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New hearing, vote ordered in Beth Stroud case
9/16/2004

A new hearing has been ordered in the case of a Philadelphia pastor facing a church trial after publicly declaring she lives in a committed lesbian relationship. United Methodist church law bars the ordination of “self-avowed, practicing homosexuals.”

Retired Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel, named earlier this month to oversee the case of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth (Beth) Stroud, said he ordered the new hearing after reviewing the transcript of the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference’s Committee on Investigation’s deliberation of case.

In a Sept. 9 letter to the committee’s chairperson, the Rev. Kent E. Kroehler of Lancaster, Bishop Yeakel said the committee’s 5-to-3 vote on July 23 to file a charge against Rev. Stroud did not meet requirements of both church law and rulings of the denomination’s top court, the Judicial Council.

Bishop Yeakel said the committee erred by considering laypersons as voting members of the committee. “Two of those members were laypersons who were counted in the quorum,” Bishop Yeakel wrote. He noted the Judicial Council ruled in May 2000 that laypersons “do not have the voting rights and parity with clergy members.” The result was the committee lacked an official quorum in which to take action. Church law contained in the denomination’s Book of Discipline says seven persons constitute a quorum.

Bishop Yeakel also declared the committee “was not properly constituted to adopt either the Charge or Specifications” in the case against Rev. Stroud, who serves as associate pastor of First United Methodist Church of Germantown. He said a statement from members of the committee, supporting the specification in the case, but against bringing a charge is contrary to an Oct. 2003 Judicial Council decision stemming from a Washington state case.

In the statement, three clergy members of the committee indicated, “We do not believe that a self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergyperson in a monogamous, committed relationship engages in practices incompatible with Christian teachings.” Bishop Yeakel told Rev. Kroehler that the Judicial Council ruling requires members “unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience… to step aside.”

Bishop Yeakel asked Rev. Kroehler to “inventory the present members of the Committee on Investigation on their willingness to serve, meeting the requirements of the Discipline in conformance with the Judicial Council’s ruling.” If that inventory reduces the number of members below what is necessary for a quorum, then additional members should be appointed, Yeakel wrote.

The Committee on Investigation received the complaint against Rev. Stroud from Bishop Peter D. Weaver, who presided over the annual conference until Aug. 31. He is now bishop in Boston.

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The following is the letter sent by Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel to the Rev. Dr. Kent E. Kroehler:

September 9, 2004

Dear Dr. Kroehler,

Pursuant to our recent conversation, I am informing you that as the Presiding Officer for the trial of the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud, I am nullifying the recent Bill of Charges and Specifications adopted by the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference Committee on Investigation and remanding it to the Committee on Investigation for rehearing and decision.

In accordance with The Book of Discipline, paragraph 2708.11, I have consulted with the Counsel for the Church and the Counsel for the Respondent indicating my decision.

My reasons for doing this are as follows:

1. The transcript of the meeting of the Committee on Investigation indicates that the committee did not have the necessary voting members present as required by The Discipline, paragraph 2703.2, which reads as follows: “Seven members or alternates seated as members of the committee shall constitute a quorum.”

a. While the transcript indicates that eight members of the committee were present, two of those members were lay persons who were counted in the quorum. Though the committee may have acted on the presumption that these lay persons had the right to vote, I call your attention to the Judicial Council Memorandum No. 887 which reads: “Lay persons serving on an Annual Conference Committee on Investigation of a clergy member of an Annual Conference do not have the voting rights and parity with clergy members . . .” (May 10, 2000).

b. As a result, the committee is left with only six voting members which does not meet the quorum requirement.

