|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
The Rev. Beth Stroud (right) hugs her partner, Chris Paige, after Stroud's conviction by a United Methodist trial court.
Dec. 3, 2004
By Linda Bloom and Linda Green*
PUGHTOWN, Pa. (UMNS) – Irene
Elizabeth “Beth” Stroud may have lost her ministerial credentials, but
she has not given up on the United Methodist Church.
former Philadelphia clergywoman, whose sexual orientation led to a Dec.
2 guilty verdict by a church trial court, had not expected to win her
case but expressed hope afterward “that in time and through God’s
spirit, the United Methodist Church will change its (Book of)
Because Stroud, 34, had publicly acknowledged
that she was living in a committed relationship with another woman, she
was found to have violated the church’s law book, which forbids the
participation of “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” in the ordained
trial court — or jury — of 13 clergy members voted 7-6 to withdraw her
credentials. “In the divided vote, I feel the dividedness of the church,
but I feel hopeful,” Stroud said. She considers the trial to be a
“teaching moment” for the denomination, she said.
two-day trial was held at Camp Innabah, a church-owned retreat center
in the denomination’s Eastern Pennsylvania Annual (regional) Conference.
Retired Bishop Joseph Yeakel of Smithsburg, Md., presided.
being unable to perform the sacraments, Stroud said she is eager to
continue her ministry at First United Methodist Church in Germantown,
Pa. — where she had been an associate pastor since 1999 — as a
was charged with violating Paragraph 2702.1(b) of the 2000 Book of
Discipline by engaging in practices declared by the United Methodist
Church to be incompatible with Christian teachings. The charge
originated from a complaint filed by Bishop Peter Weaver, who led the
Eastern Pennsylvania Conference until Aug. 31 and currently serves the
New England Conference.
charge was supported by four specifications of evidence, and the trial
court found Stroud guilty of each specification by a vote of 12-1.
first specification focused on an April 19, 2003, letter that Stroud
sent to members of her congregation, speaking of her struggle “to
respond to God’s calling” while “a lesbian living in a committed
relationship with a partner.” In that letter, Stroud wrote that she
realized being open about her sexuality “will put my credentials as an
ordained United Methodist minister at risk.”
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
The Rev. Beth Stroud (right) hugs a member of the trial court that revoked her ministerial credentials.
referred to an April 27, 2003, sermon in which Stroud told how she “came
to understand that I was a lesbian” while a student at Bryn Mawr
College around 1990. In the sermon, she again acknowledged a possible
loss of her credentials. She also introduced Chris Paige, the partner
with whom she had “lived in a covenant relationship for two and one-half
years,” to the congregation.
3 noted that on July 23, 2004, the conference’s committee on
investigation inquired about the physical nature of Stroud’s
relationship with Paige and whether it included sexual contact. Stroud
provided some context about the relationship and added, “But, yes, that
is a part of our relationship. It’s a part of who we are as a loving
couple and as partners.”
4 said that because of the evidence, the committee believed Stroud was a
self-avowed practicing homosexual in a monogamous, committed
relationship with a specific female partner while in the ordained
ministry of the United Methodist Church.
the verdict, Stroud has 30 days to decide whether to appeal the outcome
to the committee on appeal for the denomination’s Northeastern
after the trial, the Rev. Thomas Hall, who was lead counsel for the
church, told United Methodist News Service, “We do not like bringing
charges against a colleague, but the Book of Discipline is very clear
about what it means to be an ordained United Methodist minister. It is
terrible that we had to bring charges, but this was about accountability
— holding ministers accountable to appropriate behavior.”
Rev. J. Dennis Williams, who served as Stroud’s counsel, said he was
disappointed that Yeakel had limited the scope of the defense. Yeakel
had ruled that certain matters the defense team intended to present were
not appropriate for a trial court but were matters to be considered by
the Judicial Council or General Conference – the church’s supreme court
and top legislative assembly.
trial was not about winning or losing,” Williams said. The proceedings
did show how the issue of homosexuality and the ordained ministry could
be debated without anger, he added. “Perhaps this can be a piece in a
journey that will help us to look at this issue not just from law, but
Rev. Fred Day, senior pastor of the Germantown church, expressed
frustrated and disappointment with the process. “This is not the United
Methodist Church of our past heritage or best future, to be driven by
rigid rules and regulations, but by ever-widening circles of grace,” he
for the jurors, the Rev. Jeffrey Snyder, chairperson, told the press
that the trial “was an extremely thoughtful and difficult process.”
