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Pastor who conducted same-sex union
faces church trial

by United Methodist News Service, Monday, January 26, 1998 6:03 PM

The Rev. Jimmy Creech of Omaha, Neb., who conducted a same-sex union ceremonylast September, should face a church trial, an investigative committee hasdecided.

The Committee on Investigation of the Nebraska United Methodist Annual(regional) Conference made that decision after a Jan. 23 hearing.

"The preparation for a trial will begin as soon as the official documentsfrom the investigative committee are forwarded to my office," said Bishop JoelN. Martinez, in a prepared statement on Jan. 26. "It is my intention toexpedite such preparation to bring this matter to a decision as early aspossible."

The trial should be completed by the annual (regional) conference meeting,June 2-5, said the Rev. Richard D. Turner, executive director of ministriesand assistant to Martinez.

Martinez was traveling on Jan. 26 and couldn't be reached for furthercomment.

On Jan. 9, Martinez indefinitely extended Creech's suspension from his dutiesat First United Methodist Church in Omaha, also at the recommendation of thecommittee. The pastor initially had been suspended for 60 days, effective Nov.10.

Creech told United Methodist News Service that he learned about the decisionon Jan. 24 from the Rev. David Lux of North Platte, the committee'schairperson.

"I feel quite prepared (for a trial)," Creech added. "It did not come as asurprise."

The pastor was critical, however, of the committee's findings that hecommitted a "chargeable offense" and believes its members wanted to pass theresponsibility of a final decision to a jury.

"I just didn't think the committee did its work," he said.

In 1996, the United Methodist Church's top legislative body voted that"ceremonies that celebrate homosexual unions shall not be conducted by ourministers and shall not be conducted in our churches." That decision wasplaced in the Social Principles, a part of the Book of Discipline.

But Creech claimed the committee had "no real evidence" a violation occurred,and added: "There's been no precedent for anyone being prosecuted under the Social Principles."

At the Jan. 23 hearing, committee members took statements from Creech, hiscounsel, counsel for the conference and the clergy person who filed thecomplaint against him. Creech said that clergy person's identity is being keptconfidential, but added that it is not someone from his congregation.

Creech guesses that the trial will not occur for at least another two months.Meanwhile, he will prepare with his counsel and assistant counsel.

"In a trial, we will be able to call witnesses and get testimony," heexplained, adding that cross-examination also will be possible. He intends toexercise his option to have an open trial, he said, "to keep the public wellinformed."

Carol Beaty, an elementary school principal and active layperson at FirstChurch, expressed disappointment that the situation with Creech is notresolved.

"It's very difficult for our church to go forward without a senior pastor,"she said.

Beaty noted that a large group of church members had begun work on a"visioning" process that embraced a welcoming ministry for all -– includingthose with different sexual orientations -- well before Creech arrived aspastor.

"I know it's been said Jimmy Creech brought an agenda to our church," shesaid. "I know that is not true."

Instead, Creech supported the church's vision, she added.

While the controversy surrounding the same-sex covenant ceremony has causeddivision within the church, "we are working toward continuing to dialogue withall members of our congregation," Beaty reported.

A task force is designing a study of the Book of Discipline, an effort thathas been "enthusiastically endorsed," she said. "We're hoping this willinitiate a lot of conversation about what is important about being a United Methodist andwhat the Social Principles are about."Meanwhile, additional donations to the church have made up for contributionslost because of the controversy, according to Beaty. The church has been ableto pay its 1997 apportionments and carry money over into 1998.

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