Methodist churches wrestle with gay marriage vote

  • Catherine Bennett, the music director at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley, plays the hymn “Let Your Faith Be Stronger Than Your Fear,” Monday, after talking about the recent decision delegates at the United Methodist Church’s general conference made to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • A banner which says, "At Wesley you belong," at Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter F. Milloy, the Pastor of United Methodist Church of Holyoke, S Hadley and Granby, talks about the recent decision delegates at the United Methodist Church's general conference made to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Catherine Bennett, the music director at Wesley United Methodist Church, talks about the recent decision delegates at the United Methodist Church's general conference made to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter F. Milloy, the Pastor of United Methodist Church of Holyoke, S Hadley and Granby, talks about the recent decision delegates at the United Methodist Church's general conference made to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Catherine Bennett, the music director at Wesley United Methodist Church, talks about the recent decision delegates at the United Methodist Church's general conference made to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter F. Milloy, the Pastor of United Methodist Church of Holyoke, S Hadley and Granby, talks about the recent decision delegates at the United Methodist Church's general conference made to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Catherine Bennett, the music director at Wesley United Methodist Church, talks about the recent decision delegates at the United Methodist Church's general conference made to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. —STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

  • Peter F. Milloy, the pastor of United Methodist Church of Holyoke, South Hadley and Granby, talks Monday about the recent vote by delegates at the United Methodist Church’s general conference to uphold bans on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/5/2019 12:01:14 AM

HADLEY — After a vote last week reaffirming its ban on same-sex marriage and the ordaining of gay clergy, the United Methodist Church is facing a possible split as congregations choose sides.

It’s not hard to tell what side of that debate Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley leans toward. Outside the church there is a rainbow-colored sign reading, “At Wesley, you belong.”

Wesley United Methodist is one of the local Methodist churches grappling with how to respond after delegates at an international conference voted to retain restrictive policies on marriage and the ordination of clergy.

“We love our brothers and sisters who are part of the LGBTQIA community,” Wesley United Methodist’s music director Catherine Bennett said Monday afternoon. She said that several years ago, the congregation voted to become a “reconciling congregation” that welcomes people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. 

Bennett said that there was palpable sadness at Sunday’s church service after news of the decision made by delegates at the United Methodist Church’s general conference, and that the Rev. Byungmoo Lee addressed that decision directly. Lee could not be reached for comment on Monday.

Stressing that she was speaking for herself and not the entire congregation, Bennett said that she doesn’t think a congregation can be truly welcoming to everyone if it bars some of those people from marrying or becoming clergy.

“You can’t have levels of participation,” she said.

On the other side of the Mount Holyoke Range, a much smaller congregation is dealing with the issue a bit differently, however.

“There really hasn’t been a lot of conversation,” said Peter Milloy, the pastor of United Methodist Church of Holyoke, South Hadley and Granby. “Most people in the congregation are not aware of what’s happening elsewhere in the denomination.” 

Milloy said his church, which is located in South Hadley, has an average attendance of 27 members and that they skew toward an older demographic. He said nobody has asked to have a same-sex wedding at the church since he arrived in 2011, and that no LGBTQ members have expressed interest in going into the clergy.

“It’s moot for us,” Milloy said, declining to share his own stance on the issue. His church does have a rainbow-colored sign displayed in front that reads “celebrate diversity,” and Milloy said the church council decided to become a reconciling congregation in 1996. 

Milloy said that local congregations are coming together this Saturday at Trinity United Methodist Church in Springfield in order to unpack what happened at the general conference. The event is titled “Courageous Conversations.”

“It’s going to be an opportunity for folks to maybe share information,” he said. “But also to process feelings about it.”

Bennett said that members of her congregation are also planning to attend the event. 

From her perspective, Bennett said that perhaps a split in the international organization is inevitable. 

“I’m perfectly OK with that,” she said, adding that nobody should force others to live by values they don’t agree with. “Nobody has the right to tell me I should discriminate … Christianity is about a commandment for us to love.”

Dusty Christensen can be reached at dchristensen@gazettenet.com.


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