2. The vote of the Committee on Investigation to sustain the Specifications as a Bill of Charge(s) was recorded as five in favor and three against.

a. There follows a statement which reads, “Statement from those who voted for the specification but against bringing a charge based on the specification: ‘We do not believe that a self-avowed, practicing homosexual clergyperson in a monogamous, committed relationship engages in practices incompatible with Christian teachings.’”

i. Upon inquiry, you indicated that these three persons were themselves clergy persons, raising the question as to their ability to serve on the Committee on Investigation.

ii. The Judicial Council, Decision No. 980 of October 24, 2003, speaks to this issue as follows: “Should members of the (Annual) Conference Committee on Investigation be unwilling to uphold The Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise, such members must step aside in this matter and either alternate members or others who are willing to uphold The Discipline must be appointed to the Committee to enable it to complete its responsibility.”

b. The Committee on Investigation, therefore, was not properly constituted to adopt either the Charge or Specifications.

I request that you inventory the present members of the Committee on Investigation as to their willingness to serve, meeting the requirements of The Discipline in conformance with the Judicial Council’s ruling that those “unwilling to uphold The Discipline for reasons of conscience or otherwise” must step aside. I further request that responses to this inventory be placed in writing.

Should such inventory reduce the number of members on the Committee below that necessary for a quorum, please communicate with Bishop Marcus Matthews and me so that the necessary persons can be appointed for a quorum.

When the Committee on Investigation is properly constituted, you are authorized to begin the work of the Committee on Investigation on the rehearing of the investigation of the Complaint brought against the Rev. Irene Elizabeth Stroud.

If you have any further questions, do not hesitate to communicate with me.

Grace and Peace,

Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel,

Presiding Officer
 


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September 2004 Update From Rev. Fred Day, senior pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Germantown (FUMCOG) http://www.bethstroud.info/fumcog20040915.shtml 

Dear FUMCOG family,

We ask for your prayers. A new hearing has been ordered in Beth Stroud's church judicial process. As you know, this process has been unfolding since April 2003, when Beth preached a sermon in which she shared that she is a lesbian living in a covenant relationship with a partner.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline states that "self-avowed, practicing homosexuals" cannot serve as ordained ministers. Of course, at FUMCOG, we believe they can. As our associate pastor, Beth has been serving us faithfully and with excellence for more than five years. She exhibits all the gifts and graces of a person called to ordained ministry. She continues to have our full support.

Retired Bishop Joseph H. Yeakel, who was appointed earlier this month as the presiding officer in the case, ruled the Committee on Investigation's 5-3 decision on July 23 to send her case to a church trial "null and void" because of procedural and legal errors. He has instructed the chair of the committee, the Rev. Kent E. Kroehler of Lancaster, to reconvene the committee and hear the case again.

Bishop Yeakel raised two points of church law in relation to the committee's decision. First, the committee had considered two laypersons as voting members of the Committee, which he declared was inconsistent with a May 2000 Judicial Council ruling. The result was that the committee did not have a quorum. Second, he stated that the committee "was not properly constituted" because of a statement of conscience made by some of its members.

The three members of the committee who voted against sending Beth's case to trial had made the statement: "We do not believe that a self- avowed, practicing homosexual clergyperson in a monogamous, committed relationship engages in practices incompatible with Christian teachings." This statement was appended to the written decision of the Committee. Bishop Yeakel told Rev. Kroehler that an October 2003 Judicial Council ruling requires members "unwilling to uphold the Discipline for reasons of conscience… to step aside."

The Rev. J. Dennis Williams, a retired pastor who is serving as Beth's clergy counsel, says, "We're grateful Bishop Yeakel found the procedural error now, yet the necessity of another hearing is disappointing. I feel sad that a Judicial Council ruling puts our colleagues in the very difficult position of having to choose between voting against their conscience or stepping aside."

We are all concerned about a second hearing and the additional stress it places on Beth, but we will continue to face the judicial process with faith, with hope, and with loving prayers for our clergy colleagues in the Eastern Pennsylvania Conference who will face such hard choices. Beth is in good spirits and continues to work on teaching her Disciple Bible study group, leading confirmation class, and organizing all of our youth and children's ministries. Hundreds of dollars have been donated to her legal fund from all over the country, and just about every day she receives a supportive, encouraging phone call, card, or letter.

Let us all continue to hold one another in prayer and be in ministry together.

Faithfully yours,

Fred Day Senior Pastor

For more information see:


http://www.bethstroud.info

 

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