By Andrea Adelson | LB Indy
Frank Schaefer, a United Methodist minister in Pennsylvania who was defrocked for refusing to renounce his support for same-sex marriage, will speak at Laguna Beach United Methodist Church, Tuesday, Oct. 14, at 7 p.m.
Schaefer’s visit comes at a historic moment for the gay rights movement, a week after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand rulings striking down marriage restrictions in three appeals courts. The speaking engagement also reflects a new spiritual leader at the local Methodist church, buffeted by turnover in the pulpit.
Rev. Mandy Flemming, who preached her first sermon in Laguna on July 6, previously served at a once-shrinking progressive church in conservative Atlanta. In a bell-weather act in 1991, Atlanta church members handed out cups of water at a gay pride march, while the Baptist church opposite hired security guards to shield anti-march protestors. Marchers gulped down the welcoming message and the church congregation swelled to 2,000 from 100 in a decade, Flemming recalled.
“It was a very intentional church community,” said Flemming, who thinks her experience in Atlanta can also serve to invigorate the 200-member congregation she currently leads. “The best hope for Laguna Beach Methodist is to seek progressive families,” said Flemming, noting the church’s established tradition under a previous charismatic leader, Rev. Ginny Wheeler, of engaging the LGBT community. The church’s entry today includes memorial plaques for church members who died from AIDS.
If Schaefer serves as Flemming’s cup of water, her supervisor, Bishop Minerva Carcaňo of the California-Pacific Conference based in Pasadena, sopped up the message, too. The Methodists first Latina bishop, she welcomed Schaefer to come west after he was suspended by the church’s Eastern Pennsylvania Conference and then defrocked last December. Carcaňo, who supervises pastors in Southern California, offered him a position as pastor of the Isla Vista Student Ministry in Santa Barbara, where he is now serving.
“It’s shameful that the government is far ahead of the church on this issue,” said Flemming.
Schaefer will sign copies of his newly released book, “Defrocked,” which describes his trial and its aftermath. He had been pastor of Zion United Methodist Church of Iona in Lebanon, Pa., for 11 years, when a member accused him of violating a church law by officiating at his son’s same sex wedding in 2007. He was defrocked after refusing to renounce performing future same sex weddings. In June he was re-instated by the Northeastern Jurisdiction on Appeals, which ruled that the earlier decision was flawed because it was based on the assumption that he would break church law in the future. That decision was appealed and the Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church will conduct an oral hearing on the case on Oct. 22, in Memphis, Tenn.
Unlike the wider Methodist denomination, Schaefer’s visit prompted no dissent among local church members, said Flemming, who also expects members from the Congregational Church and St. Mary’s Episcopal Church to attend the talk at 21632 Wesley Drive.
Photo: Frank Schaefer