNW Area and beyond. This work of recognizing and partnering with Native American, Alaska Native and other populations often marginalized by the church is ongoing.

Nez Perce tribal leaders and Oregon-Idaho Conference leaders exchange words and greetings during the Wallowa UMC land return ceremony in April.

“All of these opportunities are growing, which is why we’re creating the Circle of Indigenous Ministries and we believe Allen Buck is the right leader to continue developing these strong friendships and healing bonds,” Day said. “The need and ministry have grown so much that we cannot wait any longer.”

Grant funding and conferences support will not be enough to develop and sustain the project long-term, which is why the Greater Northwest Area has established a Circle of Indigenous Ministries fund so that individuals may contribute to this growing ministry in the life of the church.

As the incoming director of the new Circle of Indigenous Ministries, Buck said he could use everyone’s prayers as he embarks on this exciting new journey in ministry.

“Pray for us and help us make sure this becomes the priority it needs to be,” he said.

Stepping forward safely in love and trust

Clergy Siblings in Christ,

Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, 
so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. 
Help each other out. And run for it!–Hebrews 12:12, The Message

Friends, we have been running to care, serve and survive COVID-19 for more than 14 months and the end is not yet in sight. You have been our essential workers in ministry for many months as our buildings have been largely closed and activities severely restricted.

We have not crossed the finished line, though we have learned a lot, adapted incredibly, and experienced the presence of God in ways we never expected. From my heart, thank you for your endurance, your courage and fortitude, your vulnerability, your compassion, your faithfulness in the valley of the shadow of death.

Attached is new guidance for churches as they Stepping forward safely in love and trust, that builds upon, but replaces Reimagining Life Together.& It acknowledges the continuing risk of disease, advances in science, and the increasing capacity of our local church leaders to manage the risk in their contexts. New responsibility falls to local leaders to understand and guide their ministry settings wisely and safely with fewer mandated guidelines.

Some of you will welcome the shift of responsibility to local leaders. Others may dread managing intense differences of opinion within your congregation as you make difficult decisions locally. I want to call your attention to two provisions from the document that may help you lead with strength.

1. “…please remember Saint Paul’s admonition that what is “permissible” is not always “beneficial” to the common good. (I Corinthians 10:23). While some churches may act quickly to adopt new, less restrictive practices, it is always OK for a church or ministry to choose to remain more cautious for any reason.”

2. “A local church is not permitted to hold in-person worship without the approval of the pastor. For local churches, decisions about the use of church property for worship or other gatherings belong to the pastor without interference from the Board of Trustees (Book of Discipline, ¶ 2533).”

Your trusted lay leaders and clergy colleagues, district superintendents and directors of connectional ministry are your partners in ministry as you lead one more challenge in the fight against this deadly disease.

And most of all, GOD IS WITH US.

May God bless and keep you all in your circles of care — members, friends, family, neighbors, strangers — so no one will trip and fall!

Elaine JW Stanovsky
Bishop, Greater Northwest Area
The United Methodist Church

A pastoral update on our COVID-19 response

Dear Siblings in Christ, 

We are making progress, but we are not quite there yet. It has been over a year since the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted life as we knew it. We continue to persevere, exhausted at times, yet anticipating the day when we can gather, greet each other, share communion and other precious rhythms of life and spiritual practice in person without risking harm to one another. Hopeful also that we now carry with us new learnings and practices, hard lessons of necessity that will continue to connect us in new ways in life and ministry.  

The rapid vaccine rollout gives us hope that we can enjoy more freedom to gather as families and faith communities soon. Vaccinations coupled with continuous strict adherence to safety protocols are expected to lower infection rates, hospitalizations and COVID-19 related deaths. Overall, we have seen the number of cases decline since the winter peak in many places, but progress has been stalled by premature re-openings, the easing of restrictions in some places, resistance by some to being vaccinated and observing simple safety practices: washing hands, social distancing, wearing a mask. I hope that each of us is continuing to follow these practices, as well as being vaccinated, consistent with medical advice, as soon as we are eligible.  

