As your pastors, we are honored to serve among you, and to lead our church forward, welcoming new people into the embrace of Christ’s body here. Also as your pastors, we have discerned it is time to more fully live out Central’s value of radical hospitality when it comes to marrying couples in our sanctuary. This means we will equitably offer our pastoral ministry to all couples in our congregation and community who come to us ready for premarital counseling and the covenant of marriage. This would not be limited to heterosexual couples, but would include all whom we deem ready to make this life-long spiritual covenant together in God’s house. After conferring with Church Council, we offer their resolution here:
We, Central Church Council, offer blessing to our pastors as they use their discretion in the service of marriage equity. Our pastors are free to decide who is ready for a Christian marriage and to serve as celebrant for all wedding ceremonies inside or outside of our building.
Our congregation’s leadership has a long history of advocating for full inclusion in all programming. When our all-members church conference voted in July of 2019 to become a Reconciling Congregation (part of Reconciling Ministries Network in the UMC), we stopped short of offering weddings for all couples, under the assumption that the UMC General (global) Conference in 2020 would create allowances for congregations to act out of conscience, even when contrary to disciplinary language. But that General Conference did not occur, due to the pandemic, with a rescheduled conference yet to be solidified. In the meantime, we have turned down same gender couples that have asked to hold their ceremony in our sanctuary, officiated by us as pastors. This is doing harm when the church denies a couple that wants to profess their vows before God in a house of worship.
Many leaders in the UMC, both progressives and traditionalists, are proposing the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation as a way forward for our denomination. This would allow the UMC to become more inclusive while leaving space for a variety of views. We believe this proposal is faithful to John Wesley’s ideal: “Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? We may not be of one opinion, but we can be of one heart.”
Our current bishop, David Bard, has stated he will hold in abeyance charges against any pastor who presides over same gender ceremonies. (see link here: Hold on closings and complaints – The Michigan Conference (michiganumc.org) . There is little to no career risk to us as clergy, with every reason to move forward with integrity. In addition, in the past 12 months the Michigan Annual Conference general session and the North-Central Jurisdiction have encouraged inclusive practices in conferences and local congregations.
Central is a healthy and vibrant congregation that embodies the hospitality of Jesus in so many forms. It is time for this to be demonstrated in the sacred work of wedding ministry to all couples.
Rev. Chris Lane Rev. Linda Stephan