|Rejected pastors receive 'extraordinary ordination' |
Annie Britton (left) and Jenna Zirbel bless the
elements of Holy Communion as part of their "extraordinary ordination"
service in Baltimore. UMNS photos courtesy of the Church Within a
A UMNS Report
By Linda Green*
Oct. 31, 2008
Annie Britton and Jenna Zirbel, blocked from ordination as United
Methodist ministers because one is a legally married lesbian and the
other disagrees with church rules on homosexuality, received
"extraordinary ordination" in an ecumenical service at a United
Methodist church in Baltimore.
The Oct. 19 "ordinations" were called extraordinary because "they
went against 'ordinary' policies in the United Methodist Church that
deny ordination to otherwise qualified candidates because of sexual
orientation or inclusive beliefs," according to the Church Within a
Church Movement, sponsors of the service.
Church Within a Church is an organization of Methodists who describe
themselves as "dedicated to being the inclusive church." The group chose
to hold the service at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church
because of its proximity to the birthplace of American Methodism in
During the 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.
"For too long, selective reading of the Bible has meant that gay,
lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their supporters have been
excluded and punished for their honesty when they reject the 'don’t ask,
don’t tell' practices of the church," Morrison said in a press release
from Church Within a Church.
Zirbel and her husband, the Rev. Andy Little, serve
communion to Bishop Jesse DeWitt as Bishop Susan Morrison and the Rev.
Traci West watch.
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." The denomination also prohibits
ordination of "self-avowed practicing homosexuals.”
Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, president of the United Methodist
Council of Bishops, said the Baltimore event was not sanctioned by the
"The Council of Bishops continues to engage in dialogue with many
persons of differing opinions on issues of sexuality as we seek to live
together in Christian community," Palmer said in an Oct. 28 statement.
"While this event certainly creates additional dialogue, it is perhaps
not the kind of dialogue that ultimately helps us to move forward as a
Bishop John R. Schol, who oversees the church's Baltimore-Washington Area, could not be reached for comment.
Years of planning
Cathy Knight, executive director of Church Within A Church, said the
group was formed in 2002 to "be the church they wanted the church to
be." She said that after years of planning and careful consideration of
applicants for "extraordinary ordination," two candidates were
Britton, 53, said she was excluded from ordination because she is gay
and legally married to her partner in Massachusetts. The couple now
lives in Rhode Island. "After we were married, I knew I could not keep
my marriage covenant a secret any more than I could keep my covenant to
God’s people a secret," she said.
Zirbel, 53, said she was denied ordination because of her position
against the United Methodist stance on homosexuality. "Even though I am
straight and my ordination care committee recommended me unanimously, I
was denied ordination because I stated my support of gay and lesbian
people in the church," she said.
While neither woman is eligible for assignments to lead United Methodist churches under the denomination's Book of Discipline, they plan to seek other jobs within the church or other denominations.
The Council of Bishops, which is the denomination's top clergy body,
meets Nov. 2-7 in St. Simons Island, Ga., and could address the
Baltimore event, although officials could not say whether the matter
would be discussed. The council includes 69 active and 91 retired
bishops from the United States, Africa, Europe and the Philippines and
oversees issues of the church, including pastoral accountability and
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.
News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or email@example.com.
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Human Sexuality from the Social Principles
Regarding the Ministry of the Ordained—paragraph 304.3
Council of Bishops
Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church
Church Within A Church Movement