I was surprised by the deep joy that welled up in me when those shots went in my arm, protecting not only me but also everyone I encounter from the dangers of this virus. I’m grateful to every person who is able and willing to join this movement toward health and safety.   

As Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reminded us in a briefing earlier this year,  

“We may be done with the virus, but clearly the virus is not done with us. We cannot get comfortable or give in to a false sense of security that the worst of the pandemic is behind us – not now; not when mass vaccination is so very close.” 

Permissible not Necessarily Beneficial 

In an article for The Atlantic, Dr. James Hamblin of the Yale School of Public Health points out,  

“Our social lives can resume, but only when the whole community is ready. The turning point does not arrive for individuals, one by one, as soon as they’ve been vaccinated; it comes for all of us at once, when a population becomes immune.” 

With this understanding, we are advised that the number of coronavirus cases needs to decrease further before we resume regular activities, especially in light of the arrival of new fast-spreading variants of the virus. A premature reopening, even if allowed by the state, may run the risk of not just stalling but even reversing the recent progress we have already achieved.  

I am reminded of Saint Paul’s admonition that things that are “permissible” are not necessarily things that are “beneficial” to the common good. (I Corinthians 10:23).  

While we should celebrate the good news of vaccines providing a layer of protection already for a significant number of members in some of our congregations, the church does not belong solely to those who are vaccinated. Especially as we have just now reached a time when all adults are eligible to receive a vaccine, we must continue to be patient to allow them the privilege of receiving this gift of security before we consider letting our guard down. At the same time, we will need to find ways to protect and include children in church life while continuing to wait for vaccination eligibility to be extended to them. 

As the church, God calls us always to do things that are beneficial because we bear responsibility towards the well-being of others, especially the most vulnerable among us.  

A Posture of Hopeful Caution 

The progress we see in vaccinations, tempered by the potential threat of variants we race, leads me toward a posture of hopeful caution; we are almost there but not quite there yet. Even as our hope is renewed with the increasing percentage of those vaccinated, our decisions and actions must continue to manifest the utmost concern for one another as an act of love in response to Jesus’ command for us to love one another as he had loved us (John 13:34).  

Accordingly, I am asking churches to remain vigilant in their planning and decision-making processes. The COVID-19 Response Team, made up of lay and clergy members from across the area, is continuing to review and amend its guidance to local churches. By May 5th, we will release updated guidelines for Phase 3, shifting more responsibility to local leaders to guide their congregation’s, camp’s or other ministry setting’s COVID-19 response.  

I am grateful for each of you and your faithfulness and commitment, especially during this long time of physical separation due to this pandemic. May the hard lessons learned as we have persevered, and new skills developed as you have adapted, empower our work together and witness to God’s love which never fails us. 

“Those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength.” (Isaiah 40:31) 

With love and grace, 

Elaine JW Stanovsky 
Bishop, Greater Northwest Episcopal Area 

Offered in consultation with the COVID-19 Response Team, as currently composed: 

  • Rev. Alyssa Baker, pastor, Open Door Churches of Salem-Keizer, OR-ID Conference 
  • Laurie Day, OR-ID Conference Director of Connectional Ministries 
  • Rev. Jim Doepken, pastor, Moose Pass & Seward Memorial UMCs, Alaska Conference 
  • Rev. Mark Galang, Puget Sound District Superintendent, PNW Conference 
  • Rhondalei Gabuat, Executive Assistant for Bishop Stanovsky Greater Northwest Episcopal Area  
  • Rev. Karen Hernandez, Sage District Superintendent, OR-ID Conference 
  • Rev. Pat Longstroth, pastor, Bremerton UMC, PNW Conference 
  • Becky Platt, lay member, Boise (ID): Whitney UMC, OR-ID Conference 
  • Patrick Scriven, PNW Conference Director of Communications 
  • Jim Truitt, lay member, Renton (WA): Fairwood Community UMC, PNW Conference 

Fair and equal ordination for all: It’s one thing to be ordained, it’s another to be appointed as an LGBTQ+ clergyperson

When it comes to the full inclusion of LGBTQ+ people in the life and ministry of our United Methodist Churches, is ordination fair and equal yet or is it still something to which we aspire?