Snyder, who is pastor of Columbia United Methodist Church in Lancaster
County, said the split vote regarding the penalty against Stroud was
evidence that “there is not one uniform thought concerning this issue in
the United Methodist Church.”
statement made on behalf of Bishop Marcus Matthews and the Eastern
Pennsylvania Conference also mentioned the lack of uniformity. “While
the trial may be over, the pain and division over homosexuality is not
ending,” it said.
|A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose
and friends surround the Rev. Beth Stroud (center) and her partner,
Chris Paige (to Stroud's right), after Stroud's conviction.
Bishop John Schol
of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, a friend and former colleague
who testified on Stroud’s behalf, said he was “saddened that Beth’s
fitness for ministry has been questioned.”
Schol said he believes “our love for one another and the church is
stronger than our disagreements.” Schol wrote a unity statement that was
overwhelmingly approved by the 2004 General Conference, the
denomination’s top legislative assembly.
wants members of the denomination to learn from one another, he said.
“I call everyone in the church to be healers and bridge builders,” he
said in a statement. “Pastors and church leaders have the opportunity to
share and interpret to their congregations and communities concerning
the church’s actions today in ways that build understanding rather than
trial period included selection of the trial court members, an opening
worship service, two-hour sessions of presentations by church and
respondent counsel on the afternoon of Dec. 1 and the following morning,
and jury deliberations for both the verdict and penalty.
the trial, Stroud explained that the first stirring of her call to
ministry came at an early age through a family dedicated to the United
Methodist Church. “We were one of those families that was at the church
often three or four nights of the week as well as Sunday mornings,” she
college, she decided to go to seminary, but she was uncertain of her
calling until she interviewed some pastors of predominantly gay and
lesbian congregations in New York for a story she was writing. An inner
voice told her, “I don’t want you to write about this, I want you to do
this,” she told the court.
said she expected that at some point during the road to ordination,
someone would ask her about her sexuality and she would have to be
truthful, but it never happened.
who appeared as a witness for Stroud, said she told him about her
sexual orientation before they started appointments together as pastors
of West Chester (Pa.) United Methodist Church in 1997 but indicated she
was not in a relationship then. “She wanted me to know that because she
didn’t want to hurt my ministry or the ministry of the church,” he
considers Stroud a “person of great integrity” and a great preacher who
was impressive in that first appointment, he said. “I believe Beth was
called to that ministry.”
Rev. Fred Day, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church of
Germantown, told the trial court he believed Stroud has “been faithful
to the sacred trust of ministry.” He described her as deeply spiritual
and grounded in the faith, highly effective as an administrator, and a
model teacher and leader of the church youth. “She is truly a
transformational leader in our church,” he said.
his closing argument, Williams told the trial court “the heart of the
issue is whether all United Methodists, regardless of status, are to be
afforded equal rights and equal opportunities.” He urged the jurors not
to look at a narrow spectrum of facts but at the rest of the Book of
Discipline as well.
in closing, reviewed the specifications of the case and noted that
Bishop Peter Weaver had done everything possible, under the Book of
Discipline “to bring reconciliation and just resolution” to the case
before filing the charge against Stroud.
calling is not in dispute,” Hall said. “Her decision to live outside
the boundaries of what we’ve agreed to live within is in dispute.”
the Stroud trial, the last public church trial occurred in March, when
the Rev. Karen Dammann of Seattle was found not guilty of the charge of
engaging in “practices incompatible with Christian teachings.” The trial
court of the denomination’s Pacific Northwest Conference did find that
Dammann had openly admitted to being a practicing homosexual.
early May, the Judicial Council ruled that it did not have the
authority to review the findings of the Dammann trial court. But the
council reaffirmed that a bishop may not appoint a pastor who has been
found by a trial court to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual.”
*Bloom and Green are United Methodist News Service news writers.
News media contact: Linda Green or Linda Bloom, (646) 369-3759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.