A Methodist pastor who was defrocked for performing his gay son’s wedding is scheduled to deliver a guest sermon at a Pride Day church service in Frederick, Md., on Saturday — less than a week after a Methodist appeals panel reinstated him as a practicing minister.
A nine-member United Methodist Church appeals committee stunned members of the church’s conservative faction on Wednesday by overturning a church decision last year to strip Rev. Frank Schaefer of his ministerial authority on grounds that he refused to promise not to perform same-sex marriages in the future.
The appeals committee, which met in Linthicum, Md., ruled that the defrocking of Schaefer was an improper method of punishing him. The committee upheld the church’s decision to suspend him for 30 days, a penalty that Schaefer has already served, and ordered that the church in Lebanon, Pa., for which he had been serving as pastor give him back pay from the time the suspension ended last December.
“Today there was a very clear and strong signal from the church, and that message is, ‘Change is on the way,’” the New York Times quoted Schaefer as saying on the day of his reinstatement.
“One day we will celebrate the fact that we have moved beyond this horrible chapter in our church’s life,” the Times quoted him as saying.
Schaefer was scheduled to deliver a guest sermon on Saturday, June 28, at an LGBT Pride Day service at Grace United Church of Christ in Frederick, Md.
Rev. Robert Apgar-Taylor, the gay pastor of the church, said Schaefer accepted his invitation to deliver a Pride Day sermon at the church back in March, at a time when he was appealing the decision to defrock him but long before the outcome of the appeal was known.
“I contacted Frank probably three or four months ago about coming to our Pride event, and he accepted,” Apgar-Taylor told the Blade. “And he never dreamt it would be the week his appeal would come through.”
Added Apgar-Taylor, “We’re going to be the first place that he speaks after his appeal, which is actually quite cool.”
Following the 11 a.m. church service Schaefer was scheduled to accompany Apgar-Taylor and members of the congregation to a park in downtown Frederick where the LGBT Pride celebration was to take place. The decision to defrock Schaefer came about after church officials learned last year that he performed his son’s same-sex marriage in Massachusetts in 2007. Church officials in Pennsylvania initially suspended him for violating church rules that prohibit same-sex marriage. The officials next called on Schaefer to promise not to perform same-sex marriages in the future. He refused to make such a promise, prompting a church tribunal to defrock him.
In its decision released on Wednesday, the appeals panel concluded that the decision to revoke Schaefer’s credentials as a minister was illegal under church law. The appeals panel said a “well-established principle” of the church is that “our clergy can only be punished for what they have been convicted of doing in the past, not for what they may or may not do in the future.”
The Washington Post reported that the appeals panel indicated that its decision was based solely on the facts of Schaefer’s case and it was not making a broader statement about the United Methodist Church’s position on homosexuality.