As the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church continues its “Where Love Lives” campaign this month, the Greater Northwest Area of The UMC will explore our LGBTQ+ siblings’ call to ministry in a denomination where, by and large, they are still not welcome. Here, Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed shares her perspective on being a queer clergyperson in rural, more conservative communities and calls on her allies in more inclusive communities to understand the challenges.

“It’s not about you, Pastor,” they said.

It was all I could do not to throw my phone across the room and watch it shatter against the wall of the hotel room.

 As I write this, I am currently serving two churches two hundred miles apart. I am doing this because when a pastor left to move cross country after her spouse’s job was transferred, conference leadership could not find someone to take the appointment. This is not an unusual circumstance for southern Idaho. It is a rural community that is a lot more conservative and very culturally different than their fellow Methodists on the other side of the conference in Oregon.

I was spending a week at the second church, which is an interim appointment to give them some leadership and help them find ways to worship during a pandemic, when I began getting frantic phone calls from members of my primary appointment.

A couple in the church was withdrawing their membership and as word traveled across the phonelines and over the fences, people wanted to know why. I was at a loss. I could not figure out what could have caused this couple, part of the core of our church who is involved in everything from teaching Sunday School to overseeing the installation of new carpet to sever their relationship with a church they had been active in for so long.

I called and learned that they did not like the “politics” of the conference leadership and didn’t like the “direction” they saw the United Methodist Church traveling… so they were leaving. But they assured me it was not about me.

Except it was.

They just did not know it.

I first began to realize I was being called into ministry when I was sixteen years old. I had been raised in church, as had been my parents, so my faith was deeply rooted. I expected my friends to be shocked by the news, but they just shrugged and said, “You were always the spiritual one.”

At that time, I did not know how to talk about my sexuality.

My mother said I was a late bloomer because I was not pre-occupied with sex.

Tommy, whose locker was next to me, called me a “lesbo”—something he often scrawled on my locker. When I would not reveal the culprit, believing it would just make things worse, the principal ordered me wash the slur off my locker door.

But I did not have the words back then to explain what I was or how I felt.

“Asexual” was not in our lexicon about human sexuality in the mid-nineties. And being a lesbian was not an acceptable answer. I was born and raised in West Virginia. I held very conservative and traditional Appalachian values. Heterosexuality was the only acceptable expression of a person’s innermost feelings and I could not be anything else without sacrificing my family, my place in the community, and my church.

I watched other girls and learned how to act by mimicking them. Every crush I had on television heartthrobs and rock stars was a farce. I was always going with the flow, trying to convince myself and everyone around me that I was just as attracted to Uncle Jesse (from “Full House”) as every other female in my sphere of influence.

It would take years, two suicide attempts, and one failed opposite-sex marriage for me to finally acknowledge what I was. And even then, finding the right label, the correct words, was difficult and a reality I kept well hidden.

Now, I can call myself an “asexual lesbian” and feel wonderfully comfortable with it. I am someone who does not experience any sexual attraction toward anyone but has always felt romantic attractions to other women. But it took a lifetime to get to this place.

When I went before my District Committee on Ordination in my mid-twenties, I was still pretending to be something I was not. I do not know if I would have lied had I been asked about my sexuality, but no one ever raised the question.

I did not really experience discrimination during the ordination process itself. I was fortunate that no one asked, and I was not yet ready to say it publicly. I was also content with singleness at that point in my life and assumed that would protect me from the worst of the anti-gay vitriol. 

It was after the ordination process was complete and I was becoming more comfortable in my skin with my clergy identity as well as my sexuality that the problems began.  

