'Extraordinary Ordination' Has No United Methodist Status, Bishops Say

November 14, 2008

A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*

The "extraordinary ordinations" of two women by the unofficial Church Within A Church group "has no official status" within The United Methodist Church, says the Council of Bishops.
In a Nov. 7 statement, the United Methodist bishops declared the ecumenical ordination of a lesbian and another woman who champions gay rights, which took place Oct. 19 at a United Methodist Church in Baltimore, "was not approved by any United Methodist annual conference, board of ordained ministry or cabinet."
The ordinations "belong to Church Within A Church," according to the council of 69 active and 91 retired bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines.
Church Within a Church is a six-year old organization of Methodists who describe themselves as "dedicated to being the inclusive church." During the ecumenical ordination service, hands were laid on the two women by retired United Methodist Bishops Susan Morrison and Jessie DeWitt, along with leaders from the United Church of Christ, Catholic, Lutheran and Presbyterian churches and the women's sponsors.
While ordinations are ecclesial actions, the bishops said the ordination, "has no effect within The United Methodist Church," has no official status, and will not qualify individuals for appointment within the denomination. The bishops upheld the clarity of the church's proscription that it does not ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals.
The 2008 General Conference, the top lawmaking body of The United Methodist Church, upheld the church's stance that homosexual practice is "incompatible with Christian teaching."
Although the denomination does not recognize the ordinations, the interest in the service from United Methodists worldwide, religious, and secular bodies prompted the bishops to collaborate and release a uniform response.
Effect of ordination
According to Minnesota Bishop Sally Dyck, (at right, below) a member of the task force that created the statement, it represents the facts about the "extraordinary ordination" and outlines the actual effect of what the ordination means to the United Methodist Church. "Church Within a Church is the one that ordained them, not the United Methodist Church," she said.
The statement also removes doubt about the standing of the women as "ordinands" and their relationship to The United Methodist Church and affirms the bishops' and church's understanding of ordination of self-avowed practicing homosexuals. "It was a helpful clarification," said Indiana Bishop Michael Coyner.
The ecumenical service was held at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church in Baltimore, located inside the Episcopal area of Bishop John Schol of Washington. He expressed appreciation for the council's statement, which he said "speaks for itself."
As people express their faith, there are times when the expression goes beyond church structure and polity, noted Wisconsin Bishop Linda Lee, but that does not make the ordination valid. "Our word is clear as a council that we will uphold the Discipline as it is written until it changes," she said.
A group of people wanted to ordain someone they felt had been rejected, added East Ohio Conference Bishop John Hopkins, but there "are no widespread implications to The United Methodist Church."
Struggles regarding homosexuality
Mainline Protestant denominations have struggled for decades with issues surrounding homosexuality and ordination. While the United Methodist Church prohibits homosexual ordination, it welcomes homosexual members and considers them to be of sacred worth.
Groups such as Church Within a Church seek to change church policy while other entities work to maintain the church's stance. These disagreements have sometimes evoked talk of schism in the church, but bishops of the church believe that perception is wrong.
"I don’t think this is a barometer of it," Dyck said. "There are some folks who are really out on the edges and the majority of folk in the church are trying to find a way to live together."
Lee, who is chairperson of the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race, agreed. "I do not believe it is an indication of schism," she said. "I believe it is an indication of dissatisfaction." The body continues to work toward unity and the majority of United Methodists still desire unity, she added.
Hopkins, chairperson of the chuchwide group that brings vision, mission, and money together at one table, said, "the church, since its beginning, has always headed toward schism." But he does not consider that the prevailing spirit because Church Within a Church and other groups "do want they need to do, but there is no intent to harm The United Methodist Church."
No split foreseen
There are people who are unhappy with their stance and will find ways to protest or engage in acts of disobedience against the church, Coyner said. "Some may leave the church but I do not think the church is headed for a split," he added.
Acknowledging the strength and diversity of the denomination, Schol said the church would continue to experience differences in the midst of a growing, changing, dynamic, and global world. "The United Methodist Church is strong and it is going to see its way through any controversies and any issues because in the end, it is not our church, it is God's church and God is going to have God's way," he declared.
Bishop Gregory Palmer believes the extraordinary ordination and other renegade actions generate conversation but he "is not persuaded that they promote dialogue at the highest levels, where we are really all at our best even when we have differing opinions.
"My yearning is for us to find a way to stay and to hold and hang together" around the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," he added. "We can do that but it takes the hard work of all who are involved in the church."
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.