I stopped pretending. I stopped trying to look like the women around me. I started expressing myself as I saw myself, which has always been perceived as masculine (butch). People began to have suspicions.

I began struggling with the inner debate about coming out publicly because I was serving a church that was making sexuality a major component of their identity. They wanted to be opposed to same-sex marriage and LGBTQIA peoples in the ministry. They kept pushing me to acknowledge that part of me they had began to suspect. Also, the question of full LGBTQIA inclusion in the church was reaching a fever-pitch and I kept hearing my colleagues who opposed inclusion say things like, “We’ll ordain gays as long as they are single and celibate.”

I knew they were lying.

Because if they were being honest, I should not have had to live in hiding and fear. I was single. I was celibate. While I watched straight colleagues have inappropriate sexual relationships and receive little more than a slap on the wrist, I knew that acknowledging my sexuality, even though I was celibate, would end my ministry.

After coming out to some colleagues, my bishop, and my family (in that order—I was terrified of my family’s reaction), I came out publicly.

And it became clear I would not have a future in the ministry in West Virginia.

I was that “single, celibate” gay pastor of conservative Christian mythology, but I was discarded like yesterday’s rubbish. It turns out there is an unspoken aspect of the “single, celibate” minster rule that no one acknowledges, but we all know is there: Do not even think about acknowledging what you are. Be single. Be celibate. And pretend to be straight.

I never thought I would leave Appalachia, but I had to. I applied to transfer to a more progressive, accepting conference. When I was presented with an opportunity to serve a church, it turned out to be on the conservative side of the conference. The District Superintendent called me and asked that I take down the blog articles I had written about coming out. She had loved them, but she did not think the church she was about to present me to would be ready for the “sexuality conversation.”

After years of fear and struggling, after summoning a courage I never knew I had to kick open the door I was hiding behind, and after weathering slings and arrows to come out on the other side somehow still standing, I was asked to go back in the closet.

As I watch churches in southern Idaho struggle to find pastors to serve them, largely since my straight male colleagues (who claim the “ally” label) refuse to itinerate here, I am left to fend for myself.

Single women are carrying the burden of keeping rural churches in southern Idaho open and alive. And in my case, it comes at the price of sacrificing any chance that I might have at living in the fullness of who I am. As long as I am here there will be no dating, no possibility of marriage, no coming home to a partner who can hold me after a hard day. It means getting bad news about parishioners alone in a hotel room and having no shoulder to cry on.

The allies who would have an easier road to walk in these places have simply refused to come and prepare the way. They have left it to those of us who are unwanted to come and make the road smooth and to lay the foundations for a more inclusive church.

Gradually, over the past three years, I have built relationships that have reached the point where we can talk about my sexuality. Some parishioners have figured it out on their own, some I have talked to about it. And some, I am not ready to have that conversation with.

The couple that left fell into the latter category.

I knew a revelation about my sexuality would be difficult for them to accept. I was still praying about how to approach the subject and when to talk to them about it, knowing that if things went sideways, I would be dealing with it alone – and then they announced they were leaving because our conference leadership supports full inclusion of LGBTQIA persons.

What good does it do me that leadership is in support of full inclusion of LGBTQIA persons when that same leadership asked me to go back into the closet and close the door behind me? What good does a public rhetoric of ally-ship do me when those same allies refuse to come to the harder places to be an ally and make the road a little easier for us to walk? What good are messages of solidarity when we are abandoned and alone in these places?

“It’s not about you, Pastor”, they said.

Except it is, whether they know it or not.


Rev. Amanda Gayle Reed, an elder in full connection, joined the Oregon-Idaho Conference in 2017 and currently serves two churches in southern Idaho.

Fair and equal ordination for all: A queer clergyperson’s path to ministry, ordination and hope for full inclusion

As the Western Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church continues its “Where Love Lives” campaign this month, the Greater Northwest Area of The UMC will explore our LGBTQ+ siblings’ call to ministry in a denomination where, by and large, they are still not welcome.

This is the unfiltered story of Rev. Katie Ladd, an ordained elder in the Pacific Northwest Conference who identifies herself as queer. Listen to her story of being called to ministry as an outsider, going through her ordination service without her beloved standing beside her, and her hopes for the denomination’s future.

Being Methodist is a core part of my personal identity. My family counts two circuit riders in it – Jeptha Hughes and Ashley Hewitt. While history does not indicate calling, the stories of circuit riding down the Natchez Trace and into Louisiana fueled my imagination as a child. I preached to my stuffed animals on the Sundays we did not go to church. This imagination would become part of my dreaming for a church rooted in the past, oriented to the context in which it is found, and nimble and responsive to a future yet to be charted.

The first real voice that invited me to think about ordained ministry was my associate pastor, a woman, who approached me after youth Sunday and remarked that I might give the idea some thought. I brushed it off with a laugh. After my first year in college (a United Methodist liberal arts college), I began the candidacy process; it languished for years. While working for an environmental chemistry firm in Houston, my spirit cried out for more. My college advisor from the religion department encouraged me to return to graduate school with eyes toward a master’s degree of divinity (MDiv). I wanted to enroll in a master’s degree in art program en route to a doctorate degree. This adviser persuaded me against the latter, seeing in me something I couldn’t see in myself. This has been true throughout my call.

Some are called from deep within; some of us have the call articulated by others and are guided toward a life that we otherwise would not have chosen – think Jonah or Moses. Even in divinity school, I did not see myself working in a church setting. Medical ethics was my focus. Yet, throughout a gradual but transformative time, the work of sowing community and participating in the healing of the world through community led me back to what my ancestors did so long ago – pastoral work in a rapidly changing social landscape.

Being Queer is as much a part of me as my gender, nationality, ethnicity, or Methodist roots, and it clearly has influenced my call to and work in ministry. Throughout my life, I have been an outsider. I have never fit in. Some of that is due to sexual orientation, but not all. This outsider status has opened me to empathy in a way that transcends the particularities of my own experience and in ways that bring me into deep spiritual community with people very unlike me. That said, when I began the long and circuitous route to ordination, sexual orientation was not part of the conscious discernment process – not until divinity school. It was there that the dean of Methodist studies discouraged me from taking Methodist classes. He deemed them a “waste of time” because I refused to live in a closet. I insisted on living out as God created me to be. Therefore, I would either never be ordained or would not remain ordained. He told me to save my money and spend it elsewhere in school.

 In the 1990s there was no place for an out bisexual clergy person in any denomination, including ours. While I didn’t take his classes, that discouragement achieved the opposite of his goals; it made me more determined than ever to stake my claim in the church that had been my home – and my family’s home – for generations. I belonged here and no prejudice would drive me out. Most of my early ministry was centered on people living with addiction, as I have done. I worked with abused and neglected children. I worked with unhoused youth and young adults. While I have never experienced this kind of trauma, I did know what it felt like not to belong and to know what it means to have one’s core self-excluded, ignored, derided, and despised.

A person in a robe stands before a baptism font.

But the privilege of growing up loved and secure gave me a strength to stand in the breach with those not afforded the same. Knowing a God who always embraced me in times of duress put holy ground under my feet. I understood the experience of exile and the joy of homecoming. These have circumscribed my ministry – exile and homecoming. This is fueled by the slights and struggles I experienced as a young Queer person, but my ministry is with and to all who have experienced exile and who yearn for sacred homecoming. 

My ordination process began in what was once called the North Arkansas Annual Conference. I grew up around Memphis, TN, just south in Mississippi and just north in Arkansas. My family is from the Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana corner of our nation. I’m deeply Southern. It won’t surprise anyone that neither my theology nor my person found home in the church that formed me. The church that baptized me ultimately did not want me to serve any of its congregations. My process was largely unremarkable until I went before the Board of Ordained Ministry where things went decidedly and horribly wrong. Evidently my psychological evaluation was returned with a handwritten note that said that I “don’t conform to traditional female roles,” which was, evidently, code for suspicion that I might be “gay.” Not wanting to deal with this in a direct manner in the mid-90s, another tack was taken – to tear apart answers to theological questions. At first the conversation with the board was confusing, then heated, and eventually it turned acrimonious. During a break, the same pastor who had first approached me regarding ministry filled me on the assumptions. I simply challenged them to ask if I was gay and I left. That ended the process in Arkansas. Much like being dissuaded from taking Methodist classes in divinity school, this did not stop the pursuit of ministry. Rather, I searched for a place where my exile could become homecoming. That led to the Pacific Northwest Conference. One might think the challenges ended here.

While my time here has been much different from Arkansas, there were challenges in my process and there remain challenges in ministry. Leading up to annual conference where I was to be ordained an elder, I was cautioned not to bring my partner up with me during the laying on of hands as is the tradition. I couldn’t in good conscience leave my spouse sitting with my church and bring my parents. I was ordained alone. That is a more dramatic moment, but life is filled with such moments. For years, or so I’ve been told, there were people who asked for me not to receive an appointment. That exile experience made its way into my heart, too. For years I needed a new robe or alb, but I wouldn’t buy one because I was certain that I wouldn’t make it through the next year as a pastor of a church. I have lived with that for 23 years of ordained ministry. That low level anxiety continues to be part of me even though I am unaware of it most of the time: I still don’t have business cards….

Even here in the PNW Conference, and the Western Jurisdiction, we have work to do today.

Even in congregations that become part of the Reconciling Ministries Network movement, much work is needed to re-sculpt them into places of homecoming for LGBTQIA+ people, including clergy. Beyond that, even in those congregations that have created strong ecosystems of welcome for and leadership from LGBTQIA+ people, much is needed to align this work for justice and dream for homecoming with other struggles, such as dismantling white supremacy.

Rev. Katie Ladd

Struggles do not exist in a vacuum. Injustice does not exist in a silo. Each is related to the other. As part of our Gospel call, there is much to do, and it cannot, or should not, be left to individual clergy and congregations to sort out alone. For example, I was going to be appointed to a congregation that was not yet reconciling. In conversation with the then bishop about my concerns, I was told that no preparation would be done because sexual orientation shouldn’t be an issue. There was a distinct “if we don’t talk about it, it’s not a problem” naïveté with this attitude. This kind of naiveté creates harm, and, as Wesleyans, our first rule is to “do no harm.” Harm ensued. Over the years there have been acts of vandalism, protests, and even threats of violence directed toward the churches I’ve served and to me. Largely I have been left to sort through these on my own using pre-existing relationships to seek wisdom and to my own devices to find the resources required. This is not connectionism at work. We can, and must, do better.

As we look to what Methodism might be in the future, I hope that our new incarnation will not simply be the same old church but one that will fully embrace LGBTQIA+ people. I hope we let the Holy Spirit blow through this institution with holy life that ties us each to another – struggle to struggle, hope to hope, congregation to congregation such that no person feels abandonment, despair, injustice or oppression. The Gospel is a proclamation of life in the midst of death. To affirm Queer folks is to break open the staid and dead systems that hold us down so that life erupts in unexpected ways. This requires truth telling, life sharing, discomfort, and hard and courageous conversations – absolutely about sexual orientation and gender identity, but also about so much more – sexual ethics, white supremacy, wealth and money, missional priorities, colonialism, prophetic nerve, bold action, empowered laity, willingness to fail, nimble systems, accountability for the privileged, and courageous leadership.

God is at work in our world and in our people. The prophets tell us that God calls from the margins and demands that we center the widow, the orphan, and the stranger – those who are most despised and vulnerable. The community that does this is on the side of God’s Gospel of life. We need to center the voices of those who have been pushed aside, dismissed, and discounted. Then we will find ourselves moving toward the beloved community – God’s holy reign. 

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